NEW YORK — The pride in Doug Flutie’s voice was unmistakable.
The former Boston College quarterback, who 29 years ago won the Heisman Trophy, displayed great pride when talking about Eagles running back Andre Williams, a current Heisman candidate.
The rugged 6-foot, 227-pound senior running back from Schnecksville, Pa., who rushed for 2,102 yards and became the first player in BC and Atlantic Coast Conference history to win the Doak Walker Award, will be one of six finalists in contention for the 79th Heisman Trophy Saturday night.
And while Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston arrived in New York Friday as the favorite, Flutie seemed to delight in the fact that BC had produced its second Heisman finalist.
“No doubt about it, there’s pride for him, individually, for the team, for the school itself,’’ Flutie said Thursday by phone from his home in Melbourne, Fla. “To go from two wins last year to what they’ve done this year and how competitive they’ve been as a team, yeah, you take a lot of pride in that.’’
It seemed to stir memories of Flutie’s own Heisman whirlwind weekend in New York in 1984 when he sat among family, friends, and the other finalists in the Downtown Athletic Club. That’s when he was suddenly gripped by a fearful thought: “What happens if I don’t win it?’’ he wondered.
“When I went to BC, I wasn’t highly recruited and to think about the Heisman, it was out of the question for me,’’ said Flutie, who starred for Natick High School.
He recalled starting out his college career on the bottom rung of BC’s roster as a back-up punt returner.
“Then I finished third in the [Heisman] balloting my junior year,’’ Flutie said. “I was the front-runner all season long as a senior and there were no setbacks along the way that would make you think otherwise.’’
Flutie’s Heisman moment was bronzed when he reared back and let fly of a Hail Mary heave to Gerard Phelan, resulting in the touchdown and a 47-45 victory at Miami and sent Flutie soaring to New York as the Heisman favorite.
“It was a week before [the Heisman vote] and it went through the roof,’’ Flutie said of the national attention. “For weeks on end during the season, people were like, ‘Oh, you got it won! You got it won! You’re going to win the Heisman!’ But now I’m sitting there [at the Downtown Athletic Club] and I was almost anxious about, ‘What happens if I don’t win it?’
“It got to the point that I was such a front-runner, I got nervous. It had actually gotten to the point where I was thinking, ‘Well, what happens if I don’t? It’s going to embarrassing.’ ’’
But Flutie’s fears were unfounded and he wound up winning in a runaway, garnering 678 first-place votes and scoring 2,240 points overall to record the fifth-biggest total in Heisman history. Junior running back Keith Byars of Ohio State was runner-up with 1,251 points. Brigham Young junior QB Robbie Bosco was third (443), Miami sophomore quarterback Bernie Kosar fourth (320), and Texas Christian junior running back Kenneth Davis (86) rounded out the top five.
“I’ve always said this about the Heisman: It takes two years to win it,’’ Flutie said. “It takes the first year to get recognized and then it takes the second year to win it. But that’s when no freshman had ever won it.’’
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel dispelled that notion last year when he became the first freshman to win it.
“To have an individual who has performed the way Andre has from beginning to end . . . we’ve seen glimmers of that the last couple of years,’’ Flutie said. “But, No. 1, he actually got a chance to stay healthy all year and, No. 2, [head coach] Steve Addazio coming in has created such a mind-set of being physical and they’re back to running the football.’’
Williams’s bruising presence in the backfield helped BC re-brand itself as a physical team committed to running over its opponents.
“Even when I played, we would line up in the I [formation] and run the ball and that’s kind of been the trademark of the teams that have done well at BC,’’ Flutie said. “We’re not going to be the most athletic, the most talented, but we can be a team of good offensive linemen, and a tailback who can carry the rock.’’
But, with Williams, Flutie sensed something different. “You realized it by midway through the year, that this kid was something special,’’ he said.
While Williams was virtually unheard of at the beginning of the season, he began to gain attention when he started piling up the numbers, breaking the 200-yard mark five times and becoming the nation’s leading rusher.
But it wasn’t until he ran for 339 yards in a 38-21 victory over North Carolina State, a game in which he set school and Atlantic Coast Conference single-game rushing marks, that Williams began to gain Heisman attention.
“When I talked to [BC athletic director] Brad Bates three-quarters through the season, he said, `We’ve really been sitting back, but we’d like to try and make some kind of push with Andre.’ In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Geez, it might be a little late,’ ’’ Flutie said. “But it’s not these days. You can still get that exposure right away.’’
BC launched an intensive social media campaign that school spokesman Chris Cameron said cost less than $1,000.
Focusing on Twitter, Bates had “Andre44Heisman’’ T-shirts made up and sent to 25 influential alumni, asking them to Tweet photos of them donning the T-shirt. Soon photos of Matt Ryan and Matt Hasselbeck, Luke Kuechly and Luke Russert, Gosder Cherilus and Anthony Castonzo, actor Chris O’Donnell and Flutie were being retweeted, carrying the message to the masses.
In the span of three weeks, the campaign bore fruit when Williams was one of six finalists invited to attend Saturday’s trophy presentation.
“I’m really in awe and dumbfounded at the situation going on right now,’’ Williams said. “Just in the last month, things have just started moving so fast. You know, it’s a blessing, but it’s stressful, as well. It’s also a lot of fun. Every day is a new surprise.
“There’s a whole lot of things going on around me, but at the end of the day what keeps me going is the fact that there’s so many people behind me, so many people supporting me, and showing me a lot of love.’’
Williams said he has felt and seen first-hand the power of BC’s alumni network.
“I just had shoutouts from a lot of BC greats in the last couple of weeks and it feels good,’’ he said.
“Yes, I did hear from Doug Flutie,’’ Williams said. “He got in touch with me last week.’’
Although Flutie was unable to get to Orlando to support Williams when he received the Walker Award, he said he intended to be on hand Saturday for the Heisman presentation. As a former winner, Flutie is given a Heisman vote.
Asked if he voted for Williams when he submitted his ballot, Flutie chuckled. He did not want to disclose that information, per the rules of the Heisman Trust.
“He’s on there, I’ll say that,’’ Flutie said. “But I’m going to keep my fingers crossed for him.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.