NEW YORK – Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was looking forward to a break after a five-city-in-five-days tour, during which he has become the most decorated player in college football.
“I’m just trying to get a workout in and get some sleep,” he said Friday about his plans for the night.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel seemed to have more energy when he arrived at a midtown Manhattan hotel with his fellow Heisman Trophy finalist. In fairness, Johnny Football’s week hasn’t been nearly as hectic, though this trip to New York city is different from the first time he visited with his family when he was young.
“It’s just taking it up a whole ‘nother level, but happy to be here,” he said.
Manziel and Te’o spent about 30 minutes getting grilled by dozens of reporters in a cramped conference room, posed for some pictures with the big bronze statue they are hoping to win and were quickly whisked away for more interviews and photo opportunities.
Manziel, Te’o or Collin Klein, the other finalists who couldn’t make it to town Friday, each has a chance to be a Heisman first tonight.
Manziel is trying to be the first freshman to win the award. Te’o would be the first winner to play only defense. Klein would be Kansas State’s first Heisman winner.
Manziel and Te’o were on the same flight from Orlando, Fla., where several college football awards were handed out Thursday night. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound quarterback was just happy the 255-pound linebacker didn’t try to record another sack when they met.
“He’s a big guy,” Manziel said, flashing a big smile from under his white Texas A&M baseball cap. “I thought he might stuff me in locker and beat me up a little bit.”
The two hadn’t had much time for sightseeing yet, but they did walk around Times Square some, saying hello to a few fans. They probably weren’t too difficult to spot in their team issued warm-up gear.
“We’ve just been talking about goofy stuff. Playing video games. Playing Galaga. Just some things from back in the day. Messing around with each other,” Manziel said. “Kind of seeing who is going to take more pictures. He’s definitely taking that award right now.”
Te’o is already going to need a huge trophy case to house his haul from this week. He has won six major awards, including the Maxwell as national player of the year. He’ll try to become Notre Dame’s eighth Heisman winner and first since Tim Brown in 1987.
“I can only imagine how I would feel if I win the Heisman,” he said.
Charles Woodson of Michigan in 1997 is the closest thing to a true defensive player winning the Heisman. Woodson was a dominant cornerback, but he also returned punts and played a little receiver. That helped burnish his Heisman credentials.
Te’o is all linebacker. He leads the top-ranked Fighting Irish with 103 tackles and seven interceptions.
Klein was the front-runner for the Heisman for a good chunk of the season, but he played his worst game late in the season — in a loss at Baylor — and the momentum Manziel gained by leading Texas A&M to victory at Alabama has been tough to stop.
Manziel’s numbers are hard to deny. He set a Southeastern Conference record with 4,600 total yards, throwing for more than 3,000 and rushing for more than 1,000.
Klein, by comparison, averages about 100 fewer total yards per game (383-281) than Manziel.
A freshman has never won the Heisman. Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson came closest in 2004, finishing second by Southern California’s Matt Leinart.
Manziel is a redshirt freshman, meaning he attended Texas A&M and practiced with the team but did not play last year. Still, he’d be the most inexperienced college player to win the sport’s most prestigious award.
“It’s surreal for me to sit here and think about that this early in my career,” he said. “With what me and my teammates have gone through, with how they’ve played and how they’ve helped me to get to this point, it’s just a testament to how good they are and how good they’ve been this year.
“Without them I wouldn’t be here and that’s the real story to all this.”