One of the highlights of Heisman weekend is the extent to which so many former winners participate in the events surrounding the awarding of the prestigious trophy. When Marcus Mariota received the 80th Heisman this past Dec. 13, almost 20 legendary players were on hand to welcome him into one of the most elite fraternities in sports. We caught up with several of them that weekend, including 1992 Heisman winner Gino Torretta of Miami. Here’s what Torretta had to say about his Heisman experience and his thoughts on what it’s like to go through the Heisman weekend:
What’s it like coming back to the Heisman as a former winner, as opposed to a prospective winner?
“One thing is you’ve got a lot more good friends around and a lot of guys who have all walked in your shoes. It brings back a lot of great memories. I’m sure Marcus’ (Mariota’s) head is spinning right now and will be even on Monday night at the black tie dinner. But all these guys are friends now and their families are close.
What kind of memories have come back to you the past few days?
“I think it brings you back to your Heisman weekend and what happened and all the people you shared it with. It’s really the same theme: We all shared it with our families. You think back to your Pop Warner coaches and your high school coaches and obviously your college coaches are with you. And, of course, your teammates and family who helped get you there.
What was your experience like winning the Heisman?
“Well, I barely got here because there was an ice storm in New York at the time. The old Downtown Athletic Club didn’t have any hot water so I ended up taking a freezing cold shower before the television show and I barely made it. By the time I got to the final night and the Heisman dinner, I was out of things to say. I remember Charles White and Mike Rozier coming up and telling me I had to speak again that night and I was like “What? I don’t have anything ready to go!”
Rozier is one of those former winners whose personality looms large at events like this….
“He’s the fountain of youth. There were a lot of years where it was just him and I at the end of the table at the Heisman dinner. We’re older so we’ve moved to the middle of the dais now. I think the great thing about Mike is that he keeps it real and will tell you things honestly while always staying in good spirits.
You’ve been hosting the Heisman press conferences of late. Does it feel good to be a part of the Heisman process?
“There’s no question. Everybody knows that a lot of our success has to do with what we did in the past. The Heisman Trophy helps us out and we’re able to uphold the standard of excellence with the award. I think we try to do what we can and it’s important to come back and support the award because it’s the class of college football, which is the best team sport out there.
What are your thoughts on the new winner, Marcus Mariota?
“He only talks a little bit! I got a chance to meet him Thursday at the college football awards show in Orlando. He’s a great kid of few words, but very talented, very quiet and very humble. I think I remember growing up and going to Hawaii as a kid and someone there telling me “You people on the mainland, you’re in a rush to go nowhere.” That’s what he reminds me of. You see him and he’s very cool and smooth and doesn’t rush to do anything.
Do you think he’ll come back years from now and perhaps see things from a different perspective?
“For sure. We forget how overwhelming this all is for a 20-something year old kid. You come here and you get showered with praise and singled out when you are in a team sport. And you know how important it is for those guys to win. They all know their success couldn’t happen without the team. You don’t know how to deal with it. For him right now, he’s just focusing on the two games he has left.”
You can follow Gino Torretta on Twitter here: @GinoTorretta