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Heisman journey wins an ex-finalist's awe

BOB HARIG
Published January 3, 2004

NEW ORLEANS - Chuck Long knows a little bit about the Heisman Trophy. He didn't win the award, but in 1985 he finished second to Bo Jackson in the closest vote in Heisman history.

A quarterback at Iowa, Long won the Maxwell Trophy awarded to the nation's top player and the Davey O'Brien Award for the nation's top quarterback.

Now in his fourth year as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma, Long coached the current Heisman winner, Jason White. And he still shakes his head when asked about White's journey, which included two serious knee operations.

"Basically, you're dealing with a first-year starter. It's a very rare thing," Long said. "I don't know that it's ever happened in college football before. I think it's one of the greatest stories, ever, for a one-year player."

White, who will attempt to lead the Sooners to their second national championship in four years when they play LSU on Sunday night, has dealt with distractions all season. Long said that has been as challenging as playing.

"It's been a whirlwind type of year for him," Long said. "Dealing with the media for a quarterback is like a fifth quarter for them. It's an extra thing he has to do and do it well. The expectation level is very high at Oklahoma."

IDLE TIME: Today marks exactly four weeks since both teams last played. LSU defeated Georgia on Dec. 6 in the SEC title game, and Oklahoma lost to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game. There has been plenty of time for preparation, but getting players ready for the physical part is one of the biggest challenges any team faces heading into a bowl.

"As a coach, the thing that concerns you most with the time off is tackling," LSU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. "In the season you get in a groove. With time off you're more concerned with the crispness of the tackling. We've prepared well. We've done a lot of hitting. But there's nothing like game-day contact."

YEAH, RIGHT: When White prepared to take the Heisman home from New York, he had the trophy padded and enclosed in a metal case. When checking in at the Newark, N.J., airport, an airline attendant asked what was in the case then didn't believe White. The Heisman arrived in Oklahoma without a problem, but White was asked what he'd have done if it had been sent someplace else, like Timbuktu. Said White: "I would have gone to Timbuktu to get it."

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