By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
NEW YORK - Robert Griffin III is right at home in "the city that never sleeps."
"Most of us are operating on very few hours of sleep, but it is what it is," said the Baylor junior quarterback, one of five finalists for the Heisman Trophy that will be presented Saturday night at Best Buy Theater in a ceremony that will air live on ESPN (7 p.m. CST). "If you're going to play well, and your team's doing great things, people are going to want a piece of you. And that's why we're here."
After winning the Davey O'Brien Thursday night in Orlando, Fla., RG3 had only a few hours of sleep before jetting to New York in time for an afternoon press conference at the Marriot Marquis, where he was joined by fellow finalists Trent Richardson of Alabama, Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Tyrann Mathieu of LSU. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck was in Baltimore, Md., to accept the Unitas Award.
"I'm operating on four hours and 45 minutes of sleep," he said, "but I wouldn't trade for this experience. It's amazing."
Before coming to the press conference, Griffin III ran into 1976 Heisman Trophy winner and NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett "just walking down the street" and also met Heisman winners Tim Brown and Chris Weinke.
"I'm like a little kid in a candy store, seeing all these guys that I watched when I was growing up and seeing guys that my dad watched play. It's awesome," he said.
As the favorite to win this year's Heisman, Griffin III would join a tight-knit fraternity that includes just 75 players from 37 different schools.
But he's already getting a little of that same kind of celebrity status.
"That's definitely changed," RG3 said. "If I go to Copperas Cove (his hometown), I can't go anywhere. If I'm in Waco, I can't go anywhere (without being noticed). But to be in Orlando and have people screaming 'RG3!' and 'Sic 'em, Bears!' that's amazing. You don't expect to see that. And on the streets, everyone wants a piece of you. Baylor fans are everywhere now, and I'm proud of that."
Although he was a dark-horse candidate at the start of the year, Griffin III said "it's all about momentum with the Heisman." That's where the Bears' 5-0 finish at the end of the year played such a big part in his campaign, specifically when he threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns in last Saturday's 48-24 win over Texas, when frontrunners Richardson and Luck were both sitting.
"When we're sitting there at 4-3, nobody's talking about anything," said Griffin III, who has thrown for a school-record 3,998 yards and 36 touchdowns in leading the Bears to a 9-3 record and a matchup against Washington (7-5) in the Dec. 29 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. "For us to finish the way we did . . . it kind of pushed us to the forefront. After the Oklahoma game, all the players on the team realized that if we won out (beating Texas) and we did it in the style and fashion we knew we could, that we'd be here."
Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian, who mentored a couple of Heisman winners at USC in Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, said "you need those moments when you're in this Heisman deal."
"Robert has had some tremendous moments that I've seen," Sarkisian said at Wednesday's Alamo Bowl press conference in San Antonio. "Ultimately it's up to (the media voters) if you think he's the Heisman Trophy winner. It's out of Robert's hands now. He did all he could do."
One of Griffin's biggest "Heisman moments" came in the 45-38 win over Oklahoma, when he led an 80-yard drive and hit Terrance Williams for a 34-yard TD strike with just eight seconds left.
"I think the one that everyone looks at is the Oklahoma game, just because it shot us from not really being talked about to No. 1," he said. "The tipped pass to Kendall (Wright) was a huge one; the touchdown pass at the end of the game was a huge one. But honestly, I think our Heisman moment as a team was the Kansas game. Nobody's watching, and it might not seem like a Heisman moment. But when you come back from 21 down with 11 minutes in the game, that sets us up for the rest of the season and gave us the momentum to go out and finish 5-0. If that doesn't happen on that day, I'm probably not sitting here today."
Interestingly enough, RG3 has connections with three of the other Heisman candidates.
His father came from the same projects in New Orleans, La., were Mathieu was brought up, and "my cousins cling to him like he's their brother."
Griffin III could have ended up in a two-quarterback system with Luck at Stanford, where he was recruited by current San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh.
"I almost committed to Stanford. They wanted me and Andrew to run the two quarterback system, which usually never works out," he said. "So I just decided to do what was best for me."
Until Baylor head coach Art Briles left the University of Houston after the 2007 season, Griffin III was actually committed to the Cougars and would have joined Davey O'Brien finalist Case Keenum. Although he didn't end up in Houston as a finalist, Keenum was an early favorite and should finish in the top 10 in the Heisman balloting.
"After he tore his ACL, Case told me that he was proud and happy that I left the University of Houston," Griffin III said, "because coach Briles had already told him he was moving to receiver. (He is) the all-time leader in passing yards and all those things, and he could have been a receiver. So I think it worked out for all of us. We are all doing great things, and hopefully they'll go on to the next level and be successful."
Griffin III was joined in New York by his parents, Robert and Jacqueline Griffin; his sister, DeJon Griffin, who is working in nearby King of Prussia, Pa.; and his fiancé, 2010 Baylor graduate Rebecca Liddicoat.
"It was overwhelming at first, being in the city," said Liddicoat, who arrived on Thursday. "But it's so much fun now. It's so exciting."
DeJon, who is 18 months older than Robert, said the siblings were extremely competitive growing up.
"Like if he did something, then I would want to try to do it," said DeJon, who was a track standout at Northwestern (La.) State. "But eventually we wanted for both of us to do great. He knew I was going to do great with my sport, and I knew he was going to excel, because my brother is a monster. He's a different kind of creature. He's phenomenal. Anything he sets his mind to do, he masters it."