An uncomfortable crown to wear

FORT LAUDERDALE – Whether he likes it or not, Sam Bradford’s life changed on Dec. 13, 2008. From now on, wherever he goes, he will be introduced as “Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford.”

Unfortunately, no one told Bradford the exclusivity of the club – he is one of 74 college football players to have won the award – and the instant notoriety which comes with the trophy.

After all, there is no Heisman Trophy how-to-act manual which comes with the 13.5-inch, 25-pound bronze trophy of an leather-helmeted player with the football cradled in his left hand and forearm against his body and his right arm straight out to ward off any invisible tacklers who wish to do him harm.

Since that ceremony 21 days ago, the quarterback of the Oklahoma Sooners has worn his crown rather uncomfortably. To be honest, of course, the newness of all this attention comes at a time when the 6-foot-4, 208-pound Bradford is preparing to lead the No. 1 Sooners against the No. 2 Florida Gators in the BCS National Championship Game next Thursday night.

Not only will the eyes of a lightning-quick, physical Florida defense be on Bradford but so will millions more who will watch in person at nearby Dolphin Stadium or in the comforts of their homes and neighborhood bars.

“Yeah, there’s times where you want to go where no one knows your name,” Bradford admitted Saturday morning prior to Oklahoma’s workout at Barry University.

Heisman Trophy winners just don’t blend into the woodwork, though Bradford found time to put his earphones in and stroll through cavernous New York City after winning the award. Yes, even after death are winners remembered just as they were in life, and even though their misdeeds in life sent LSU’s Billy Cannon (the 1959 winner) and USC’s O.J. Simpson (1968) to jail, the words “Heisman Trophy winner” still come before their names in stories chronicling them.

The 6-foot-4, 208-pound redshirt sophomore with the rocket arm does enjoy the moments when he can make someone’s day.

“It’s really cool,” Bradford added, “having the opportunity to take pictures with people, give them something that they’ll have forever and they’ll enjoy.”

He’d just prefer to deal with the distractions after he adds another title – that of being the quarterback of a national championship team. That club, too, is an exclusive one.

“Obviously, the Heisman experience was something special and it was fun to be in New York,” Bradford said of the days he spent leading up to the ceremony with runner-up Colt McCoy of the University of Texas and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow of Florida, who finished third.

‘But as soon as I got back to Norman, I got back to trying to be as normal as possible,” Bradford continued. “I got back to finishing school and got back to practice.”

In fact, though Bradford knows his Heisman Trophy is in the home of his parents, Kent (a Sooner offensive lineman in 1977-78) and Martha Bradford. “It’s there somewhere,” he chuckled.

There’s no hiding Bradford’s abilities, athleticism and toughness. They were all exhibited during this past regular season when he led the Sooners to a 12-1 record and a Big 12 Conference championship. He completed 302 of 442 passes (68.3 percent) for 4,464 yards and 48 touchdowns with just six interceptions.

Bradford became the first quarterback at Oklahoma to lead his team to a pair of Big 12 championships as well as lead the nation in touchdown passes and passing efficiency (186.28). He had 12 300-yard passing efforts and threw five touchdown passes in four different games this year. It’s no wonder the Sooners scored 60 or more points in their final four games of the regular season (with 65 and 61points, respectively, against Big 12 South foes Texas Tech and Oklahoma State) and the Big 12 Championship game on Dec. 6 (a 62-21 victory over Missouri).

What makes Sam Bradford so great?

“(His) reading the defense and his poise in the pocket,” said senior wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias, who caught 69 passes for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns.

“His passion for the game, just the way he approaches it and his hard work towards it,” said 6-foot-6, 261-pound junior tight end Jermaine Gresham, who had 58 receptions for 888 yards and 12 touchdowns.

“He earns everything he’s got and he does a great job with it,” said Big 12 offensive lineman of the year, center Jon Cooper. “Like he said, as soon as he’s been back from New York, he was business as usual. He’s just regular Sam to us.”

Except he’s not. That all changed for regular Sam Bradford when he became a “Heisman Trophy winner,” and in the history of BCS National Championship Games since 2000, only one Heisman Trophy winner, USC’s Matt Leinart in 2004, took his team to the national championship. The Trojans whipped No. 2 Oklahoma and 2003 Heisman Trophy winner Jason White of Oklahoma, 55-19, in the Orange Bowl. White failed in 2003, the No. 1 Sooners losing to No. 2 Louisiana State, 21-14.

Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke (the 2000 winner) lost to Oklahoma, 13-2, in the Orange Bowl. Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch (2001) lost to Miami, 37-14, in the Rose Bowl. Reggie Bush (2005), Leinart and the Trojans lost to Vince Young and the Texas Longhorns, 41-38, in the Rose Bowl, and quarterback Troy Smith (2006) and Ohio State lost to Florida, 41-14, in the Fiesta Bowl.

“It’s really hard for me to talk about previous winners and the difficulties they’ve had in their bowl games,” Bradford said. “I know as soon as I got back from New York, I forgot about the experience, got back to business, getting ready to prepare for this game and help my team win.”

After all, Sam Bradford has the rest of his life to accumulate other descriptive monikers.