Marcus Mariota about to join college football's exclusive club

Oregon's Marcus Mariota is expected to be the second player from Pacific Northwest to win the Heisman Trophy

Barring something biblical, like a swarm of locusts halting the ceremony, Oregon junior quarterback Marcus Mariota on Saturday night will become the second player from the Pacific Northwest to win the Heisman Trophy.

Think about that. Oregon and Washington are not exactly athletic wastelands.

Norm Van Brocklin played at Oregon in the late 1940s and Hugh McElhenny starred at Washington in the early 1950s.

Van Brocklin could throw a little bit; he still holds the NFL single-game record with 554 passing yards.

Other players who competed for one of the four major colleges in Oregon and Washington: Dan Fouts, Warren Moon, Don Heinrich, Jack Thompson, Sonny Sixkiller, Drew Bledsoe and Napoleon Kaufman.

However, it has been tougher landing a Heisman in these parts than it was for Lewis and Clark to reach the coast.

From 1935, the Heisman's first year, to 1991, only one player from the region finished in the top five in Heisman balloting. That was Oregon State quarterback Terry Baker, who nearly went into shock when he won the award in 1962.

"It never crossed my mind I would win," Baker said in a phone interview this week. "I was totally surprised when it was announced."

Heisman voters, until now, seemed determined to never let it happen again. It took an over-the-top season by Mariota to make this week something resembling a victory lap. His numbers were too outrageous to ignore. Mariota accounted for 53 touchdowns — more than 100 major college teams.

Of course, last year Mariota accounted for 40 total touchdowns but didn't even finish in the top 10 in voting.

This year, pundits tried to leave a window crack open for Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon and Alabama receiver Amari Cooper. The prevailing thought was Mariota could lose the Heisman with a poor performance against Arizona in the Pac-12 Conference title game.

Mariota responded by contributing five touchdowns in a 51-13 victory.

Baker, who for more than a half century has enjoyed the novelty and honor of being the only Heisman winner from the Pacific Northwest, said some Oregon State fans might have a problem with the trophy going to an Oregon Duck.

Baker isn't one of them.

"He seems to me to be, in this era, one of the few where you can say, 'This kid is a good person, you'd like him to be your son,'" Baker said of Mariota.

Mariota would be a pleasant departure from recent Heisman winners Reggie Bush, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, who have tarnished the trophy with their selfishness, hubris, immaturity, and crab-leg thievery.

The closest thing to scandal involving Mariota was the speeding ticket he was issued a few weeks ago.

If Mariota is putting on a nice-guy act, he also deserves an Academy Award.

During a news conference after the Pac-12 title game, Mariota bowed his head as Oregon Coach Mark Helfrich heaped praise.

"If this guy isn't what the Heisman Trophy is all about, then I'm in the wrong profession," Helfrich said.

When the questions turned to Mariota, he looked up and offered, "Thanks, Coach, for all the nice things you said."

When Mariota was asked about winning the Heisman, he noted that he had not even been invited to the ceremony yet. That happened a few days later.

You can't blame him for not taking anything for granted. Mariota would be only the second Pacific Northwest player out of 80 to win the award.

Mariota would make for an honorable bookend to Baker, a three-sport star from Portland who is still humbled and awed by his victory.

Baker, 73, said he won in 1962 because there were no big names from Army, Navy or Notre Dame. "It was a year where nobody else stood out," he said.

Baker had a standout season even by today's standards. The left-handed quarterback passed for 1,738 yards and 15 touchdowns, rushed for 538 yards, and also contributed as a punter.

He finished ahead of Louisiana State halfback Jerry Stovall and Minnesota lineman Bob Bell.

Baker was the first player west of Texas to win the Heisman. "It was an East Coast award for a long time," he said.

Baker said he owes his trophy to Oregon State sports information director Johnny Eggers, who, without Baker's knowledge, had mailed weekly fliers billing Baker as "Touchdown Terry."

Even today, the Pacific Northwest still gets short shrift in college football coverage, Baker said. Saturday night games in Oregon and Washington don't make the morning papers back East.

"Being in the Northwest works against you because of the time difference," he said.

Baker, a retired lawyer, is an Oregon State season-ticket holder who witnessed Mariota wreak havoc on his Beavers.

"He's a pretty spectacular athlete," Baker said. "I've never seen a quarterback as fast as him. His speed is unbelievable."

Baker can even forgive the fact Mariota is a Duck. Baker attended Portland's Jefferson High with Mel Renfro, who starred at Oregon before a Hall of Fame NFL career.

"It's hard to hate friends," Baker said.

Baker would be happy to add another Heisman to the region, knowing there are feats of his Mariota can't match.

Baker, whose first love was basketball, is the only player to win the Heisman and play in a Final Four. Baker was a member of Oregon's 1963 team that lost to Cincinnati in a national semifinal. Baker also had a 99-yard run in the Liberty Bowl — the only score in Oregon State's 6-0 win — that can't be bettered.

Baker also joked he will remain the only Heisman winner from the Pacific Northwest. Mariota came to Oregon via St. Louis High in Hawaii.

Then Baker, true to his character, made a confession.

"I was born in Minnesota," he said. "But nobody knows that."

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