NEW YORK — Often, moral victories don’t seem to count for much in college football.
But that was different on Saturday night, as Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, announced at the Best Buy Theater in Times Square.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman, beating out Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and Klein, who was just the second Wildcat to make the trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
“It is what it is,” Klein said of the announcement. “The bottom line is just that I know I did everything I possibly could and played as hard as I possibly could against every opponent we played, and prepared exactly the same way. I don’t have any regrets.
“Of course, it’s disappointing — you want to win, no doubt about it, but that’s life.”
Klein’s journey from a relatively unknown high school QB to a Heisman finalist has clearly solidified his legacy at K-State. But to Klein, his legacy has very little to do with being a finalist for the game’s most coveted individual award.
“I think that, to me, what I would want my my teammates and K-State family to remember is that I gave everything I had and that I strived to put my teammates first and to serve the people I was around, putting their needs ahead of my own,” said Klein, who is 21-4 as a starter the last two seasons. “That would be the most important thing and what I would want people to walk away with.”
Klein was the Heisman frontrunner for half the season before K-State’s heartbreaking loss at Baylor in Week 11. The Loveland, Colo., native threw three interceptions in that 52-24 loss in Waco, as the Wildcats’ undefeated season came crashing to a halt, along with Klein’s Heisman hopes.
And though Klein didn’t get to hoist the trophy Saturday night — he said going into the weekend he still expected to win and didn’t accept being the underdog in a race he led for so long.
“One of the 16 goals is ‘Expect to Win,’” Klein said. “Obviously, you can’t prepare and think (like you’ll lose). I worked as hard as I possibly could and took advantage of every opportunity to the best of my human ability.
“You want to win, of course. You don’t come to these things not expecting to
win. That’s not the K-State way.”
Obviously, it didn’t work out that way, and K-State is still without a Heisman winner. Klein’s bid for the Heisman may have come down to a game in mid November, just a few days after K-State earned it first-ever No. 1 BCS ranking, and only a couple weeks removed from an injury that knocked Klein out of the Oklahoma State game.
That game against the Cowboys was the window Manziel and Te’o needed to get back into a race that looked over — as long as Klein could stay healthy in a brutally-physical offense and the Wildcats could stay unbeaten. Neither happened, as the once-seemingly invincible Klein was forced out in the third quarter with a concussion.
Klein returned a week later, but wasn’t as sharp as he’d been in previous weeks. K-State won at TCU, but largely because of one of the best defensive efforts all season.
A week later, the Heisman race changed, as did the Wildcats’ season.
“It’s going to be a hard one forever,” Klein said of the loss to Baylor. “It’s something none of us will ever forget.”
But as much as the loss at Baylor changed the Wildcats’ season and hurt Klein’s Heisman chances, the win over Texas in the regular season finale went a long way in healing some of those deep wounds.
“What impressed me about Klein is the game he had to win to get into the BCS, he took his football team all by himself in the second half,” ESPN analyst Lee Corso said during the ceremony. “I really think that was one of the greatest wins in the history of Kansas State.”
The Wildcats, after all, defeated the Longhorns to win the Big 12 title and earned the automatic berth into the Fiesta Bowl to play Oregon next month. The season wasn’t saved, but it was a step in the right direction for the Wildcats who got back to doing what they’ve done best the last two seasons — win.
“I think you could make the argument that our rhythm as an offense maybe struggled, we weren’t as clean and weren’t as efficient,” Klein said of the three-game stretch against Oklahoma State, TCU and Baylor. “That’s not an excuse, because we need to execute and perform, but finally in the Texas game we showed some of the efficiency and rhythm we’d been in search of for two and a half games.
“The lesson and response of being able to bounce back and get back on the horse, finish like we did, was huge.”