NEW YORK -- As they walked out of the press room in the Marriott Marquis to make their way across a bustling Times Square for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, Montee Ball grabbed onto Robert Griffin III's throwing arm with both of his hands.
"This RG3 is strong," the Wisconsin running back said, the two breaking into laughter as the Baylor quarterback and the other finalists were ushered behind a curtain and led down the escalators.
Strong? Ball had no idea.
A couple of hours later, it was Griffin who stood on the Best Buy Theater podium, flashing his Superman socks, cape and all, to the nation as he captured the 77th Heisman, beating out Stanford's Andrew Luck by 280 points.
"It's unbelievable and believable," Griffin said. "It's unbelievable because in the moment, we're all amazed when great things happen. But it's believable because great things don't happen without hard work. The great [Baylor] coach Art Briles always says great things only come with great effort. We've certainly worked for this. That's right -- everybody associated with Baylor University has a reason to celebrate tonight."
MANDEL: GRIFFIN WIN HELPS TO TRANFORM BAYLOR'S IMAGE
The Bears star won five of the six voting regions -- the West, expectedly, went to its lone finalist, Luck -- to give the school its first trophy. Alabama's Trent Richardson was third, while Ball was fourth and LSU's Tyrann Mathieu fifth.
It was no landslide -- 27 years have had tighter finishes than the 10.4 percent margin of victory, which is based on total possible points -- though it was a vote that may have showed us just how key timing can be.
The Heisman Trust supplied a bar graph breaking down the voting over the three weeks of voting, and over the first 14 days, Luck was in control. He had received over 30 percent of the points on the first week's worth of ballots and 35 the following week. Richardson was a clear second, while Griffin was lagging behind. But it was those final days of voting when Griffin made his move.
"It seemed like the script was written for us to go out and win this award," Griffin said. "To have those guys not in a game, to have us playing a big-time opponent the last week, it was huge. It seemed like God wrote it that way and we had to go out and fulfill it and we did that as a team. Not just myself, I didn't play a perfect game and we won the game in fantastic fashion and it helped me win this award."
While Luck and Richardson's teams failed to qualify for their conference's title games, Griffin played -- albeit thanks to a reconfigured Big 12 schedule that no longer features a championship. He had a national stage against a name opponent in Texas, while his biggest challengers for the award sat at home.
Griffin dominated, and while voters may not have been swayed by the four TDs he totaled in a rout of the Longhorns, it certainly didn't hurt. He captured nearly 35 percent of the points on ballots cast over the last week of voting, while Luck had 25 and Richardson 18.
The eventual winner wasn't the only one who saw a spike after Championship Weekend.
Ball and Mathieu made splashes of their own which may have been their tickets to New York. The Badgers back, who made his challenge of Barry Sanders' single-season scoring record very, very real with four scores in the Big Ten title game, went from earning two percent and one percent, respectively, over the first two weeks, to drawing nearly 10 percent the final days.
"Obviously I wanted to come here and represent my conference," Ball said. "I'm very stunned [by that increase.]"
Meanwhile, the "Honey Badger," went from a near non-factor in the race to a seat at the final table after he returned a punt for a TD and set up another score with a fumble recovery in the SEC final.
Minutes after the ceremony was over and the Heisman awarded, the Stanford QB gathered with a small group of reporters. He was showed that same bar graph, which illustrated how his lead had evaporated during those final days of voting.
"I wish I could have played the Pac-12 title game, first off," Luck said. "As far as impacting the Heisman vote, I don't want to go back and say "Well, what if I had done this? ... It's all out of my control and I just have to roll with it."
Luck wound up with more second-place (250) and third-place votes (166) than anyone as everyone's preseason favorite became just the fourth player in the award's history, and the first since Arkansas' Darren McFadden, to finish a runner-up in consecutive years. He also made Stanford the first school to inhabit second place three straight years with Luck and Toby Gerhart.
"I'm not sure what the Vegas odds are on that; it would be pretty interesting to see," Luck said. "But I was more upset when Toby got second in line."
This was a night that bucked what has become the conventional wisdom regarding the Heisman. Griffin received 405 of the first place votes as he joined Tim Tebow (2007) and Ricky Williams (1998) as the only players in the BCS era to win the Heisman without playing in a top-tier bowl, and he's just the fourth QB from a team with three losses to win.
It wasn't about the best team. It was about the best player, regardless of whether he left voters with a final impression on the final weekend that his top challengers couldn't.
As Griffin's name was led aloud, it was Luck who was the first to congratulate him. He hugged the Baylor QB, [I told him] congratulations, well-deserved," Luck said.
Then he delivered maybe the most telling line of what winning the Heisman Trophy meant to the loquacious Griffin. "He didn't respond," Luck said. "I think he was at a loss for words."