Carson Palmer’s Road To the Heisman

Sam Farmer (LA Times)  —  Carson Palmer has 15 seasons of memories stockpiled from his days as quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, and Arizona Cardinals.

But some of the most vivid recollections of the former No. 1 overall pick came from his time at USC and the run-up to winning the Heisman Trophy in 2002, an award he wasn’t even sure he wanted at first.

That’s right, it’s almost as if he wanted to give that illustrious honor the stiff-arm when the buzz was he’d win it.

In his words:

I never watched a Heisman ceremony when I was a kid. I didn’t even know it was held at the Downtown Athletic Club when I was a candidate. I thought it was at Radio City Music Hall or something.

When I was a kid, I just wanted to be outside. I didn’t grow up watching football. Didn’t ever watch a college game. I watched “Monday Night Football” because my dad liked it, but we didn’t sit around on Sundays. I was outside, playing, training, whatever. I wasn’t a fan like I am now.

My senior season at SC, the game that put me over the top was Notre Dame. Big game. Normally, Pete Carroll would give the speech to the team the night before the game, but this time Kennedy Pola got up to speak. He was the running backs coach and he was hugely respected.

Kennedy gets up and says, “We’ve got a chance to do something really special tomorrow. We’ve got a chance to watch a guy, and be on the field with a guy, who will win the Heisman Trophy.” He points right at me. I was sitting in the front row of the meeting room. “We have a chance to watch this guy win the Heisman Trophy. It’s on all of us.”

Normally, I’d hate that. I don’t like being singled out. But this time was different. It gives me chills just thinking about it now.

Man, it motivated the heck out of me. He just put all this pressure on me in front of my buddies, my roommates. That just motivated me. I went to bed that night and thought, “Man, I’d better not disappoint.”

That was one of the few games the whole country got to see us play, and we went out and played a great game. [Palmer threw for four touchdowns and 425 yards in a 44-13 victory, at the time the most passing yards against Notre Dame.]

I remember after that, when it was announced I was going to the Heisman ceremony, I didn’t think I was going to win it because everybody was saying there was a bias against West Coast teams. I really hadn’t paid attention to it. Winning the Heisman wasn’t really a goal when I was younger. My goal was to go to USC and win a national championship.

Everybody was saying it was going to be an East Coast guy who’d win it, probably Larry Johnson from Penn State. Willis McGahee and Ken Dorsey from Miami were finalists too.

So when it was announced I’d be going, I was sitting in the office of Norm Chow, our offensive coordinator. I was getting ready to fly to Louisville for another award, and then I’d go on to New York. Norm had been at BYU when Ty Detmer won the Heisman, so he knew how it worked.

I’ll never forget, Norm was like, “Get ready. Your life’s about to change.” It was the first time somebody said to me, “No, you’re going to win it. It’s done.”

I was thinking, “Man, I’ve got it pretty good right now.”

I never wanted to be a celebrity, so that freaked me out. He was hyping me up and saying all these nice things, but I was thinking, “Oh, man. I just want to play football. My life’s going to change?” I kind of took it as a negative.

I go to Louisville for another awards ceremony, and I’m not even excited about going to New York anymore. I had never been there and thought I was going to get a chance to see the town. I got the schedule for New York and it was like, 7 a.m., get fitted for a tux, 8 a.m. be here, 9 a.m. be there. I was thinking, “I’m not even going to see the city.”

We get to New York and got to go to the stock exchange and ring the bell, all these cool things. And then I’m in a room with all the other finalists, and there’s a Heisman in there with us with no name on it. It’s the trophy one of us is going to win. I’m looking at this thing and it hits me: I want to win this so bad.

My whole perspective flipped.

latimes.com

__________

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TrojanRJJ
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Carson thrived with an elite OC. To be honest, SC has not had an elite OC between Norm and GH. And I think GH is elite. Kiffin and Sark were young and had potential but had to mature to reach elite. I wonder if GH will stick around this year? My guess is he is seeking a quality HC job. My guess is his goal is Baylor. I have no idea if staying at SC helps his goals or if working in the SEC at a Georgia or an A&M would be better. My guess is we will know after… Read more »

San Diego Trojan
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Funny story about Carson. I watch the TV simulcast of the Dan Patrick show most mornings. Hard to watch the news these days, and the show is fun and entertaining. Anyway, Carson was interviewed on the show awhile back, and Dan asked him where he keeps his Heisman. Carson said “I think it’s in the garage, why? Do you want it for your ManCave?” Dan replied incredulously Yeah! Carson said to give him his Fed-Ex info off the air. Sure enough, it arrived and was revealed a few weeks ago. So now Carson Palmer’s Heisman is sitting on the bar… Read more »

RialtoTrojan
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I would like to joke about targeting Palmer for the AD position, but I know better. I took my son to the area where players came out of the tunnel. We were able to get autographs from players and Carson shook my son’s hand. That simple gesture cemented Palmer as my son’s football hero.

Trojan96
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I was on the field for the Stanford game and sure enough Norm Chow was there on the. Field as well. It’s great to see old coaches come back to support the program.

Rock2112
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I chatted with Norm on the sideline of the Stanford game too! We were probably standing right next to each other at some point, T96!

Jamaica
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No doubt about it. when PC brought in Norm Chow, it was the best thing that happened to Carson as a QB. Chow came from NC St. and had turned around Philip Rivers game to great success. With Chow & PC, Carson no longer had to feel like he alone had to win games. His turnaround was remarkable to say the least. His bad luck came in the NFL being drafted and traded to perennial losers. You could tell at the Heisman Ceremony he was just awed by his good fortune. MG (through Daryl Gross’ recommendation) hiring of PC really… Read more »

rleeholder1
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I’ll never forget watching the ceremony and seeing Carson’s face when he was announced as the winner. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, IMO. Carson is my all-time favorite at SC because he let his play do the talking. Not too many people remember that he was a decent runner for a guy his size, as well as a gifted passer. I’ll also remember the ND game in the Coliseum with Keith Jackson and Dan Fouts announcing the game. At one point, Dan Fouts just yelled in the mic that “Carson Palmer is on fire”. I think it… Read more »

TMC4USC
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I agree with most of the above. I loved watching Carson play. I was at his first ever game when he came in against Purdue on that very hot day in the Coliseum to replace Mike Van Raaphorst. Carson rallied the Trojans in a come from behind win vs Drew Brees and the Boilermakers.

One of my favorite memories was Carson being asked in 1998 by a sportscaster why he chose USC over Ucla since the Bruins had dominated the recent games in the rivalry. Carson’s response? “Because Ucla sucks!”