NEW YORK — After hearing his name called as the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton stood up, turned to his mother, Jackie, and gave her a hug, the emotions of a month’s worth of turmoil surrounding his recruitment pouring out in one embrace.
“I didn’t really want to let go,” Newton said. “It’s been hard for me, but it’s been extremely hard for her just to see what her son has been through.
“I just wanted to hug her the whole night, just to make her feel at ease, letting her know that it’s over for this particular moment of our lives.”
The presentation wasn’t filled with suspense. Newton was the runaway winner, earning 78.7 percent of the first-place votes to beat Stanford’s Andrew Luck by 1,184 points, the 11th largest margin of victory in the trophy’s history.
But all eyes were on Newton as he accepted the award as college football’s best player not long after the NCAA concluded that his father, Cecil, actively marketed his son’s services to Mississippi State during the recruiting process last year.
Cecil wasn’t present at the ceremony, removing himself from the festivities to avoid being a distraction on his son’s big night. But he was still on Newton’s mind.
“It hurts a lot, because I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Newton said of his father’s absence. “I know he’s with me in spirit, though.”
ESPN’s coverage didn’t shy away from the NCAA investigation, re-airing an interview the quarterback did with Chris Fowler on Thursday that answered some of the questions.
Asked Saturday what was the toughest part of the ordeal, Newton said, “Just everything coming back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back.”
Still, questions persisted afterward about the recruiting scandal, despite the NCAA reaffirming Newton’s eligibility after determining he had no knowledge of his father’s actions.
After receiving the award, Newton was asked if the Heisman Trust’s decision to make USC’s Reggie Bush forfeit his trophy from 2005 gives him any concerns that the same thing will happen to him in the future.
Newton’s response: “Two letters for you, my friend: No.”
The day was otherwise a complete Auburn celebration. As the four finalists entered the Best Buy Theater, hundreds of Auburn fans lined the entrance in an impromptu Big Apple Tiger Walk, waiting to get a glimpse of Newton on his big night.
“I was stunned,” Newton said. “Somebody had mentioned a Tiger Walk outside. But a Tiger Walk of that magnitude just put a joy in my heart. It expresses the fan support that Auburn as a whole has. The Auburn Family is special, and that’s a big part of it.”
The Tigers’ two previous Heisman Trophy winners — Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson — were in attendance, front and center throughout the ceremony. So was Auburn head coach Gene Chizik, who was second in line for a hug.
“If you have three Heisman winners in your football program over the years then that’s probably enough said,” Chizik said. “That pretty much tells the story of greatness over not just recent times but dating back many years. I think it tells the story of the great history of a great program.”
Newton choked up during his acceptance speech, briefly overwhelmed by the situation until a fan yelled, “We love you Cam!” to ease the moment.
An hour later, as he posed holding the stiff-armed trophy as a pack of photographers frantically clicked away, Newton said it still hadn’t set in.
“This whole thing right now is just beyond me,” he said. “I feel like I’m in a dream, and I haven’t just woke up yet.
“It’s a great award, a prestigious award. I’m just a blessed individual to have an opportunity to even be here standing in front of you.”