John Clay: Another Heisman contender comes to Commonwealth

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 13, 2013 

Plenty of great quarterbacks have played at Commonwealth Stadium.

Unfortunately for Kentucky, more often than not they have played for the other team.

Alas, here we are again in 2013 with seventh-ranked Louisville driving its travel buses up Cooper Drive for a scheduled Saturday shootout with Mark Stoops' Cats.

Leading Charlie Strong's Cards will be none other than Teddy Bridgewater, the star U of L quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate who may be the only talent capable of keeping South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney from being the NFL's No. 1 draft pick next spring.

Where this town is concerned, however, Teddy Ballgame is just the latest in a long line of distinguished visitors.

Three years before Danny Wuerffel won the 1996 Heisman Trophy, the Florida quarterback burst on the scene when he came off Steve Spurrier's bench to throw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Chris Doering with three seconds remaining to break Kentucky's heart, 24-20.

How heartbreaking? UK had intercepted seven Florida passes. And lost.

Wuerffel returned in 1995 to complete 21 of 28 passes for 253 yards and two scores in Florida's 42-7 cakewalk over the Cats. He won the Heisman the following year.

Then there was this kid named Peyton Manning, who as a sophomore in 1995 helped Tennessee score the game's final 18 points in a 34-31 win over UK.

Two years later, Peyton hooked up in an aerial duel with another pretty fair quarterback. UK's Tim Couch threw for a school-record 476 yards that day. Manning threw for a school-record 523 yards and five touchdowns, however, as UT won 59-31.

Let's not forget Peyton's little brother, the one who owns the family lead in Super Bowl wins (2-1). As a sophomore in 2001, Eli Manning led Ole Miss to a 42-31 win over host Kentucky by completing 19 of 36 passes for 268 yards and two scores.

Then in 2007, Timothy Richard Tebow came to town. ESPN's College GameDay visited Lexington, too, not for Florida's star quarterback, but because the week before Rich Brooks' Wildcats had upset No. 1-ranked LSU.

Kentucky still got Tebow-ed. The sophomore threw for 256 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 78 yards and another score as the Gators prevailed 45-37, and Tebow went on to New York to pick up the Heisman.

His last trip to Commonwealth was probably more memorable, if Tebow remembers it that is. While being sacked in the third quarter of the 2009 game by UK defensive end Taylor Wyndham, Tebow suffered a concussion.

The quarterback remained overnight at the UK Medical Center, where the next morning he presumably read about his two 30-yard runs, his 44-yard touchdown pass and Florida's 41-7 win.

A year later, Commonwealth played host to another Heisman winner. Well, Cameron Newton hadn't received the trophy quite yet, but he helped make his case by leading Auburn to a dramatic win.

Down 17 points in the second quarter, Kentucky rallied to tie the game first at 31, then at 34.

With 7:35 remaining, however, Auburn took possession at its own 7-yard line and began to march. And march. And march.

The back-breaking 19-play drive consumed 86 yards and the entire clock by the time Will Byrum's 24-yard field goal at the final horn gave Auburn a 37-34 victory.

But then Teddy Bridgewater has been here before. You could say the kid got his real start here, entering the 2011 UK-U of L game early in the second quarter for injured starter Will Stein.

In two previous games, young Mr. Bridgewater had thrown all of three passes and his first two attempts at Commonwealth fell incomplete.

Then the true freshman caught fire. He threw a pair of 25-yard touchdown strikes — one to current Cards wideout DeVante Parker, the other to Josh Bellamy — as Louisville upset the Cats 24-17.

Since that night two years ago, UK has gone 6-17 and hired a new coach.

Meanwhile, Louisville has gone 18-7 and watched Teddy Bridgewater rise to the top of the Heisman straw polls.

Saturday, high noon, they meet again.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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