Bo Jackson of Auburn was awarded the Heisman Trophy last night in New York as the nation's outstanding college football player. The senior tailback from Bessemer, Ala., edged quarterback Chuck Long of Iowa by 45 votes, the closest margin in the 51-year history of the award.
"I figured it would be close, down to the wire," Jackson said moments after being handed the 25-pound bronze statue by Eugene Meyer, president of the Downtown Athletic Club. "I was prepared for whatever the outcome might be."
Besides Long, Jackson's stiffest competition came from Brigham Young quarterback Robbie Bosco, who finished third in the nationwide voting by about 1,000 media representatives.
Sophomore running back Lorenzo White of Michigan State was fourth, quarterback Vinny Testaverde of Miami fifth and Purdue quarterback Jim Everett sixth.
Navy's Napoleon McCallum was seventh, with eight first-place votes, 11 for second and 26 for third. Just as the announcement was being made in New York, McCallum was riding the shoulders of his teammates after helping lead them to a 17-7 upset of Army.
"It means a great deal to me," Jackson said. "It's something that I've looked at over the years . . . It's tradition and I'll do everything I can to uphold that tradition."
Long said he felt honored that the race was so close. "The suspense was building up tremendously," he said. "The last hour was worse than a football game. It was worse than the Michigan game."
It was the second time an Auburn player has won the Heisman. Quarterback Pat Sullivan won it in 1971.
Jackson received 317 first-place votes, 218 second-place votes and 122 third-place votes for a total of 1,509 points. Long had 286 first-place votes and 1,464 points. Closest to the 1985 vote was 1961, when Syracuse's Ernie Davis won the Heisman by 53 points over Bob Ferguson of Ohio State.
Said Long, "It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the race, especially the last few weeks. To be honest, I really didn't think about it at all during the season . . . I was more worried about how well our team would do this year and making it to the Rose Bowl."
Jackson drew enormous criticism during the course of the season for pulling himself from two games that turned into Southeastern Conference losses for the Tigers. He suffered a bruised knee against Tennessee and totaled 80 yards. Auburn lost, 38-20. Florida limited him to 48 yards and hastened his retreat to the sideline with what he described as spasms in his thigh. The Gators prevailed, 14-10, and some of the Florida players questioned Jackson's heart, saying he was playing as if he already had won the Heisman.
Against Alabama in the final game of the regular season, however, Jackson played with two cracked ribs and still rushed for 142 yards on 31 carries and scored two touchdowns. For the year, he ran for 1,786 yards, scored 17 touchdowns and helped lead the 8-3 Tigers to a berth in the Cotton Bowl. For his career, Jackson gained 3,828 yards on 563 carries and had 38 touchdowns.
Asked about his critics, Jackson said, "The only thing I can say is that I know what I can do and I am not a quitter."
Jackson entered the season as the odds-on favorite for the award. Keith Byars of Ohio State, the nation's leading rusher and scorer last season, might have given him a close run had Byars not broken his foot in the preseason and missed eight games.
Last year's winner, Boston College's Doug Flutie, was the first non-running back to receive the award since Nebraska receiver Johnny Rodgers in 1972. Jackson became the 12th running back in the past 13 years to win the award.
Long turned down an opportunity to play professional football last year to come back and lead the Hawkeyes to a 10-1 record and Rose Bowl berth. He completed 231 passes in 351 attempts for 2,978 yards and 26 touchdowns, a Big Ten record. His only major blemish came when he threw four interceptions in a nationally televised 22-13 loss to Ohio State that knocked the Hawkeyes from No. 1.
"I'm trying to help my team, not win the Heisman Trophy," Jackson said the day before the awards ceremony. "If what I do is good enough, fine. When I'm playing, I do the best I can. My goal is to help Auburn win football games."