Matt Leinart became the second USC quarterback in three years to win the Heisman Trophy when he was awarded college football's most prestigious award Saturday night in New York.
So much for that "West Coast bias" theory.
"Oh my goodness," an emotional Leinart said as he leaned into the microphone.
It was a sentiment shared by many -- including Leinart's mother, Linda, who dabbed back tears, and father Bob, so proud he might have busted his shirt buttons.
Meanwhile, across a continent, Santa Ana Mater Dei High football Coach Bruce Rollinson was so thrilled one of his former players won that he almost flew to New York without a jet.
Watching ESPN's Heisman telecast from his Orange County home, Rollinson said, "I jumped off the couch" after hearing Leinart's name announced.
Leinart, a junior, finished first in balloting with 267 first-place votes and 1,325 points. Oklahoma freshman tailback Adrian Peterson finished second with 997 points, followed by Oklahoma senior quarterback Jason White (957), Utah junior quarterback Alex Smith (635) and USC sophomore tailback Reggie Bush (597).
Leinart is the sixth USC player to win the Heisman and he joined Notre Dame quarterback John Huarte (1964) as the second Mater Dei player to win the award.
"It was very emotional for me," Rollinson said of Leinart's award. "To know that we coached him, and watched him grow and develop. I'm very proud of my staff, very proud of the high school. I guess we have a little corner of that thing."
Leinart has led USC to a 12-0 record this year and a berth in the bowl championship series title game Jan. 4 in the Orange Bowl. Leinart has passed for 2,990 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. He is 24-1 as a starter.
Prior to Carson Palmer's earning the Heisman Trophy in 2002, no player from the Pacific 10 Conference had won the award since USC's Marcus Allen in 1981.
"Filling in his shoes, I could have never imagined this," Leinart said of taking over at quarterback for Palmer. "I just wanted to play and try to help my team win. Now, here I am today. It's a dream come true. I'm still living the dream and, I don't know, I feel like it's never going to end."
It was thought this year's race was going to be one of the closest ever, yet Leinart ended up winning five of the six Heisman voting regions -- White taking the Southwest.
Leinart likely clinched the Heisman win with his 400-yard, five-touchdown performance against Notre Dame on Nov. 27. Some Heisman prognosticators thought Leinart's touchdown-less game against UCLA on Dec. 4 might have hurt his chances in the race, but it is likely many voters had already cast their ballots.
Leinart's victory, in fact, may have mirrored that of last year's winner, White, who probably cinched the award before his less-than-stellar season-ending game in the Big 12 Conference championship.
Peterson's second-place finish was the highest for any true freshman. Georgia's Herschel Walker finished third as a freshman in 1980 and Michael Vick of Virginia Tech was a redshirt freshman when he finished third in 1999.
White, who has passed for 2,961 yards and 33 touchdowns this year, was trying to become the second player to win a second Heisman, but that distinction still belongs to Ohio State's Archie Griffin (1974 and '75).
White told Leinart that winning the Heisman will change his life.
"He'll realize what I'm talking about in a couple of weeks," White said.
Leinart's win was also another triumph for USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who has now mentored three Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks. The others were Palmer in 2002 and Ty Detmer in 1990, when Chow was an assistant coach at Brigham Young.
Interestingly, Leinart wasn't really in the Heisman mix this year until a breakout five-touchdown (four passing, one rushing) performance in USC's sixth game against Arizona State.
His ascent from Palmer's raw-boned replacement to Saturday night is more remarkable when you consider Leinart had not thrown a pass in a college game until the 2003 opener at Auburn.
His first career toss, by the way, was a touchdown -- five yards to Mike Williams.
Leinart completed 17 of 30 passes for 192 yards in USC's 23-0 win against Auburn. Rollinson remembers nervously watching Leinart's debut.
"I knew the potential was there," Rollinson said. "I saw him do incredible things under pressure."
Leinart threw 38 touchdown passes as a sophomore, yet was viewed by many as the main benefactor of a tremendous supporting cast.
This year, with Williams gone and USC having to rebuild its offensive line, Leinart got more credit for being a team leader as he battled a season-long bout of tendinitis in his throwing elbow.
Smith and Bush were believed to be the first finalists to have played on the same team in high school -- both were stars at Helix High in the San Diego area.