When fall officially begins, Taylor Heinicke can always look back with fond memories.
Nearly a year after his historic, record-setting performance, there isn’t a whole lot Taylor Heinicke remembers with clarity when asked about the day he set the NCAA record book ablaze by throwing for 730 yards.
“Honestly, a lot of it’s a blur,” said Old Dominion University’s junior quarterback, who was playing in only his 13th college football game on Sept. 22, 2012. “But I do vividly remember one thing.
“When we were down 47-24 early in the third quarter, coach Scott said to me, ‘Taylor, you’re going to have to throw the ball on every play until we’re back in this game.’ ”
Coach Scott would be offensive coordinator Brian Scott, and he might as well have been a song bird whistling the most beautiful melody Heinicke had ever heard, for as Heinicke said, “That was music to my ears.”
Heinicke was four games into his sophomore season when the proverbial lightning struck. And lightning is an appropriate term for what happened, because the 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback was presented with a perfect storm scenario.
Old Dominion had fallen well behind against New Hampshire, a team that had made eight straight playoff appearances in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Monarchs had playoff plans of their own, plans that couldn’t afford a home loss in the team’s Colonial Athletic Association opener.
Scoring on their last six possessions, the Monarchs pulled off a miraculous 64-61 come-from-behind win for the ages, and Heinicke had a performance for the record books.
“Every completion was important,” ODU coach Bobby Wilder said. “Every possession counted.”
Heinicke completed 55 of 79 pass attempts.
Seven of his passes went for touchdowns.
None of his passes were picked off.
He also ran for 61 more yards and a touchdown.
Within just about every one of those sentences rests a national record of some degree, and it was just the tip of the iceberg. There were records within records, things like most yards passing in a quarter (293) and most passes for first downs (37).
“I do remember Ron Whitcomb (ODU’s quarterbacks coach) standing beside me early in the fourth quarter when the game box score was flashed onto the scoreboard and I already had over 500 yards passing,” Heinicke said. “We just looked at each other and knew there were some crazy numbers on that board.”
The Monarchs won it on a Jerod Brown field goal in the closing seconds and when Andre Simmons intercepted a desperation pass as the game clock expired, the celebrating began.
Heinicke knew he’d been part of something very special, but the absurdity of the moment hit when he turned on his cell phone after the game.
“I had 70 text messages and 150 Facebook notifications,” Heinicke said.
The records of the day, joy of the moment and the social media frenzy were matched by the celebrity that followed. Taylor Heinicke’s name and face were splashed across television sets and Internet sites and newspapers from coast to coast. He did interviews with journalists and national radio shows the following week, displaying the “aw shucks” behavior that had already won over the ODU fan base long before Heinicke had his most magical day.
And Heinicke’s performance that afternoon made him the top contender for the Payton Award, given to the nation’s top FCS player. At season’s end, Heinicke would win the award in a landslide.
But the week that followed the game was somewhat exhausting and, at times, unnerving.
“I thought he handled it very well,” head coach Bobby Wilder said. “But it was kind of strange watching him stand at the podium on Monday in front of all of those cameras answering questions.”
The interview requests were so overwhelming that ODU’s athletic administrators hoped to cover them all with the Monday press conference. But that didn’t work.
“I did interviews with Yahoo, Sports Illustrated, ESPN,” Heinicke said. “I did multiple interviews every night that following week leading up to our game at Richmond.”
According to Wilder, the most amusing aspect of it all happened when Heinicke followed his record-setting performance with a 360-yard, two-touchdown passing performance.
“The reporters after the game were asking if I thought Taylor had a mediocre game,” Wilder said. “I’m pretty sure 360 yards passing isn’t mediocre. But he’d set the bar so high the previous week that there were warped expectations.”
Of course there were. And besides, he threw for less than half of his yardage from the previous week, because 730 yards passing in a game tends to skew perspective.
So what will Heinicke remember most years from now about his game of games?
“I’ll remember that we won,” he said. “If I’d thrown for 700 yards and we’d lost, there wouldn’t be much to remember, would there?”