MOUNT VERNON — Mount Vernon resident Tom McHugh received his Christmas present a little early this year in the form of a little trip.
McHugh, a former professional player and college football coach, traveled to the 75th annual Heisman Memorial Trophy Weekend, Dec. 11-14, in New York, N.Y., as a guest of his college roommate, John Lattner. Both McHugh and Lattner played football for Notre Dame University, where Lattner won the Heisman Trophy in 1953.
“I went to Toledo Central Catholic High School and played football; I got to go to Notre Dame on a football scholarship,” said McHugh. “John (Lattner) and I were teammates for four years. We met at Notre Dame as freshmen, and were good friends. Our senior year, we roomed together, so we became very great friends. He was in my wedding and things like that over the years.
“In 1953, we won the national championship, and I like to brag I was the third-leading ground gainer on the team where the Heisman award winner was the second-leading rusher. John was just a great all-around player. He punted, played offense and defense.”
There were many highlights during the weekend for McHugh, who has been trying to get Lattner to take him since he was first selected for the award. Finally getting the opportunity to attend is a once in a lifetime honor for McHugh.
“It was a great weekend,” said McHugh. “We got to take in a Broadway show; we went to a couple of dinners and receptions, where I got to meet several past Heisman Trophy winners. I sat with Dick Kazmaier from Princeton, who won it in 1951. He was the oldest guy there. I had a nice talk with him; he’s a terrific guy. It was really something meeting all of these guys; they were all nice guys.
“The main highlight for me was just having the opportunity,” McHugh added. “You are only allowed to bring one guest, and Lattner took me. Everything Lattner got or did, I got. ... We’re good friends, so this was wonderful. Of all the activities, the highlight for me was the Monday night formal dinner. There were over 2,000 people there. Before the dinner, they had a reception for all of the Heisman winners and their guests, which was great. Nick Saban spoke, and the master of ceremonies was Chris Fowler from ESPN. All of the Heisman guys were introduced on stage — there were about 25 of them there. A lot of the younger guys were not there. Lattner had a program signed by all of the Heisman guys that night and gave it to me. It was really nice.”
Another one of those highlights was meeting future Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
“I met Ingram at the Hard Rock Cafe on Friday night following the Wendy’s High School Heisman dinner,” said McHugh. “He was a real nice kid; he came over and talked to us. Obviously, he didn’t know he was going to win it, but he was a real nice kid. I joked with him that he wasn’t very big, and he said, ‘Here’s where I’ve got it,’ pointing to his legs. He didn’t really look like he would be that imposing, but he was a great kid.”
McHugh also talked with former Heisman Trophy winner and 2009 nominee Tim Tebow (University of Florida) over dinner on Friday night. In addition, McHugh conversed with former winners Charlie Ward (1993, Florida State), Tony Dorsett (1976, Pittsburgh), Billy Cannon (1959, Louisiana State), Howard “Hopalong” Cassady (1955, Ohio State), George Rogers (1980, South Carolina), Mike Rozier (1983, Nebraska) and Tim Brown (1987, Notre Dame) among others.
“I spent the entire evening talking with Tebow. He’s just a kid,” said McHugh. “The only thing he would say when you asked him a question was, ‘Yes, sir.’ or ‘No, sir.’ He was very polite, soft-spoken.
“I was never overwhelmed (talking with the former winners), but it was a thrill to sit and talk with all of them. I couldn’t believe how nice of guys they all were. The younger ones were very respectful of the older ones, and the older ones sat around and reminisced. It was really interesting to listen to. ... I got to meet many of the former winners, which is really unusual.
“It was a good weekend,” added McHugh. “I enjoyed it thoroughly.”