EUGENE, Ore. -- The Heisman hype didn't just follow Oregon's Joey Harrington this season, it towered above him.
In June, Ducks boosters shelled out $250,000 to put a 10-story-tall poster of the 6-foot-4 senior on the side of a building in New York. So much for subtlety.
Harrington went to Manhattan to promote the "Joey Heisman" campaign, and admitted being both thrilled and embarrassed by the spectacle.
"I was speechless. It was a very surreal experience," the quarterback said the day before camp opened in August. "It's something you can tell your grandkids about: 'Back in 2001, I was on a big building.' It's cool.
"But at the same time, I do realize that the publicity is because of the success that we've had, and I have to go out there and back it up now."
Harrington proved to be much more than a pretty picture, but his success was measured more by victories than statistics. He guided the Ducks to a 10-1 record, the best regular-season mark in school history, and the team's first outright Pac-10 title since 1994.
"I know there was not a player in college football that had more pressure on him before the season even started than Joey Harrington, by virtue of that billboard," Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. "A lot of people were making remarks about the billboard, but it put him in a position to be noticed. And we all knew it would be decided on the field."
Harrington passed for 2,414 yards this season, only the eighth-best total in Oregon history, with 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions. Harrington's leadership, and a strong running game the past few years, has made the Ducks 26-3 when he's played quarterback.
Nine of those victories were delivered by fourth-quarter comebacks, and Harrington's knack for escaping dicey situations will be his calling card in Eugene.
He rallied the Ducks to three final-period victories this season, against Wisconsin, Southern California and UCLA. His most daring escape was against USC, when Harrington directed a 61-yard drive in 44 seconds, setting up Jared Siegel's 32-yard field goal for a 24-22 win.
In Saturday's 17-14 Civil War victory over Oregon State, Harrington struggled throwing the ball in a downpour, completing just 11 of 22 passes for 104 yards and no touchdowns. But he zipped a perfect spiral to Keenan Howry for a 28-yard gain to extend a crucial 80-yard drive that took up 7:45 in the fourth quarter and ended with Maurice Morris' clinching 8-yard score.
"I've said this many, many times before," Bellotti said. "Joey is one of the best - if not the best - to ever play here, and ever play anywhere."
Great things were expected from Harrington from the day he chose Oregon over Stanford in 1997. When current Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter left his job as the Ducks' offensive coordinator that year to become coach at Boise State, he said the part he'd miss most about Oregon was watching Harrington develop.
Harrington got in for exactly one play as a redshirt freshman, lining up in the backfield against USC and getting flattened by a linebacker on an option pass. In the summer of 1999, he lost a competition with A.J. Feeley to become Akili Smith's successor, but took over in the seventh game after an injured Feeley proved ineffective.
Harrington's wildly successful career began with - what else? - a stirring comeback win, as he replaced Feeley and led the Ducks past Arizona 44-41.
"The most magical thing is, he elevates the level of play of people around him," Bellotti said.
Harrington threw for 2,967 yards as a junior last season, and Oregon went 10-2. He had two touchdowns passing, one rushing and one receiving in a 35-30 win over Texas in the Holiday Bowl.
He worked hard over the summer to correct a slight hitch in his throwing motion that allowed him to get rid of the ball quicker.
It has been harder for Harrington to cut down on his untimely mistakes. He had five interceptions and lost a fumble in a 23-13 Civil War loss last year, which cost the Ducks a berth in the Rose Bowl. In Oregon's only defeat this season - a 49-42 setback to Stanford on Oct. 20 - he threw two second-half interceptions, including one in his own territory that led to the Cardinal's game-winning touchdown with 1:10 left.
In Saturday's game, Harrington bobbled the ball during a rollout, and the fumble was recovered at the Oregon 33 with 1:38 to play. But Oregon State couldn't score.
After the game, a relieved Harrington looked like he'd just walked out of a 1950s yearbook. He wore a green and yellow letter jacket, and held the ball under his left arm.
"I'm not letting this ball out of my hands again," he said.
He might not turn out to be Joey Heisman, but Harrington was the poster boy for the game this year.
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