He assumed Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith had clinched the award days ago, and McFadden didn't have much of a reaction when Smith's name was called Saturday night in front of a packed crowd inside the Nokia Theatre.
But McFadden was surprised when the Heisman voting was revealed moments later. Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn was slightly taken aback, as well.
McFadden pulled off a mini-upset by beating out Quinn to finish as the Heisman runner-up behind Smith. McFadden was considered the darkhorse among the three finalists, and the popular assumption was that the sophomore would finish behind Smith and Quinn in the Heisman race.
"It was sort of a surprise to me," McFadden said, dressed in a dark blue suit with a light blue shirt. "I figured Troy Smith was going to win. He did a great job all year, so it was pretty much a surprise to me finishing second as a sophomore."
McFadden received 45 votes for first place, 298 for second and 147 for third to finish with a total of 878 points. The Little Rock native became the fourth underclassmen in the last six years to finish as the Heisman runner-up.
Quinn, who placed fourth in last year's Heisman race and entered the season as the favorite, received only 13 first-place votes despite garnering more national attention than McFadden. Notre Dame's senior quarterback finished with 782 total points.
When asked afterward if he was surprised to finish behind McFadden in the Heisman voting, Quinn said, "A little bit. He's definitely well deserving.... With the year that he's had, especially as a sophomore, it's definitely incredible."
McFadden got the upper hand on Quinn in other ways other than in just the Heisman voting.
While waiting in a green room for the Heisman ceremony to begin, the two finalists played each other in a game of Madden 2007 on the PlayStation 360. So who won?
"I beat him pretty bad," McFadden, cracking a smile.
But the Heisman was Smith's to lose. Entering Saturday, there was talk that the Ohio State quarterback could win the statue in the largest landslide in Heisman history.
As it turned out, it was the second largest margin of victory in Heisman history. But McFadden didn't seem to mind, cracking his usual smile while trying not to take the hour-long ceremony too seriously.
Of course, that doesn't mean he wasn't nervous.
"I feel like it was 10 times worse than pregame butterflies," McFadden said of waiting for the winner to be announced.
McFadden wasn't expected to finish second. The sophomore missed most of preseason practices because of a severe toe injury, and didn't regain his explosiveness until a few games into the season. He needed a few big performances down the stretch to put himself in the Heisman picture.
"I can't believe it," Arkansas running backs coach Danny Nutt of McFadden's second-place finish.
His brother, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt, wasn't surprised. He figured McFadden had a good chance of finishing behind Smith because of the way the Little Rock native ran toward the end of the season.
"It's one of the greatest nights in Arkansas history, in our program's history," said Nutt, who flew in Saturday evening to attend the Heisman ceremony.
McFadden took the stage at 7:10 p.m. as the first Heisman finalist introduced. Known by his teammates as jokester, he couldn't resist laughing when he was introduced by show host Chris Fowler.
After finishing as the runner-up, McFadden figures he has a chance to return to New York next year, except this time as the favorite to win the statue.
"If I go out next season and keep working hard, I expect to be back next year."
McFadden Pulls Off Upset; 2nd In Heisman
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