From Heisman to 192nd pick, Torretta sees draft as another dose of incentive

April 27, 1993|By Greg Cote | Greg Cote,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- He isn't No. 13 anymore, at least not in any way that matters. Yesterday, the NFL said Gino Torretta's new number is 192. It is a big, awful number. A number that looks especially ugly standing next to a Heisman Trophy.

"It's just another challenge," says Torretta, the quarterback with the scarlet number. "It's not the end of the world."

It's not the start of a career that he had in mind, either.

The University of Miami's Torretta entered pro football yesterday, but it was back door, not red carpet. The Minnesota Vikings drafted him late in the seventh of eight rounds -- the 192nd of 224 players.

This is a man, 22, who insisted again yesterday: "I felt I was a first-round quarterback." Reality convinced him otherwise. He was warned it would be bad, but not this bad.

"Realistically I figured second to fourth round," he says.

Draftniks figured fourth to sixth.

Nobody figured Torretta would escape by one round the ignominy of being the first draft-eligible Heisman winner to not be drafted.

He sat by the phone Sunday and again yesterday with his mother and three brothers at home in Pinole, Calif. The party atmosphere faded by degrees. By the end of the sixth round, with the stiff-arming Heisman over there on the table staring at a phone that refused to ring, the small gathering had become a bunker against all the doubters.

"After the sixth round I'm thinking, 'Geez, there's only 50-some picks left,' " Torretta says.

Teams had expressed some interest to his agent, Leigh Steinberg. The Washington Redskins, the Los Angeles Raiders, and Jimmy Johnson's Dallas Cowboys, of course. But: no calls. Four QBs had been drafted when, finally, just before 10 a.m. out West -- not long before nightmares of a tryout with the Miami Hooters may have visited Torretta -- the bell pealed. It was Vikings coach Dennis Green.

"Minnesota had never even spoken to me before the draft," Torretta would note. "Coach Green said, 'We thought you'd already be gone by here. This quarterback wasn't a priority, but we can't pass you up.' "

Said Dolphins personnel man Tom Braatz: "I'm surprised he would drop to as late a round as he did. I liked him. More than that, he has as good an arm as anybody in this draft."

Yet it was the Dolphins, his hometown Dolphins, who passed on Gino right before the Vikings picked.

Competing to start in Minnesota will be returning part-time starter Sean Salisbury and recently acquired veteran Jim McMahon, and possibly incumbent Rich Gannon, although the Vikes say they don't expect him back. Torretta will compete for a roster spot with Brad Johnson, last year's ninth-round draftee out of Florida State.

This is the lot of a No. 192.

Last year's 192 was a receiver from Houston, John Brown. Anonymous players get drafted 192nd. John Browns. Two years ago 192 was a guard from Florida A&M. The Heisman is supposed to live in penthouses, not on 192nd Street.

"I still have to be positive," Torretta says. "You always have to be confident in your abilities."

It hasn't been easy. First the naysayers said he won the Heisman by default. Then the doubtful draftniks dismissed his pro potential, criticizing his lack of arm strength and mobility.

Torretta was hard at work yesterday to keep the best face on this. He rationalized that, with free agency, there was not a dire need for rookie passers. He said what a "tremendous opportunity" Minnesota presents.

He says he is not insulted. I do not believe him. He says he has been handed a huge dose of extra incentive. This I believe.

"I have something to prove, now," he says. "I should have went higher. Right now, I think I'm more determined than ever."

Torretta is not the lowest-drafted Heisman winner. Just last year Brigham Young's Ty Detmer was a ninth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers. He languishes as third string. In 1985, little Doug Flutie lasted until the 11th round.

This does not diminish what Torretta accomplished as a Hurricane. Does not denigrate the Heisman. Rather, it should not. Of course, it will. In most minds, it rekindles all the doubts. It begs the question: If the Heisman thinks Torretta is the best player in college football and the NFL thinks he is the 192nd best, who's right?

None of this is fair to Torretta. It sullies a collegian and a college career that deserve better. It is not fair; it just is.

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