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A Memo from the far reaches of the northwest to the Downtown Athletic Club, New York City: Put down quarterback Chris Chandler of Washington as an early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. On Saturday, Chandler completed 18 of 31 passes for a touchdown and a career-high 314 yards to lead Washington to a 31-21 defeat of Stanford at Husky Stadium. Chandler, a 6' 3�", 204-pound fifth-year senior, displayed arm strength, touch, mobility, toughness and leadership. In fact, in his 16 games as a starter, Chandler has accomplished what a decade of winning seasons at Washington couldn't: He has sold Don James, the conservative "Dawgfather" of the Huskies, on the big play. Suddenly, James is uttering phrases like "air it out" without cringing.
Stanford came out in a double-eagle defense, with both safeties up close and the cornerbacks playing man-for-man on the Husky wideouts. The idea was to stuff Washington's traditionally strong inside running game and invite the pass. When Chandler saw the enemy's formation, he knew his mission. "But first I did something a little uncharacteristic for me," he said after the game. "I checked off to a run."
Thereafter he methodically demonstrated to Cardinal coach Jack Elway, who as the father of NFL quarterback John should know better, that it's risky to challenge the good ones. Chandler hit all manner of passes, including eight to receiver Darryl Franklin for 209 yards. Franklin caught a 36-yard fade along the left sideline in the first quarter, a 45-yarder for a touchdown in the third (the righthanded Chandler threw while rolling left) and a 47-yard bomb off a fake run-option and pump-fake screen pass that James calls the "whirlybird."
"I'm not bragging, but they were right on the money," said Chandler, an erratic practice performer who explained his sharpness in two words: "Game day."
"If teams are going to play 'man,' " he added, "they better be able to really play 'man.' I hope they keep trying."
Stanford, meanwhile, did well to stay close. Its own Heisman candidate, running back Brad Muster, aggravated an ankle injury and left the game in the first quarter. After that, the Cardinal hopes rode with quarterback Greg Ennis, who said before the game, "I don't have the ability of a Chris Chandler."
Chandler almost went to Stanford himself. He finally picked Washington—and then spent a redshirt season and another season and a half on the Husky bench questioning his decision. But when he got a chance to start in the 10th game of his sophomore year, he beat USC with a 98-yard fourth-quarter drive that included three successful fourth-down plays. Last season, Chandler passed for a school-record 20 touchdowns.
So, for the first time, James is openly lobbying for one of his players to win the Heisman. And the Washington sports information office has instructed its assistants to make sure in their reports to radio stations to preface any reference to Chandler with the words, "Heisman Trophy candidate."
However, many Husky fans—hardened by watching the likes of Sonny Sixkiller and Warren Moon get ignored by Heisman balloters—are cynical about Chandler's chances. "Zero to none," said Andy Hopper of Seattle during a recent phone-in poll conducted by The Seattle Times. "People back East still think we have Indians roaming around on horseback." Jim Singleton of Renton, Wash., was even more direct: "There's no way he's going to win it. Let's be real!"
Duly noted. Then again, real is precisely what Chris Chandler has become.