Fairley also has a knack for separating quarterbacks from their senses. This season he knocked three quarterbacks—Arkansas's Ryan Mallett, LSU's Jordan Jefferson, and Georgia's Aaron Murray—out of games (at least for a few plays). Some of Fairley's hits have earned him a reputation for being a dirty player ("Nick plays with a definite mean streak, and some of his hits are uncalled for," says McElroy), but Fairley has no intention of changing his hard-charging, menacing style of play against the Ducks and their quarterback, Darron Thomas. "My mom called me once and asked, 'Why you trying to hurt those quarterbacks?'" Fairley recalls. "I said I'm not trying to hurt anyone, but this is a man's game, and my job is to get that quarterback."
Fairley rises from a chair in his Houston hotel room, kisses his mother on the cheek, then disappears into the night, his Lombardi Award still in his hands. He believes with all of his heart this won't be the last piece of hardware he'll be holding this season.