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Heisman 1972 Johnny Rodgers
AP Photo/Marty Lederhandler

Husker Legacy

1972 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers

Johnny Rodgers spends a fair amount of time traveling the state of Nebraska and beyond -- much of it in the company of his Heisman Trophy. Rodgers' 1972 trophy has made appearances at charity events and other fundraisers from San Diego to Montreal, with stops at the Kentucky Derby and golf tournaments aplenty. He enjoys spreading the Heisman aura. "It's not just mine," the former receiver/runner/returner said. "It's ours." The public always responds with class, Rodgers said. "Everyone really takes care of it," he said. "Nobody's done anything to jeopardize its safety. They respect what it represents." The Heisman is an eternal draw in football-worshipping middle America. When Nebraska hosted ancient rival Oklahoma on Nov. 7 in Lincoln, Rodgers organized an event that brought together six Heisman-winning Sooners and Cornhuskers -- and their trophies. Rodgers said he had special traveling cases built for the trophies belonging to fellow Nebraska greats Mike Rozier and Eric Crouch, and for visiting Oklahoma winners Steve Owens, Billy Sims and Jason White. The six men and their six stiff-arming awards made appearances across three days in Hastings, Lincoln and Omaha. It's always fun for Rodgers to get together with other Heisman winners, but not quite as much fun as the breathtaking plays he made to win the award. Rodgers scored 50 touchdowns in three varsity seasons at Nebraska, but it was his eight kick-return TDs that rank among his most memorable plays. And the punt returns were almost always freelance moments. "I had a reputation for never calling a fair catch," he said. "It was always on me. Our team knew, their team knew and the fans knew. I'd just say to the guys, 'Everyone get a block and then meet me downfield.'" And when Johnny Rodgers stood up in New York to receive the Heisman without his teammates, he was thinking of them back home in Lincoln. "It's an individual award," he said. "But it's a team award, too. What I'll always remember is the quality of the guys I was able to play with."
-- Pat Forde

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