Heisman Trophy winners, past Husker players return

Updated: August 28, 2003, 10:55 PM ET

LINCOLN, Neb. -- A Cornhusker reunion for this weekend's season opener is attracting the famous and forgotten players of Nebraska's past.

Nebraska's three Heisman Trophy winners -- Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier and Eric Crouch -- and more than 800 other players are returning to Memorial Stadium for the Oklahoma State game Saturday.

They are holding a party dubbed "Husker Nation Celebration," the largest Nebraska football reunion in program history.

On Thursday, the university unveiled a new area inside the west entrance of Memorial Stadium honoring the three Heisman winners with the dedication of the Nebraska Heisman Room.

The room features the three Heismans on black pedestals. The players' game jerseys are framed and displayed, with videotaped career highlights shown on a plasma screen television.

Rodgers and Crouch, who both live in Omaha, were there for the unveiling with NU athletic director Steve Pederson. Rozier arrived late, due to problems traveling from his New Jersey home.

The Heisman winners called the exhibit a tribute to all the great Nebraska teams and fans.

"The one thing that I'm always going to remember about Nebraska is that the fans are the best and the people are the best," Crouch said.

Rodgers said all players should share in the honor of the display, which he believed unique to Nebraska.

"You don't win Heisman trophies by yourself," he said.

Rozier said the room would be a lasting symbol of the contributions that he, Rodgers and Crouch made to the Nebraska football program.

"I love Nebraska, and I'm glad I came to this school," said Rozier.

The idea of the "Husker Nation Celebration" was to recognize Nebraska's rich history by honoring the players and firing up fans as the Huskers look to improve on a 7-7 season that was their worst since John F. Kennedy was president.

For some players, it is literally a family reunion.

Tom Ruud, who played for the Huskers from 1972 to 1974, plans to be on hand Saturday. He is the father of current Nebraska linebackers Barrett, a junior, and Bo, a freshman.

"I know quite a few of them," Barrett Ruud said of the returning players. "I'm going to try to ignore them until after the game. If I get too worried about talking to those guys, I'll lose focus on what I need to be focusing on."

Pederson developed the reunion shortly after becoming NU's new athletic director, saying he thought it was important to gather past players to recognize the Nebraska tradition of excellence.

"Response to our invitation has been tremendous," Pederson said.

In addition to former players, other notables who are scheduled to attend are Mike Devaney, son of coach Bob Devaney, and former coach and U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne.

Returning players include 41 of 89 first-team All-Americans and five who were on the team in the 1930s.

A private reception was scheduled for Friday night. On game day, each returning player will wear authentic jerseys and parade behind the marching band down Stadium Drive into Memorial Stadium.

Before kickoff, the former players will encircle the field.

Seeing all the stars of years past may help motivate this year's squad.

"I like it. A lot of pressure, too," said sophomore cornerback Fabian Washington.

Barrett Ruud also is feeling the pressure.

"You don't want to show up and play bad in front of them," Ruud said. "I think pressure is a good thing. You should be a little antsy. You want to be scared of making mistakes. That makes me play better."

The former players have won so many games and been on so many championship teams, it will be good for the 2003 squad to be surrounded by them, head coach Frank Solich said.

"There's an awful lot to learn from what guys have done in the past and what they expect guys to do now," Solich said.

Knowing that winning history, personified by the former players, will be on Washington's mind.

"We have to prove to them we can do it, too," he said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index