Tradition. Excellence. Winning.
These three words accurately describe Nebraska Cornhuskers football. In Lincoln, it's more than championships and sell-outs. Football is a way of life.
From Hall of Fame coaches to diehard fans, the history of Cornhuskers football is rich in tradition. The Nebraska Heisman winners exude excellence, and the program is one of only a handful with more than 800 wins.
When someone thinks about the power programs of college football, they will bring up names like Alabama, USC, Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame. We are here to tell you that Nebraska belongs on that list, and their impressive resume of Heisman winners proves it.
However, to understand what the Heisman winners have meant to Nebraska, first let’s delve into the history of the program and their fans.
The History of Nebraska Cornhuskers Football
Like all storied college football programs, Nebraska's had their fair share of ups and downs. They began playing football in 1890 and didn't become the "Cornhuskers" for 10 years.
The Nebraska football team were previously the Treeplanters, Rattlesnake Boys, Antelopes, Old Gold Knights, and Bugeaters until a local sports editor, Charles "Cy" Sherman called them the "Cornhuskers." The name stuck.
Thus, began the tradition of Husker football. Nebraska boasts some of the best fans in college football. Since 1962, Cornhusker fans have sold out Memorial Stadium for every game.
However, it's not only attendance that makes Lincoln special on Saturdays in the fall. They're die-hard fans. The Sea of Red, a tradition of wearing all-red on game days, came long before other teams in other sports.
Husker Nation also travels well. During away games, the home team fans can feel like visitors as the Sea of Red hits their stadium.
There's a sense of pride and of sportsmanship at Memorial. They cheer your team, win or lose, when you leave the field.
The Tunnel Walk, when players walk a red carpet in a crowd of fans before the game while past Nebraska greats play on a video screen. It will give even the biggest rival chills. Inside the stadium, fans sing Hail Varsity in unison before kickoff.
Beyond that, there are the wins, and Nebraska's had a lot of them, 893 to be exact. Only three schools have more: Michigan (943), Ohio State (898), and Texas (898).
They've had 375 players drafted into the NFL. Five of them made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In all, 21 Cornhuskers are inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, including three coaches.
Tom Osborne coached Nebraska from 1973-1997 and posted a record of 255-49-3. He led the Huskers to 13 conference titles, three National Championships, and coached a Heisman winner.
Nebraska Heisman Winners
There have been three Nebraska Heisman Trophy winners in the Cornhuskers' 119-year history, and 11 more players who were top 10 finalists, one of which, most college football zealots say, should have won. We'll get to his story in a moment.
The Heisman is awarded to the best player in college football every year and while each player is outstanding, Nebraska's Heisman winners have been magical.
Johnny Rodgers, Wingback (1972)
Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers is Nebraska's first Heisman winner, taking home the Trophy in 1972. Rodgers was a big part of the Cornhuskers' first two National Championships in 1970 and 1971.
Nicknamed "The Jet" before setting foot in Lincoln, his speed and versatility won him the title of high school player of the year. They've also been grounds for debate.
He's considered one of the greatest wingbacks of all time, but the official Heisman site suggests Rodgers is a wide receiver.
Why the debate? In some football circles, a wingback isn't a true position. It's a position within a formation. It can be a running back, wide receiver, tight end, or fullback. The player catches, blocks, or runs, depending on the coach's call.
Rodgers was all those things wrapped into one.
His 26 receiving touchdowns still stands in the Nebraska annals. He owned the Cornhuskers reception record with 143 until Nate Swift surpassed him in 2008. He held the receiving yard record with 2,479 until 2014, when Kenny Bell took over the top spot.
Rodgers was a two-time All-American and is one of the greatest career punt-returners in college football history with 1,515 yards and seven touchdowns. He racked up another 847 yards as a kick returner and 745 yards as a running back.
His 1973 Orange Bowl performance is legendary. After winning the Heisman, Rodgers caught three touchdowns, rushed for one, and threw a 52-yarder for Nebraska's fifth touchdown of the game.
After college, the San Diego Chargers drafted Rodgers in the first round of the NFL Draft, but he chose to play for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League instead.
In Montreal, Rodgers won the 1973 CFL Rookie of the Year award after receiving for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. He added 303 yards on the ground.
Rodgers played another three seasons for the Alouettes, winning the MVP twice. In 1977, he signed with the Chargers and played for two seasons before retiring due to injuries.
Sports Illustrated named Rodgers Nebraska's "Player of the Century" in 1999. The following year, the College Football Hall of Fame inducted Rodgers. He is one of 17 players to have his jersey (No. 20) retired by the Cornhuskers.
Mike Rozier, Running Back (1983)
Unlike Rodgers, Mike Rozier was a true running back and arguably the greatest in Nebraska history.
A junior college transfer, Rozier finished 10th in Heisman voting in 1982, setting the Nebraska rushing record with 1,689 yards, which stood for 30 years. Rozier won the Heisman Trophy the following year.
To this day, Rozier's records of 2,486 all-purpose yards and 2,148 rushing yards in one season (1983) still stands. He is also the record-holder for most rushing yards in a Nebraska uniform with 4,780.
He is second in school history with 49 total rushing TDs and holds the record for most scores in a season with 29.
Rozier tied an NCAA record by rushing for at least 100 yards in 11 straight games. The New Jersey native, who was barely recruited, averaged 179 yards per game over his three seasons at Nebraska.
On Nov. 12, 1983, Rozier sealed the Heisman deal by rushing for 285 yards on 31 carries, against the University of Kansas. It was his seventh game with at least 200 yards.
While never playing on a National Championship team, Rozier was the star of one of the most prolific offenses in college football history.
Drafted first overall in 1984 by the Pittsburgh Maulers of the USFL, Rozier spent one year in Pittsburgh before heading to Jacksonville to play for the Bulls of the same league.
In 1984, the Houston Oilers selected him in the NFL supplemental draft and he played for six seasons. He ran for 3,171 yards on 900 carries. He made the Pro Bowl twice in 1987 and 1988.
Three games into the 1990 season, the Oilers traded Rozier to the Atlanta Falcons, where he finished his career with 96 carries and 361 yards before retiring in 1991.
In 2006, Rozier joined the College Football Hall of Fame as an inductee and Nebraska retired his No. 30 jersey in 1983.
Eric Crouch, Quarterback (2001)
Eric Crouch is the 2001 Heisman Trophy winner and one of the greatest rushing quarterbacks in college football history.
Crouch finished his four-year career in Lincoln with 4,481 passing yards, good for seventh on Nebraska's all-time list, but when it came to running the football, Crouch is in a category all his own.
Crouch is the Cornhuskers' leader in total-offense with 7,915 yards. He is one of three players in NCAA history to rush for 3,000 career yards and pass for 4,000. His 59 rushing TDs stood as the most by a quarterback until 2015.
The Omaha native red-shirted his freshman year, the same year the Cornhuskers were co-National Champions in 1997.
The following season was a rocky one for Nebraska. Injuries and poor play by his quarterbacks forced head coach Fred Solich to juggle Crouch, Bobby Newcombe, and Monte Christo. In the end, Crouch prevailed.
In his sophomore effort, Crouch led the Huskers to a 12-1 record and finished the season with a win over Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl and a No. 3 national ranking. He had 889 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns to go along with his 1,269 passing yards and seven TDs.
Crouch finished 2000 with 971 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. He passed for 1,101 yards and 11 TDs while losing only two games all season. The first was to the eventual National Champion Oklahoma Sooners and the second loss was at the hands of the Kansas State Wildcats.
2001 would prove to be Crouch's most spectacular yet. He threw for 1,510 yards and seven TDs and rushed for 1,115 yards and 18 scores. He guided Nebraska to an 11-1 record, losing the National Championship to the Miami Hurricanes in the 2002 Rose Bowl.
Crouch ended his career 37-5 and set 32 school and NCAA records. His Heisman Trophy win was the smallest margin in voting history at the time. Crouch edged out Florida QB Rex Grossman by 62 points. Nebraska retired Crouch's No. 7 jersey in 2002.
After his senior year, Crouch landed the cover of NCAA College Football 2K3 and the St. Louis Rams drafted him in the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft. He never saw the field and moved on to the Green Bay Packers where he was on their off-season roster in 2003.
In 2005, he was on the Kansas City Chief's off-season roster before the Chiefs allocated him to NFL Europe. Listed as a wide receiver in the NFL, Crouch never played a down.
He got his shot to play under center in the CFL for the Toronto Argonauts. After limited field time due to injuries, the Argonauts released Crouch in 2007.
Nebraska's Heisman Biggest Snubs
While some cried foul after Crouch's narrow win over Grossman in 2001, Heisman controversy was nothing new to Cornhusker quarterbacks. There is one player who stands out as the biggest Nebraska snub of all.
In college football lore, there is no greater Heisman snub than Tommie Frazier's Heisman loss in 1995 to then Ohio State running back Eddie George. George had an impressive season, but Frazier cemented himself as one of the winningest quarterbacks of all time.
After the Huskers started the 1992 season 4-1, quarterback Mike Grant was benched for the 18-year-old Frazier. Nebraska finished the season 9-3 and Frazier grabbed the attention of the nation.
The following season, Frazier led Nebraska to an undefeated record of 11-0 and a No. 2 ranking heading into the Orange Bowl. Florida State went 11-1 for the 1993 season and narrowly beat Nebraska 18-16. Frazier was the National Championship Game co-MVP.
Frazier led Nebraska to back-to-back National Championships in 1994 and 1995. In his junior effort, Frazier developed blood clots that sidelined him for seven games but returned to face Miami in the 1995 Orange Bowl. An early turnover landed Frazier on the bench, but down 17-9 with 7:00 on the clock, Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne put Frazier back in. Frazier led two touchdown drives in the waning minutes to give the Huskers a 24-17 victory and their first National Championship in 24 years. Frazier won another MVP.
With Frazier back to 100% health, the Huskers were the early favorites for the title. They finished the season undefeated for the third time in Frazier's career.
The Huskers played for the National Championship for the third consecutive season in 1996 against Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. Frazier led Nebraska to one of the most dominant performances in college football history. Along with the 62-24 victory, Frazier picked up his third championship MVP.
Frazier didn't only have the numbers in the win/loss column. He had the stats to back him up. Frazier is fifth on the Huskers' all-time passing TD list with 43. He rushed for another 36 touchdowns, good for sixth in Nebraska history. He put up 5,476 yards of total offense which was the school record until Crouch surpassed him in 2001.
For the 1995 season, Frazier passed for 1,362 yards and threw 17 touchdowns to only four interceptions. He ran for 604 yards and 14 scores. In total, Frazier's career record at Nebraska was 33-3 as a starter.
Nebraska retired Frazier's No. 15 jersey in 1996 and the College Football Hall of Fame committee inducted him in 2013, seven years after he was eligible.
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