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‘Husker Heisman winners can still sling it, wing it

It is not the most exclusive fraternity among men when one considers only 12 have walked on the moon, and only three have married a Kardashian. So far. (With two others on the fence.)

But those who have won a Heisman Trophy still are part of a pretty cool fraternity.

The Heisman has been awarded 77 times to the nation’s best college football player. Archie Griffin won it twice. Reggie Bush had to give his back. So there are 75 Heisman winners, and thus the odds of sitting down with two of them in the lobby at Tahiti Village on Las Vegas Boulevard South on a Friday afternoon must be pretty remote.

And when you consider that Johnny Rodgers and Eric Crouch both played at Nebraska, and are from the same hometown (Omaha), the odds against that happening probably are more colossal than Appalachian State beating Michigan, or Steve Spurrier misplacing his visor, or Oregon sporting uniforms that aren’t offensive to the eye.

Rodgers, 61, won the Heisman in 1972. He is an entrepreneur and community activist in Omaha. College football’s Jet Award, presented to the nation’s best kick returner, is named for him, or at least his nickname.

He looks fit, except for an index finger that juts from his left hand at a weird angle. He said the finger came from trying to catch the passes of Jerry Tagge and David Humm while at Nebraska.

When I mentioned that I didn’t know Humm to throw a heavy ball, Rodgers said he didn’t, but that he couldn’t throw a spiral. And then Johnny the Jet began to laugh, because he knows Dave Humm still lives in Las Vegas and probably would see this story.

Crouch, the 2001 Heisman winner, also still makes his home in Omaha. His company sells playground and recreation equipment. At 34, he, too, appears fit, like he could catch another flea-flicker pass against Oklahoma if he had to.

They were in Las Vegas to play golf and raise money for the Level Playing Field Foundation headed by Susan Spencer, the former general counsel and general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles who is the daughter of former Eagles owner Leonard Tose. All proceeds from the outing will be presented to the Rancho High School football program, which only a few years ago was practicing in a city park with PVC pipe serving as makeshift goalposts.

When Rodgers and Crouch learned of this, they seemed even more satisfied to be donating their time. The players have a relationship with Somerpointe Resorts, and that is why the smell of coconut oil permeated the lobby at Tahiti Village, and shapely young women occasionally would parade through on their way to the swimming pool and lazy river.

I wanted to ask Rodgers and Crouch if chicks dig the Heisman, but both men are settled and are now of the age where kids seem to dig it more than chicks.

Crouch said some of the more bold neighborhood kids in Omaha sometimes knock on his door and ask if they can see the Heisman, and to have their picture taken with it. He always complies.

Rodgers says kids also like to see his Heisman Trophy ring, and that would explain why he was wearing one on his middle finger instead of his ring finger. At a recent Heisman function, he and George Rogers were showing kids their rings, and somehow they got switched, and now Johnny is wearing George’s ring and George is wearing Johnny’s.

But that’s still a neat story, and so I asked the former Huskers if they had other neat stories about the Heisman they’d be willing to share. You always hear stories about the weird places hockey’s Stanley Cup has been, or being dumped into a frozen pond, and I had read somewhere that Jay Berwanger, the first recipient of the Heisman, had given his to his Aunt Gussie, and she had used it as a doorstop.

Rodgers said his Heisman wound up in court once. He had gotten into an argument with a cable guy who had climbed onto Johnny’s roof to disconnect his service because the cable company said Johnny’s grandmother had not paid her bill.

Anyway, it apparently got heated, and the cable guy brought charges against Rodgers, and one of Johnny’s lawyers thought it would be a good idea if he brought the Heisman to court. To serve as a silent character witness, I guess, and perhaps to remind the judge of Johnny’s electrifying 72-yard punt return against Oklahoma in the Game of the Century on Thanksgiving Day 1971.

Rodgers was sentenced to six months and community service, and he says he had to hire another lawyer to get the Heisman back from the first lawyer.

That was in 1985. Rodgers seems to have put the bad times in his rear-view mirror as if they were Oklahoma’s special teams. I found him friendly and interesting.

Crouch, who didn’t make it in the NFL, with his lack of size being an issue as it was for Rodgers, also is personable. He said he didn’t have a Heisman story to tell like Rodgers’. Instead, he spoke with reverence about receiving his Heisman in 2001 about 10 weeks after terrorists had flown airplanes into the World Trade Center towers.

He was presented with his Heisman at the Marriott in Times Square because the Downtown Athletic Club had been damaged by debris. He remembers visiting ground zero. He remembers the ground still was smoking.

He remembers the firemen presenting him a fireman’s helmet with their autographs on it.

Eric Crouch thought that was a pretty cool trophy, too.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

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