Collected Wisdom: Johnny Rodgers, former Nebraska football player and 1972 Heisman winner

Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers won the 1972 Heisman Trophy. He built his case on Nov. 25, 1971, Thanksgiving Day, with a 71-yard punt return that was the first touchdown in the Game of the Century. On Nov. 14, Rodgers received a pardon from the state of Nebraska for a felony larceny from his college days.
by Berry Tramel Published: November 23, 2013
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Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers won the 1972 Heisman Trophy. He built his case on Nov. 25, 1971, Thanksgiving Day, with a 71-yard punt return that was the first touchdown in the Game of the Century, the Huskers' 35-31 victory over OU in Norman.

Rodgers, who played in the Canadian Football League and briefly in the NFL, has since been an entrepreneur and pitchman in Omaha.

On Nov. 14, Rodgers received a pardon from the state of Nebraska for a felony larceny from his college days.

I was out to Cabella's just today, on a business trip. I had some Game of the Century photographs I put together with the punt return. They're in black and white. I had some four-color pictures I have that have been painted, of my 50th touchdown, diving over the top in the Orange Bowl. The people that ask me for autographs, they would rather have the black and white versus the four-color, really, really nice Orange Bowl picture. Because of the Game of the Century.

The game means so much. People understand the history. The only game played on Thanksgiving Day. Even our soldiers over in Vietnam, it was piped over to them. Just something people looked forward to. Very well missed and appreciated. Everything changes. It changed too.

I remember it was No. 1 vs. No. 2. We had the No. 1 defense in the country, Oklahoma had the No. 1 offense in the country. Both teams were undefeated. We had two great football teams. During the whole game, between them, we had only one penalty. An offsides on us. It was a nearly perfect football game. We didn't make mistakes.

I remember I was taunting Greg Pruitt before the game. Greg and I had been friends for awhile there. I had told him what I was going to do, he was going to do this that and the other. On the punt return, he came down as hard as he could to tackle me, I think because of the taunting. He left his lane, he was the first one I was able to shake. The rest is history.

The kind of punt I caught, you would have to fair catch today, in fear you might drop the ball. I never had to fair catch any at all, just because he (coach Bob Devaney) believed in what we were doing. Believed in me and allowed me to establish myself as a great punt returner.

Everybody remembers that play in particular. Few people, those football advocates, remember the biggest play of the game. 3rd-and-10, I caught a pass from Jerry Tagge that allowed us to continue drive. As a matter of fact, I'm going to Tagge's house this Saturday. We still get together. We still have reunions. Lot of fun things to remember. None quite as good as the Nebraska-Oklahoma game.

Bob Devaney had a real good relationship, not just with the players, but the fans. He had the ability to make people feel they were a part of the whole system, whether you gave $50 to the program or half a million. He was a great motivator. The players knew legitimately he cared about them. We would rather slide bare belly on a razor blade than disappoint him.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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