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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I grew up in Omaha. It was challenging. We had riots and things during the '60s. The civil rights was significant then. I was more thinking of getting out of here than staying. My dream initially was to go to USC, until I met Bob Devaney. That was a turning point.

My trouble, that was a devastating thing. A childhood prank, 10 minutes of insanity. Last day of school of my freshman year. Two or three buddies got together, decided we were going to do a prank, took $90 from the gas station attendant, for the thrill of it. Not until a year later did the police come to my room and ask me about it. I got two years probation, almost got kicked off the team, I thought my life was over. I was ready to quit school and quit life. It was just a devastating time.

Then Coach Bob Devaney came to my apartment to visit with me and talked me into staying and getting myself together. He was going to stick by me and we were going to work through it. He put Tom Osborne over me as my mentor. We were able to work through it. It was all because of the leadership of Bob Devaney and being able to get a second chance. It was just stupid. It was hard times.

Since that time, I have never really had all of my civil rights. We had people we talked about in the '60s, trying to get equality, and I had put myself in position where I was never a complete, whole citizen. I waited 40 years, but I have been an example for my children and others, that the devil's all in the details. You can't tell people not to quit on things great or small, when you've quit.

It happened when I was a young man, now I'm an old man. A lot of people didn't know about it, but I knew. Last Thursday, I was successful in receiving the governor's pardon.

The significance of it is because going through those other milestones, it allowed me to be daring enough. The poorest blacks in America are right here in Omaha. A lot of that is because black people who have felonies have not taken the step to get their pardons, get back in the mainstream, take care of their families. I thought it was important to take that step as a an example, to create hope for those.

It's a big step. It was really a big step. People want to know why. I don't know why people wouldn't think you wouldn't want your civil rights. People have died for those rights. I thought it was important, even though people had forgotten about it, so people could move forward and we could put some closure to it.

If you've done anything significant in life, someone has helped you. I did something because of Coach Devaney and Tom Osborne and my teammates.

You don't win Heisman Trophies by yourself and you don't win championships by yourself and you don't build a great community by yourself. Teamwork truly does make your dreams come true.

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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...
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