Heisman Recipients to be Honored

Four athletes with Nebraska ties who went on to immortality as recipients of the Heisman Trophy, college football's highest award, will be honored at the Omaha Press Club on Thursday, July 7, in an event open to the public. The OPC has been honoring newsmakers with the "Face on the Barroom Floor," a caricature drawing presented at a roast and toast, since 1971. This will be the 102nd Face recognition in OPC history.

The Heisman Trophy winners who will be honored are Eric Crouch (winner in 2001); Mike Rozier (1983); Johnny Rodgers (1972), and the late Nile Kinnick (1939). Rodgers, Rozier and Crouch played for Nebraska. Kinnick, who died in 1943 while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, played for the University of Iowa, but attended Omaha Benson High School.

Crouch and Rodgers will be in attendance at the roast and will be available for autographs, while Rozier hopes to connect via the telephone. A no-host reception will start at 5:30 p.m. The roast and toast will begin at 6:30 p.m. Those who plan to stay for the dinner that follows should call (402) 345-8008 for reservations. Cost for dinner is $40 for OPC members and $50 for non-members. There is no cost to just attend the roast.

Roasters for the event will be: Omaha sportscasters Jack Payne (emcee), Jon Schuetz, KETV (Ch. 7), and Dave Webber, WOWT (Ch. 6); Jack Hallstrom, retired principal at Omaha Northwest High School; Kathy Trotter, principal, Druid Hill Elementary School in Omaha; Bob Fromkin, retired Omaha attorney; Don Benning, retired Omaha Public Schools assistant superintendent; Fred Petito, head football coach, Millard North High School; Paul Griego, owner of Pauli's, an Omaha bar and grill; and Don Bryant, retired sports information director for the University of Nebraska.

Heisman Trophy Winners

Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers helped the Huskers win the school's first two national titles in 1970 and 1971, before also making history as Nebraska's first Heisman winner in 1972. He was selected for the award after his senior season when he amassed more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns, easily topping the next two competitors for the Heisman. Still remembered by fans for his spectacular punt return in the 1971 "Game of the Century" against Oklahoma, Rodgers is now an Omaha businessman working for Select Realty and Best Year Yet for Real Estate. The two-time All-American wingback still holds many school records. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000. He also was voted the Most Valuable Player in the history of the Big 8 Conference and the Huskers' Player of the Century.

Eric Crouch was Nebraska's third Heisman Trophy winner, earning his spot as the greatest rushing quarterback in the school's history.

Crouch spent his four years at Nebraska rewriting the Husker's quarterback records, becoming the third quarterback in NCAA Division 1-A history to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 4,000 yards in a career. He was the only player in the school's history to lead the team in total offense four straight years. He eclipsed the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 59, topping fellow Heisman winner Mike Rozier's previous school record of 49 rushing touchdowns.

Called the greatest running back in Nebraska history, Mike Rozier brought home the 1983 Heisman while a senior by setting a school record with 2,148 yards on 275 carries and a school record 29 touchdowns. Rozier averaged 179 yards per game while tying an NCAA record with 11 straight 100-yard performances, including a career-best 285 yards on 31 carries against Kansas. The No. 1 pick of the USFL's Pittsburgh Maulers in the 1984 draft, Rozier, who now lives in New Jersey, was also the No. 1 overall pick of the Houston Oilers in the supplemental phase of the 1984 NFL Draft.

Nile Kinnick played for Omaha Benson High School, where he led his team to state championships and graduated in 1936. Omaha's Northwest High School football field is named for him. Kinnick was quarterback for the University of Iowa's victorious 1939 football squad known as the "Ironmen" and won the Heisman, the Walter Camp Award, the Big Ten MVP and the Maxwell Award as a senior. The quarterback also was named Athlete of the Year by Associated Press sports writers.

He chose law school at Iowa over an NFL pro football career before reporting for Navy duty three days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Just four years after he accepted his Heisman in 1939 by saying, "I thank God I was born to the gridirons of the middle west and not to the battlefields of Europe," Kinnick was killed in the Caribbean during a training flight. The 24-year-old hero's body was never found. He was inducted posthumously into the first class of the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.

This is the first time the Omaha Press Club has honored four individuals at one time with the Face recognition. The first recipient in 1971 was then-Mayor Gene Leahy. Other "Face on the Barroom Floor" recipients from the world of sports have been: Nebraska coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne; baseball's Bob Gibson; football's Gale Sayers; boxer Ron Stander; Iowa Football Coach Hayden Fry; and Creighton Basketball Coach Dana Altman.

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