RODGERS says he expects that like Heisman, hall honor will grow over time

Saturday, August 11th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ While Johnny Rodgers' road to the College Football Hall of Fame might have been longer than most Heisman Trophy winners, the enjoyment of arriving at the destination is just the same.

``It's like winning the Heisman Trophy. You start out in awe and it just gets better as time goes on,'' the former Nebraska wingback said Friday.

Rodgers will be officially enshrined into the hall Saturday night along with former Stanford quarterback John Elway, former Southern California tailback Marcus Allen and 22 other former players and coaches.

``You're joining a unique fraternity,'' Rodgers said. ``You appreciate it year by year with the relationships you make and the new people you meet.''

Rodgers, 50, joins a long list of Heisman Trophy winners in the hall. In fact, with Rodgers' enshrinement, the only two Heisman winners before 1982 not in the hall are Notre Dame quarterback John Huarte, who won the trophy in 1964, and LSU halfback Billy Cannon, the 1959 winner.

The hall requires members to have proven themselves as worthy citizens. Cannon was once convicted of counterfeiting. The hall also used to require members to be college graduates. It no longer does, but Rodgers figures earning his degree in 1997, 25 years after winning the Heisman, helped pave his way into the hall.

``I think getting all my ducks in a row and maturing made the difference,'' he said. ``There are guys going in this weekend who played after me. There are guys going in who played long before I did. As long as you make it, it's OK.''

Rodgers is Nebraska's career leader with 143 catches for 2,479 yards and had 5,586 all-purpose career yards. He also had seven punt returns for touchdowns.

His fondest college memory was beating Notre Dame 40-6 in the Orange Bowl in his final college game, which also was the final game for Nebraska coach Bob Devaney.

``We had won national championships the previous two years, but had lost two games that season and we really wanted to send coach Devaney out with a victory,'' he said.

Rodgers left in the third quarter with 81 yards on 15 carries, but he had rushed for three touchdowns, caught a 50-yard touchdown pass and thrown a 52-yard touchdown pass.

Rogers also scored a 72-yard punt return as top-ranked Nebraska beat No. 2 Oklahoma in 1971 in a game that was once voted the best college game ever by a national panel of sports writers and helped the Cornhuskers win their second straight national title.

Rogers attributes his success to believing in himself.

``I just had a belief that I could do special things, that I had a special energy. And the fans at Nebraska really believed it, too,'' he said. ``They believed it to the degree I believed it, and that brought me to another level.''

Others who will be enshrined Saturday are Michigan offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf, Arizona State cornerback Mike Haynes, Oklahoma center-linebacker Kurt Burris, Notre Dame end Bob Dove, Georgia defensive back Terry Hoage, Alabama halfback Johnny Musso, Pittsburgh linebacker-fullback Joe Schmidt, Texas guard Harley Sewell, Arkansas defensive end Billy Ray Smith, Wyoming halfback Eddie Talboom, Maryland tackle Stan Jones, Navy end Dick Duden, tackle John Outland of Kansas and Penn and coaches Terry Donahue of UCLA and Forest Evashevski of Hamilton, Washington State and Iowa.

Among the players from smaller schools to be enshrined are Grambling quarterback Doug Williams, Indiana of Pennsylvania defensive end Jim Haslett, who now coaches the New Orleans Saints, Holy Cross defensive back-halfback Gordie Lockbaum, Amherst receiver Freddie Scott, Occidental quarterback-defensive back Bill Redell and coaches Joseph Fusco of Westminster College and Ace Mumford of Jarvis Christian College, Bishop College, Texas College and Southern University.