A lot of people consider the 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers one of the best college football teams of all time. From Quarterback Jerry Tagge and I-back Jeff Kinney to Nose Guard Rich Glover and Defensive End Willie Harper, this team was tough, tough, tough.
Wide Receiver and Punt Returner Johnny Rodgers brought this team some speed and he was their big play guy.
In the 1971 version of the Game of the Century, it was Johnny Rodger’s punt return that put Nebraska on top initially.
The 1968 and 1969 recruiting classes were maybe the best back to back recruiting classes in
Credit goes to head coach Bob Devaney and his assistant coaches such as Tom Osborne, Monte Kiffin and Warren Powers.
The class of 1968 included Quarterback Jerry Tagge, I-Back Jeff Kinney, Defensive Tackle Larry Jacobson and Offensive Guard Bob Newton. With the 1969 recruiting class containing Defensive Tackle John Dutton, Nose Guard Rich Glover Glover , Defensive End Willie Harper, Offensive Guard Keith Wortman and the great Johnny Rodgers.
The 1968 recruiting class went 33-2-1 in three seasons on the varsity and the 1969 class went 32-2-2 in three years.
In 1970, the Huskers finished 11-0-1 and 1971 went 13-0.
Omaha native Johnny Rodgers was an instant impact player. Obviously, players weren’t eligible as true freshmen back in those years. During Rodgers sophomore season on the 11-0-1 Husker team of 1970, he caught 39 passes for 710 yards and 7 Touchdowns. He also ran for 219 yards and another couple of Touchdowns.
It was probably the 1971 season and maybe the Game of the Century that really put Johnny Rodgers on the football map.
He caught 57 passes that season for 956 yards and 11 Touchdowns with 269 rushing yards and 2 more Touchdowns.
As a senior, Rodgers won the Heisman Trophy while catching 58 passes for 1,013 yards and 9 Touchdowns. He also ran for 348 yards and 10 Touchdowns.
Quarterback Jerry Tagge had moved on to the Green Bay Packers of the NFL, but that did not discourage Rodgers. David Humm took his spot and had a successful career of his own.
Rodgers returned 7 punts and 9 kickoffs for Touchdowns during his career at Nebraska which is phenomenal. Great returns are often instrumental in changing outcomes of ball games and Rodgers
was a true difference maker.
He broke 41 school records, which is a truly inspiring statistic. I may have to repeat that. He broke 41 school records at Nebraska.
After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1972, Rodgers may have had his best game of all. He ran for 3 Touchdowns, caught a pass for another. He also threw a Touchdown pass.
His point total broke the Orange Bowl record and it came at the expense of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish who were good enough to win the national title the following season.
Rodgers wasn’t exactly a model citizen as a youth. He came from a rough neighborhood and he was convicted of a felony in 1970 making Rodgers the one and only Heisman winner that was a convicted felon. He was later charged with assault after he was finished with college football. But, he seems to have cleaned up his act and he has matured and cleaned up his act and he is now back in his home town of Omaha. He is a good businessman and spends time helping those less fortunate.
Rodgers was a 1st round draft pick by the San Diego Chargers. But, the Canadian Football League was a legitimate option for good football players back in those years and the Montreal Alouettes offered him more money to play in Canada.
He was a big time star in the CFL and was an All Star for 4 seasons. But, he finally decided to come back home and play in the NFL. He did get a nice contract out of the San Diego Chargers, but he was injured much of his time in San Diego and he only caught 17 passes in 2 partial seasons.
Say what you will about Johnny Rodgers, but in the early part of the 1970s he was one of the most exciting players in all of college football.