1980 Heisman Winner left indelible mark at South Carolina
Oct. 17, 2007
By Adam Caparell
Adam is CSTV.com's football editor and national football writer. E-mail here!
There's nothing small about George Rogers. From his large frame to his deep, infatuating belly laugh to his larger than life personality, everything Rogers does is big. And everything he did while at South Carolina was bigger than any Gamecock had ever done before.
By the time Rogers was done in Columbia, he would own practically every South Carolina rushing record and go down as the greatest player in the program's 114 year history. Not bad for one big ol' boy from Duluth, Ga.
From the big, record-setting numbers to the big expectations coming out of high school to the big hits he leveled on opposing linebackers and defensive backs, George Rogers was big in every sense of the word.
"To be a big running back didn't necessarily hurt me too much," Rogers said. "The smaller type running backs could duck behind the linemen a lot. But the bigger running backs had to have speed and a little bit of power.
"I didn't have a lot of speed, but I had a lot of power," Rogers said.
Cut in the mold of many other big backs of his era like Earl Campbell - a future teammate with the New Orleans Saints - and Eric Dickerson, Rogers had a few moves in his arsenal that could juke a defender or two out of his shoes, but he got the bulk of his 5,204 career rushing yards thanks to his power.
"In college, I could cut back on you man, make you miss," Rogers said. "You stick that arm out and I'd run through an arm tackle."
And it all started relatively early for Rogers. A highly touted recruit coming out of high school, Rogers played immediately because of the Gamecocks' need at running back. Rogers didn't spend much time getting acquainted with the bench.
After a freshman season that saw him rack up 623 yards, Rogers had great success his sophomore year, rushing for 1,006 yards. His junior year saw him run for 1,681 yards and blossom into one of the top running backs in the country. But many did not have him on their Heisman radar as he entered his senior season.
That wouldn't last very long.
In his final year with the Gamecocks, Rogers rushed for nearly 1,900 yards - tops in the country - that including scintillating performances against the likes of USC, Michigan - where he ran for 142 yards against the eventual Rose Bowl champs in the Big House - and N.C.State. Rogers was even bestowed the unprecedented honor of having his jersey retired during the Gamecocks final regular season home game against Wake Forest.
Rogers entered his final regular season game as one of the favorites to win the Heisman, but against rival Clemson on the road, Rogers was held in check and the Gamecocks were handed their third loss of the season to finish at 8-3. With the loss, Rogers thought the Heisman was out of reach. Especially considering the competition he was up against.
Pittsburgh defensive lineman Hugh Green and Georgia running back Herschel Walker were also vying for the trophy. The Bulldogs would be national champs that season and the Panthers were 10-1 at the end of the regular season. Rogers figured they had the edge. As it turned out, Green and Rogers were locked in a close battle to earn the honor of becoming the 46th Heisman winner.
"I didn't think I would win because of the fact we didn't win very many games," Rogers said.
When the season ended and Rogers was just hanging around South Carolina in preparation for their Gator Bowl appearance Dec. 29, one of the team's assistants told him to pack for New York.
"Well, I get there and nobody's there but me," Rogers said.
There was no sign of Walker or Green. But it didn't take long for Rogers to figure out why.
"Of course I didn't know that, but the next morning they told me I had won the Heisman Trophy," he said.
Rogers became the first - and only - Heisman Trophy winner from the state of South Carolina.
Rogers still considers the Heisman to be a team award. If not for his offensive line, and one of the best offensive teams in South Carolina's history, Rogers would have never held up the bronze statue.
"I would rather it be more of a team award than it was my own, because those guys fought and fought hard," Rogers said. "People knew we were going to run the ball. Everybody we played against knew we were going to run.
"My teammates were good, they made me look good."
Rogers would go on to be selected first overall in the 1981 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints and have himself a pretty good professional career.
But he never equaled the success he had at South Carolina, where he cut his teeth as a running back running over, through, and occasionally by, defenders. And it was at South Carolina where his larger than life personality was cultivated.
"It comes from beating up on people," Rogers joked, laughing that big, hearty, larger than life laugh of his.