September 11, 2011

Trailblazing Rodgers honoured by Alouettes


Montreal – Johnny Rodgers’ huge diamond earring certainly would’ve set tongues wagging back in his heyday in the 1970s.

Sitting in the Molson Stadium press box Sunday prior to the Montreal Alouettes game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the self-styled “Ordinary Superstar” makes a fashion statement that is relatively a-dime-a-dozen amid the flashy individuality in today’s sports world where it once would have been widely perceived as a gaudy bauble.

The massive diamonds and gold 1972 Heisman Trophy ring on Rodgers’ right hand, though, is clear evidence of a football star who stands apart in any era.

“I don’t wear it just every day but everybody likes looking at it and there’s very few of them,” said Rodgers, who shunned the NFL’s San Diego Chargers to sign a $100,000 contract with the Alouettes in 1973.

After winning the most outstanding rookie award in his CFL debut, Rodgers, who often ran into the endzone backwards when he scored touchdowns, helped lead Montreal to the 1974 Grey Cup.

“We had quite a roster,” said Rodgers, 60, who now runs a sports marketing business in Omaha, Nebraska. “We had guys that came to play and came to win and we were able to do that rather quickly under Marv Levy.

“In 1975 we missed a field goal in the last few seconds or we would have had two in a row.”

No stranger to talent-laden teams, Rodgers was a product of the Nebraska Cornhuskers powerhouse and a key member of the 1971 squad that was recently named the best U.S. college football team ever by the Sporting News.

Nebraska defended its 1970 national title in convincing fashion. After beating Oklahoma 35-31 in “The Game of the Century,” a showdown between the NCAA’s two top-ranked teams, the Cornhuskers once again defeated the No. 2 team in the polls to complete a 13-0 campaign with a 38-6 win over Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

Rodgers, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000, said he learned of the 1971 Cornhuskers honour when a courier delivered an envelope to him while he was making a speech at a team reunion dinner.

He read a letter from the magazine’s editor and announced the news to his teammates.

“Everybody was very touched and moved because being the greatest team of all time, of all the good teams, Notre Dame, Southern Cal and Oklahoma, I mean that’s just over the top,” Rodgers said.

A lightning rod for attention and controversy during his four-year CFL stint, Rodgers was ahead of the curve in terms of the element of showmanship he brought to football.

“Well now everybody understands entertainment,” Rodgers said. “They’re doing the dances in the endzone, everybody dresses a little different.

“We were trailblazers. We really were ahead of our time and we set the standard.”