Johnny Rodgers never considered himself better than his opponents.
"I just wanted to win more than anyone else," he said. "I took a lot of risks, although I never considered them risks at the time. Like never fair-catching a punt. I had the attitude that as a little guy, I always had to try to do whatever it took to make plays."
Rodgers first attracted attention as a four-sport athlete at Omaha Tech, earning All-Nebraska honors in football and excelling in baseball, track and basketball. He moved on to Nebraska, where despite being just 5-foot-9 and 173 pounds, the receiver/return specialist packed a big wallop.
He contributed heavily to national championship teams in 1970 and '71, and won the 1972 Heisman Trophy. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000 and was named both the Big Eight’s all-time best football player as well as the best Nebraska player of the 20th century.
And "The Jet" did it with pizazz. His dip-then-dart 72-yard punt return for a touchdown in the 1971 "Game of the Century" win at Oklahoma still rates as one of the iconic moments in school and college football history.
He had a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown that helped trigger an Orange Bowl rout of Alabama that secured Nebraska's second straight national title.
And though it wasn't a national championship game, NU coaches let Rodgers showcase all of his Heisman talents in the Orange Bowl win against Notre Dame following the 1972 season. He played some I-back, running for three scores, and caught a touchdown pass. He also threw a TD pass.
Rodgers called the two national titles his best moment as an athlete: "I probably wouldn't have won the Heisman if I hadn’t played on those two national championship teams," he said. "They set the stage for me."
A first-round NFL draft pick of the San Diego Chargers, Rodgers chose instead to start his professional career in the Canadian Football League. He starred for Montreal from 1973 through '76, and helped the Alouettes win the 1974 Grey Cup. He signed with the Chargers in 1977, but played only 17 games before a knee injury ended his career.
Rodgers' life off the field hasn’t always been smooth. He was involved in a gas station robbery at Nebraska. But Rodgers drew praise for returning to NU to get his degree almost three decades after leaving school.
"Life is a roller coaster ride, and I'm glad I'm still riding,’" Rodgers said.
Rodgers, an Omaha businessman, is now involved with the Jet Award, given annually since 2011 to college football's best kick return specialist.
Played for: Omaha Tech High, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Montreal Alouettes and San Diego Chargers
Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: Rodgers said the best player he had as a teammate was Johnny Ray at Tech, while Guy Ingles of Omaha Westside was the opponent that stood out in Rodgers' memory.
Best moment as an athlete: Winning two national titles at Nebraska. "I probably wouldn't have won the Heisman if I hadn't played on those two national championship teams,'' Rodgers said. "They set the stage for me.''
At Nebraska: 154 receptions, 2,679 yards, 27 touchdowns; 152 rushes, 836 yards, 14 touchdowns; 98 punt returns, 1,515 yards, seven touchdowns; 35 kickoff returns, 847 yards, one touchdown
CFL: 186 receptions, 3,463 yards, 28 touchdowns: 28; 216 rushes, 1,048 yards
NFL: 17 receptions, 234 yards; 26 punt returns, 246 yards; 15 kickoff returns, 353 yards
Rodgers was No. 5 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »