Issue date: 8/13/05 Section: Sports
But the one thing that never won George Rogers an award or earned him a victory is that heartfelt smile and bellowing laugh.
"He's got the greatest smile in the world," Bob Fulton, longtime USC radio announcer, said of Rogers. "He was very humble, but he always gave his teammates so much credit. Frankly, without him, I don't know who we would have beaten. He was something else."
Rogers has become synonymous with USC football. Of all the names that still get talked about among tailgaters and fans, the Duluth, Ga., native is still the most talked-about player to ever pass through Williams-Brice Stadium.
Rogers arrived in the Capital City after a high-profile career at Duluth High School. Every college in the nation wanted to get its hands on him, but after being told he could play as freshmen at USC, it didn't take long to see where he was going.
"At the time, South Carolina had two running backs leaving at the same time," Rogers said. "Coach (Carlen) told me, 'Son, you could play next year.' None of the other coaches from Tennessee, Alabama and the rest of the colleges I went to had talked about me playing next year. I thought that was a big jump from saying 'you can play' to 'you're going to play.'"
With that promise, Rogers arrived in Columbia and left the likes of Notre Dame, Southern Cal, Alabama and even his home schools of Georgia and Georgia Tech behind.
At first, Rogers seemed destined to be a fullback rather than tailback. Ahead of him on the depth charts sat sophomore Steve Dorsey.
"I was a big running back, and at that time, people liked big running backs because you could make fullbacks out them," Rogers said. "I started out at fullback. I didn't care where I went in, I just wanted to play ... I kind of got lucky I went to tailback."
Midway through the season, Rogers began his career as the starting tailback alongside fellow freshmen Johnnie Wright. The duo combined for more than 1,000 yards, and they were the only starting freshman backfield in the country.
Rogers touched the ball a lot more during his sophomore campaign, rushing for 1,006 yards, all while splitting time with Wright. But it was the junior year that propelled Rogers to the whirlwind career fans remember as he was one of the best rushers in the country, rushing for 1,681 yards.
After that season, The Associated Press, National Editorial Alliance, United Press International, American Football Coaches and Football News tabbed Rogers with Second Team All-America Honors.
USC earned a spot in the 1979 Hall of Fame Bowl against the Missouri Tigers. The Gamecocks took an early 7-0 lead, but a 17-point second quarter and third-quarter touchdown were too much as USC fell, 24-14.
The stage was set in 1980, as the Gamecocks returned a plethora of talent, headlined by Heisman candidate Rogers.
USC went an impressive 8-3, with close losses to Southern Cal and Georgia on the road and a tough loss to Clemson. While the record was good, so was Rogers' final season. His 1,894 yards paced the nation and earned him a spot as one of the finalists for Heisman Trophy.
The Downtown Athletic Club in New York City named Rogers winner of the 1980 Heisman Trophy. Rogers beat out an impressive group of players, including Pittsburgh defensive lineman Hugh Green and Georgia running back Herschel Walker. Rogers also earned spots on eight All-America teams, all First Team honors.
"I have to commend my offensive line. Those guys, they didn't care whether we won or lost; they wanted to make sure I had a lot of yards though," Rogers said.
"My offensive line was really into it. They wanted to win the Heisman Trophy more than I did," Rogers said. "I didn't care if I won it or not. I'm not that kind of guy. I'm glad that we won it, but I was playing as hard as they were. They were the reasons why we won it, because those guys wanted it a little bit more than I did."
The Gamecocks record propelled them to a Dec. 29 matchup with No. 4 Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. USC never got on track against the Panthers, who took a 17-3 lead at the half behind the heady play of quarterback Dan Marino and the nation's No. 1 defense before putting the game out of reach in the third quarter. Pittsburgh won, 39-7.
Honors continued to roll in for Rogers even after the bowl loss, as he was named to the Hula Bowl and Senior Bowl teams.
Rogers left the Gamecock football program as its most successful running back ever, and many of his records have remained untouched since 1980. His 5,204 yards is still the highest career total by any Gamecock running back, while his 31 rushing touchdowns is tied with Harold Green for first. He is second on the all-time points scored list with 202 and owns 24 games with more than 100 yards rushing.
While the college honors were numerous, Rogers got one of the ultimate honors in football, as the New Orleans Saints selected him as first pick in the 1981 NFL draft.
"I enjoyed New Orleans. That was probably one of my favorite places to play," Rogers said. "A lot of running. I played at Carolina, and we didn't pass very much. Then going to New Orleans, and they didn't throw very much. It was like all I did was run for a long time."
His running abilities brought the 'Ain'ts back from cellar dwellers to a respectable record. Rogers earned the NFL Rookie of the Year Honors for 1981 and a trip to the Pro Bowl after leading the league in rushing with 1,647 yards, setting a high for rookies at the time. He did have the chance to play alongside two of the game's legends, as Archie Manning was the Saints quarterback and Earl Campbell was brought in during his final year with New Orleans. With Campbell on the team, a change of scenery quickly became an option for Rogers, who wound up in Washington playing for the Redskins.
"I went to the Redskins, and it was the best choice I could've ever made," Rogers said.
In Washington, Rogers found himself surrounded by some of the biggest names to ever play or coach the game. Hall of Fame running back John Riggins was ending his professional career, while coach Joe Gibbs was ready to bring the Redskins back to glory. Rogers had some of his biggest professional success in Washington, including another trip to the Pro Bowl and a Super Bowl title in 1987.
"My last year with the Washington Redskins, we won the Super Bowl, which is probably the highlight of my career," Rogers said. "I got a Super Bowl ring, a Heisman Ring and I led the league in rushing, and I even made the Pro Bowl a couple of years. I've done a lot of things in football I'm proud of. But I wish I would have played a little bit longer."
When he left the NFL in 1987, Rogers had totaled 7,176 yards with 54 touchdowns in a mere seven seasons.
With football behind him, Rogers returned to Columbia where he finished earning his degree and began working for the university. Today he can be found working at the Blatt PE Center.
"I'm glad that the university gave me the opportunity to come back and get my degree. Cause certainly if I didn't have that, I would be working here," Rogers said. "They do not hire nobody without a degree."
Rogers also started the George Rogers Foundation, which works to provide scholarships to kids in need who are planning to attend USC. The foundation, which is celebrating its 13th anniversary, gives out more than $15,000 in scholarships each year.
In 1992, Rogers was named to the All-Century Team at USC. He also holds membership in the USC Hall of Fame, the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, the Georgia Athletic Hall of Fame and the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame. In 1997 he received the honor of being inducted into the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.
Twenty-five years after his Heisman Trophy season, Rogers has his retired number 38 proudly displayed inside Williams-Brice Stadium, a reminder of what greatness can be achieved.
"I'd rather them have the team than my number," Rogers said. "I'm more of a team guy. If they would have 'George Rogers and his offensive line' or something like that, that would be more worth while than just number 38 up there. Those guys worked just as hard as I did, and they deserve most of the credit that I got."