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Twenty-five years ago, Mike Rozier was the toast of college football. He was the Heisman Trophy winner, the Maxwell Award winner and the Walter Camp Award winner. Since he was the most famous member of Nebraska’s “Triplets” – Turner Gill and Irving Fryar were the others – it only made sense that Rozier sweep three of the biggest individual awards available.
That was then. Now, Mike Rozier is, drum roll please . . .
“Mr. Mom, at least during the week,” he answered quickly while getting ready for Monday night’s final 2008 Heisman Trophy banquet in New York, where Rozier remained in college football’s limelight as the Silver Anniversary honoree.
While many of the Heisman’s 74 winners used their fame to launch campaigns for greater personal fortune, Mike Rozier lives on through his legacy in a unique way in Sicklerville, N.J. He restricts his marketing opportunities to weekends and is perfectly content to be a stay-at-home dad for Michael, a six-year-old who depends on rides to and from first grade and all the preparation and attention required before and after school.
Rochelle Rozier, Mike’s wife, has the best of both worlds. Professionally, she’s a hard-working attorney. Domestically, she has the ultimate partner who takes his homemaking role very seriously. Unlike Michael Keaton, who played the lead in the 1983 movie Mr. Mom, Michael Rozier has no time to spend with a group of neighborhood women who, somewhat hilariously in the movie, use coupons instead of money to play poker when life gets boring.
“God broke the mold when he made Mike Rozier, that’s for sure,” said Irving Fryar, Mike’s best friend since pre-kindergarten. “My grandma lived next door to Irving’s mom, so we spent every Sunday together,” Rozier said. “His mom and my mom also went to school together, and his father and my father worked together at U.S. Pipe Co. We’ve been best friends forever.”
That's why Irving and his wife, Jacque, joined a rather sizable Rozier family gathering in New York Monday night at a banquet that drew 2,000 people. Just like he did for Saturday night’s nationally televised presentation, Rozier made sure he was different again at Sunday night’s private Heisman dinner, wearing another version of his brown-and-tan, tailor-made suit.
Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke, the 2000 Heisman winner, chided Rozier. “What’s up with the suit, man?” he asked.
“Look around,” Rozier replied. “You guys are all wearing the same blue shirts and pin-striped suits. I’m not corporate. It’s 2008. Get with the program.”
For the record, Rozier got with the program Monday night. Being one of the feature attractions, he wore a tux.
Some Called Them Earth, Wind . . . and Fryar
The earth-tone colors fit the image Mike Rozier prefers.
“Barry Switzer still talks about the Triplets,” said Nebraska’s 1972 Heisman winner, Johnny Rodgers, who knows why OU’s former head coach called the Triplets Earth, Wind and Fryar. Rozier’s power and breakaway ability represented Earth. Gill represented Wind because he could beat you with his arm or his legs. Fryar, of course, was Fire because he could explode as a receiver or a kick returner. “Irving ended up being the No. 1 choice in the entire NFL draft,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know if there will ever be another trio together like those three.”
In their three years together, the Triplets beat Switzer’s Sooners three times by an average score of 31-18, and two of those wins were in Norman, Okla.
Eric Crouch, Nebraska’s 2001 Heisman winner, cherishes his bond with Rozier, even though their awards are separated by 18 years. “Not only was Mike a great college and pro running back . . . he’s a real, genuine person,” Crouch said. “That’s what I like about him most. When you see him, you always get the same Mike, not anybody else.”
Rozier rushed for 4,780 yards and scored 52 touchdowns in three seasons at Nebraska, and he rushed for 4,462 yards and scored 30 touchdowns in an injury-plagued NFL career that spanned eight seasons.
A self-described “neat freak”, Rozier is the same perfectionist at home that he was on the field.
“I take care of everything at home during the week, and Rochelle is in charge on weekends, so I can travel, mostly to charity events,” Rozier said. “For us, life after football isn’t just good. It’s great. I’m in hog heaven. I have a roof over my head, my family is healthy, and we’re all very happy.”
Rozier also has a daughter, Amber, on a track scholarship at Colorado, and a son, JaMichael, who’s still in high school near Houston.
“I’m proud of all my kids,” Rozier said, “and I can’t believe that I’m 47 years old and still getting some awards. I’m just glad my parents are alive and able to be a part of that.”
Osborne, Solich, Fryar, Rodgers, Crouch All There
Garrison (Gary) and Beatrice (Bea) Rozier are proud of Mike and the dedicated family man he has become. They were there for him Monday night in New York. The Fryars, several of Rozier’s aunts and uncles, and Mike’s brother, Guy, a three-year letterman safety at Nebraska (1983-85), and his family were also there. So, too, were Rodgers, Crouch, Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne and former Husker Coach Frank Solich, who recruited Rozier.
Rozier’s family knows how he’s taken to homemaking, but friends and neighbors are more than a little surprised. They look at his well manicured yard and can’t believe it isn’t done professionally. “They ask me why I mow the grass and trim the shrubs and trees,” Rozier said. “Yes, I’m the homeowner. But why would I pay someone to do all that when I enjoy doing it myself? I also like to cook, sew and iron. I guess my mom taught me well, didn’t she?”
Yes, she did. Rozier doesn’t even have to be told when to congratulate or thank people. He and Fryar, for instance, got on the phone together to congratulate Turner Gill after Gill’s Buffalo team won the Mid-America Conference championship this month. Rozier also called Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini after the Huskers finished 8-4 to qualify for a Jan. 1 bowl game last month.
“The Gator Bowl was a big game when I played, and it still has a name that people recognize – not like so many other bowls that make up a name just so they can make money,” Rozier said. “I just wanted to call Coach Pelini and thank him for getting Nebraska back on the right track. Not that he needed my approval. But he’s the coach. I played ball there, and I wanted him to know how much I appreciate what he’s doing for Nebraska.”
Rozier also appreciates Fryar for his friendship and spiritual leadership. “Irving is a pastor at a medium-sized church in Mt. Holly (N.J.),” Rozier pointed out. “It’s a little less than an hour from where I live, but I still like to hear him preach when I can. I’ve always counted my blessings. I took good care of myself when I was growing up and while I was at Nebraska. I didn’t take care of myself like I should have in the pros, but I do now. I have no complaints about what I’ve done in the past and what I’m able to do now. I’m blessed, truly blessed.”
Now He’s the Man in the Pulpit in Mt. Holly, N.J.
The pastor at New Jerusalem House of God for the past five years, Fryar didn’t hesitate to support Rozier at the Heisman dinner Monday night. “I was there for him when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, too” Fryar said. “I’m always there for Mike. That’s why we can go into each other’s house and fix ourselves a sandwich, even if the other one’s not home. That’s how tight our friendship is and has always been.”
The two particularly enjoy playing golf together. “We grew up together, matured at Nebraska, went to the pros, mellowed out after the pros and see life from a different perspective now,” Fryar said. “As time goes on, we’ve realized that life is not about us. It’s about service to others and doing the right thing. Tom Osborne is why we are what we are today. He poured value into us, and it speaks volumes more today than it did when we were playing for him. I was also fortunate to play for Raymond Berry with the Patriots. He was a lot like Coach Osborne.”
There was a time in his life “when I was very selfish,” Fryar said. “To be a servant, you have to go through a process. Some get there earlier than others, but it’s always been a process. When you realize you didn’t have it in the past, you run hard to get it, and you learn what’s important.”
Fryar’s friendship with Rozier is important. “We’ve been able to stand the test of time,” Fryar said. “We’re closer now than we’ve ever been. I played a long time in the pros (and made five Pro Bowl teams), but people recognize Mike more than they do me because he won the Heisman. It was a special privilege to play with Mike. I cherish him as a friend, a teammate and a man.”
Fryar made seven All-America teams the same year that Rozier won the Heisman. In the NFL, he played with the Patriots, Dolphins, Eagles and Redskins and finished his career with 851 receptions for 12,785 yards and 84 touchdowns, including one in Super Bowl XX. He also had 15,594 all-purpose yards in the NFL.
During their three years together at Nebraska, “we were known as the greatest team never to win a national championship,” Fryar said. “First, we lost to Clemson in what could have been a national championship in the Orange Bowl. The next year, we went 12-1, won the Orange Bowl, but lost that controversial game during the regular season at Penn State (27-24). And then, we missed the two-point conversion and lost to Miami (31-30) in our last Orange Bowl. We truly had special people and special gifts. We came within a whisker of winning the national championship three years in a row, but we didn’t win any.”
Cruel and Unusual Punishment from a Running Back?
Fryar pauses, realizing that football and life are both more about persevering than winning. “You know, Mike would have played a lot longer in the pros, if he hadn’t had those injuries,” he said. “He was a man, and I mean a man. I remember watching him on TV one time when we had a bye week. He was playing for the Houston Oilers. He turned the corner and had the ball in his outside arm. Instead of running out of bounds like most running backs would have done, he lowered his shoulder and blew up the defensive player who was still in his way. It was such a physical hit, they threw a flag on Mike for unsportsmanlike conduct. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was a legal hit.”
But, apparently, it was also cruel and unusual punishment.
Although Rozier ran with his trademark instinctual, brute force, he also surprised people with his speed.
“I’m still in good shape, and I can still run,” Rozier said. “Ask Coach Pelini.”
Last January, in a 7-on-7 game between Heisman winners in New Orleans, Rozier played on the winning team. Pelini, his wife, and his kids were in New Orleans for LSU’s national championship win over Ohio State, and they watched the Heisman legends compete.
“We won, something like 65-55,” Rozier recalled. “I caught a 60-yard touchdown pass against Eddie George (the Ohio State running back who beat Tommie Frazier in the final 1995 Heisman Trophy voting). I burned him, so I can still get out there and hoof it.”
What else would you expect from someone who can also cook, clean and iron?