THE YEAR THE HEISMAN TROPHY WENT TO A PRO
In the nine months since he last carried the football for Nebraska, 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier has repeatedly denied rumors that he violated NCAA eligibility rules during his final season as a Cornhusker. Now Rozier has changed his tune. In a taped interview with SI's Bill Brubaker, Rozier says he breached NCAA rules by signing with an agent and accepting money from him during the 1983 college season. He also says that before Nebraska was upset 31-30 by Miami in the Orange Bowl game that decided the national championship, he improperly entered into a contract with the Pittsburgh Maulers, the USFL team for which he played last spring. In other words, college football's 1983 player of the year was, by the NCAA's definition of the word, a pro.
Under NCAA rules, Rozier could have come to terms with an agent or a pro team only after the Orange Bowl, which ended shortly after midnight last Jan. 3. In the days following that game, Rozier and his agent, Mike Trope, insisted that they'd not yet made a deal with the Maulers. The club said the same thing. However, on Jan. 9, Pittsburgh announced it had signed Rozier to a contract 16 hours after the bowl's final gun. The change in stories raised eyebrows, and a troubling question arose: How could Rozier possibly have settled on an agent and worked out a pro contract so quickly after the game?
The answer, Rozier told Brubaker, is that he didn't. Rozier said that in August 1983, before Nebraska's first game of the season, he'd signed a contract with Los Angeles agent Bruce Marks, who then paid him $600 a month during the season—$2,400 in all. Marks is an associate of Trope's, although Rozier said he didn't know that at the time. According to Rozier, Marks approached him and offered him money. The amount, Rozier continued, "was up to me. [He] said, 'Whatever you want.' I [wouldn't] have to pay it back. I didn't want to get in anything above my head. I said, 'Maybe something like $600 every month.' " Rozier said he signed with Marks, after which the payments began. "Nobody ever offered me nothing in my life, so [I thought] I might as well take it," he said. "Guys want to live comfortable. They don't want to live in no shack. They want a nice car."
Rozier said his deal with the Maulers was completed "a couple of days" before the Orange Bowl, during a meeting at the Fontainebleau Hilton in Miami Beach with, among others, Marks and Mauler general manager George Heddleston. "We just sat down and went over the contract," Rozier said. "It sounded good to me. Three million dollars for three years." It was only after the bowl game, Rozier added, that Trope appeared on the scene and took over as his agent.
SI was told by another source that Rozier indeed received money last season from an agent and reached an oral agreement with the Maulers before the Orange Bowl. Marks declined to comment on whether he gave Rozier money but said Rozier "never signed anything as far as I was concerned." Trope refused to discuss his dealings with Rozier. Heddleston at first denied meeting Rozier before the bowl. Advised that Rozier had told of such a meeting, Heddleston then said he'd spoken to him in a hallway at the Fontainebleau just to introduce himself. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne disclaimed knowledge of any early contact between Rozier and agents or pro teams.
Trope has previously admitted giving money to other players with college eligibility remaining. Several of his former clients have confirmed this, including New York Jets wide receiver Wesley Walker, who two weeks ago told SI's Jill Lieber that he took money from Trope while playing at Cal. Trope has said he has no moral qualms about making such payments because NCAA rules barring them are unrealistic and possibly unconstitutional. Many observers agree that given the financial opportunities and complexities college athletes face they should be free to engage agents openly.
But the rules say otherwise, and Rozier's actions, as a consequence, caused damage. The NCAA doesn't penalize colleges unless they knew their players signed with agents or pro teams, but Rozier's negotiations with the Maulers couldn't have helped his concentration before the Orange Bowl. Also, Osborne has complained that whispers about improprieties involving Rozier have hurt Nebraska's recruiting. New York's Downtown Athletic Club says it wouldn't ask a Heisman winner to return his trophy—"It's the same as, how can you impeach a President after he's out of office?" says a club official—but the club can only be embarrassed by Rozier's acknowledged wrongdoing.
The one most shamed is Rozier himself. He says he decided to come clean in hopes that younger athletes can learn from his transgressions, which obliged him to sneak and lie and made him worry about creating "bad pub" for his team. Reflecting on his actions, he says, "You make a lot of money and things ain't as smooth as everybody thinks it is. Sometimes it even causes problems."
"GENERATING THE WILL...."