It's hard to believe it's been over 30 years since George Rogers won the Heisman Trophy. Sometimes, it's hard for Rogers to believe, too.
"Oh man," South Carolina's greatest football player said, his trademark booming laugh echoing. "If you look at me and see what size I am now ... yeah, it's been a long time."
And he laughed his infectious laugh once more.
Suffice to say, many among the dozens of USC fans who seek out Rogers' SUV on game days at Williams-Brice Stadium to have their photo taken next to the 1980 All-American and his Heisman Trophy never saw him play. Others, their memories undimmed by time, delight in introducing their children to their larger-than-life, 52-year-old hero.
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It's doubtful anyone in Heisman history enjoys sharing the experience with others more than Rogers. Probably the most recognizable person at USC - with the possible exception of football coach Steve Spurrier - his wide grin and engaging manner draw passers-by and friends alike like moths to a flame.
For those who knew him when, it's difficult to equate the talkative, friendly Rogers of today with the painfully shy 18-year-old who first set foot in Columbia in 1977. Then-USC coach Jim Carlen might not have realized immediately what Rogers would become - but he and everyone elsewould find out.
As a sophomore, the bullish 6-foot-2, 220-pound running back with deceptive speed burst onto fans' consciousness, gaining 1,006 yards while sharing carries (176 each) with classmate Johnnie Wright. A year later, Carlen switched from a split backfield to the I-formation, Wrightsuffered a season-ending knee injury, and Rogers rushed for a then-USC record 1,681 yards.
"When Johnnie was healthy, he was going to be the tailback and I was the fullback," Rogers said. "Coach Carlen asked me, 'You want to playtailback or fullback?' and I said, 'I'll play where you want me to; I just want to play.'" In fact, Carlen has said, Rogers was his clear choice to spearhead USC's run-heavy attack all along; Wright's injury just made the decision easier.
"He said we'd try both, but then Johnnie got hurt," Rogers said. "I remember like yesterday: Coach Carlen said, 'George, get in there attailback.' The first play, they pitched me the ball and I must've run 40 yards for a touchdown. And coach Carlen said, 'That's it, you're a tailback from now on.' "
That was the genesis of the school's 1980 grass-roots campaign for college football's premier award.
"They had these posters and cards (that read), 'Keep your eye on this man,' " Rogers recalls of weekly mail-outs to Heisman voters around the nation. "As a kid growing up, I didn't know what all that stuff was."
Rogers led the nation with 1,894 yards and propelled the Gamecocks to a second straight 8-4 bowl season. In winning the Heisman, beatingout Pitt's Hugh Green and Georgia's Herschel Walker, he put USC on the college football map.
"You got to credit coach Carlen for a lot of that," Rogers said. "He was a heckuva coach."
And Rogers was a heckuva back. A workhorse, too; his 5,204 career yards - USC's No. 2, Brandon Bennett, had 3,055 - came on a back-breaking 954 carries, 252 more than runner-up Harold Green. Simply put: Rogers WAS the Gamecocks' offense.
Today, Rogers battles his love of food and a grudging approach to exercise; both, he knows, could afflict him with the diabetes that claimed his mother, Grady Ann Rogers.
He has a personal trainer who also monitors his diet. Instead of the fried baloney sandwiches he loved as a player, he eats "turkey, tuna and all that stuff. If it doesn't taste good," he said, laughing, "that's what I'm eating."
He wants to live a long time.
Say, another 30 years or so.