Nicknamed "The Jet" for his rapid acceleration and speed on the field, Johnny Rodgers served as a punt return specialist, pass receiver, and running back. Rodgers broke virtually every offensive team record, was twice named to the College Football All-America Team and won the Walter Camp Award and the Heisman Trophy in 1972 for most outstanding player in college football in the United States.
In his three years with the Cornhuskers, the versatile Rodgers established an all-purpose NCAA yardage record of 5,586. Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who served as Nebraska's offensive coordinator in the early 1970s, wrote in his 1985 book More Than Winning that Rodgers had the greatest ability to return punts of any player he ever saw. Likewise, College Football News has described him as "the greatest kick returner in college football history." Rodgers returned seven punts for touchdowns in his college career, a feat that stood as the NCAA record for decades.
Johnny Rodgers was convicted of a gas station robbery while he was a student at the University of Nebraska in 1970. He is the only Heisman to be convicted of a Felony before receiving the award.
In 1971, in what has become known as college football's "Game of the Century," Rodgers returned a punt 72 yards to score the first touchdown which set the tone for his team's 35-31 victory over the University of Oklahoma Sooners. ESPN describes Rodgers' performance as "unforgettable." However, some observers consider his greatest single performance to be in the 1973 (post-1972 season) Orange Bowl when he led his team to a 40-6 victory over the University of Notre Dame. Rodgers ran for three touchdowns, caught a 50-yard pass for another touchdown, and threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to a teammate. He did all this before leaving the game with 21 minutes still to play.
Johnny Rodgers, the all-around star from Nebraska, made it a clean sweep of all five sections and easily outdistanced his Oklahoma rival, Greg Pruitt. It was a standout year for the Big Eight as Nebraska middle guard Rich Glover gave the conference the three top spots in the balloting.