The New Jersey Generals signing of 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker sent shockwaves through pro football's establishment, but was seen by many as something of a special situation - the NFL wouldn't touch Walker due to his having college eligibility remaining and the USFL was a new league trying to make a name for itself.  When the Pittsburgh Maulers drafted and signed 1983 winner Mike Rozier, however, everyone stood up and took notice.

Fueled by the money of mall magnate Edward J. DeBartolo, the expansion Maulers were given the first overall pick in the 1984 USFL Draft.  Allegedly a lottery among the six expansion franchises was held, but as Jim Byrne intimated in his book "The $1 League" and has since been confirmed by USFL.INFO, the selection order was rigged in the Maulers favor.  The rationale was simple:  DeBartolo had the financial resources to sign Rozier, paying him a then-record $1 million signing bonus and bringing the team a certifiable drawing card.

Rozier came to the USFL from the University of Nebraska, where his Heisman Trophy season capped a three-year collegiate career in which he rushed for 4,780 yards, including 1,689 as a Junior and an incredible 2,148 yards on just 275 carries with 29 touchdowns as a senior.  While the Maulers could have used their #1 pick to select Brigham Young quarterback and future Pro Football Hall of Famer Steve Young, at the time picking Rozier seemed like just as shrewd a choice.

Unfortunately DeBartolo and team president Paul Martha essentially tried to make Rozier a one-man show in Pittsburgh, putting talented but not superior talent around him on the offense.  Rozier would rush for 792 yards with the Maulers, scoring only 3 touchdowns for a team that would win only 3 games - two of which came at the expense of the hapless Washington Federals.  The Maulers folded after 1984, and while other players were made available to USFL teams via a dispersal draft, Rozier had signed a personal services contract with DeBartolo that let DeBartolo sell his contract to the highest bidder - which turned out to be the Jacksonville Bulls.  It was there that Rozier showed flashes of his collegiate ability, rushing for 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns on 320 carries and helping the Bulls raise their record to 9-9-0 following a maiden 6-12-0 campaign in 1984.

Released by the Bulls after the outcome of USFL v. NFL, Rozier went to the NFL's Houston Oilers, where he would spend the next six seasons but never lived up to his Heisman hype - though he did rush for 957 yards in 1987 and cracked the 1,000-yard mark in 1988.  In 1990 he moved on to the Atlanta Falcons, playing 24 games there before hanging up his jersey for good after the 1991 season.  His pro career rushing total over 9 seasons was 6,615 yards, less than 2,000 yards more than what he'd gained at Nebraska in a third as many seasons.

Today Rozier lives in Sicklerville, New Jersey.  In 2006 he was honored with induction into the College Football Hall of Fame and the #30 he wore as a Cornhusker has since been retired.  Rozier's career yardage total, single season yards from 1983, his career 26 100-yard rushing games, and 11 consecutive 100-yard games each remain Nebraska records to this day.

MIKE ROZIER

Pittsburgh Maulers,
Jacksonville Bulls

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