Paul Rogers, a key cog for the Nebraska football team during the Bob Devaney era, died earlier this week in Omaha. He was 69.
A 1998 inductee into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame, Rogers kicked a then-school record 51-yard field goal with 21 seconds left to lift Nebraska past Wyoming 13-10 in the 1968 season opener. He also kicked game winners against Minnesota and Oklahoma State in the final minutes during a 1968 season in which Devaney was feeling heat from fans. The Huskers finished 6-4 in both 1967 and 1968.
“Coach Devaney told me I saved his job with that kick against Wyoming (in 1968),” Rogers told the Journal Star in 2006.
He was recruited to Nebraska out of Central Lyons Community Township High in Rock Rapids, Iowa, as a running back/defensive back. He was an Iowa all-state running back, a state sprint champion and chose NU because the wingback position seemed a perfect fit for him. But he carried the ball seven times for 14 yards and caught three passes for 31 yards in his short career at the position.
Devaney asked Rogers to move to defensive back before the 1970 season — the first of Nebraska’s back-to-back national championship seasons — to make room for a little-known wingback at the time, Johnny Rodgers — who went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1972.
“If I hadn’t agreed to the move, he (Rodgers) probably would have never gotten on the field,” Rogers said with a laugh in the 2006 interview.
Thing is, Rogers could kick a little, too. In 1967, in the days when Nebraska freshmen could not play varsity, Rogers was a solid running back on a freshman team that included Guy Ingles, Wally Winter, Dan Schneiss, Jerry Murtaugh and Danny Malone.
Rogers also kicked for the freshmen. The next spring, he chose to spend some more time kicking and started for the White team in the Spring Game because the only other kicker on the team was the starter for the Red team, Bill Bomberger.
“One thing led to another and I was starting in my first varsity game against Wyoming, in a big game because Devaney and most of his coaching staff were from Wyoming,” Rogers said.
In 1969, Rogers made what still stands as the second-longest field goal in Husker history, a 55-yard bomb against Kansas in Lincoln. Two other ex-Huskers (Chris Drennan and Billy Todd) made 55-yard field goals in their careers, while Omaha native Alex Henery has the record, a 57-yard shot against Colorado in 2008.
In the 1969 Sun Bowl against Georgia, Rogers kicked four field goals (50, 32, 42 and 37 yards) in the first quarter. His kicking helped the Huskers defeat Georgia 45-6.
Before his career at Nebraska was over, Rogers had a national championship ring (1970) and several NU and Big Eight records.
He is survived by his daughters, Samantha and Sabrina Rogers, and brother Steve Rogers.