Part nine of a 12-day series profiling each member of the 2012 Colorado Athletic Hall of Fame. Today's profile is on Rashaan Salaam, the 1994 Heisman Trophy and Doak Walker Award winner. Click here for more information and to register for the 2012 induction ceremony.
The trophy case in The Dal Ward Athletic Center is well-stocked with hardware reflecting some incredible seasons and incredible moments in University of Colorado Athletics history. Bowl wins, tournament victories, conference championships and a whole section of National Championship trophies (thanks, ski team) are real highlights on that tour. And while it’s always going to be about team accomplishments, there are certain awards the Colorado Athletic Department will always point out.
|Rashaan Salaam with the 1994 Heisman Trophy
Like Rashaan Salaam’s Heisman Trophy. While the famous bust takes up residence in his mother’s home, the fact that CU has a winner of the prestigious trophy is something Buff fans can be very proud of.
Salaam’s trip to the New York Athletic Club in 1994 may have seemed pretty unlikely to a lot of people, but not legendary Buffs coach Bill McCartney who recruited Salaam out of the San Diego area. Coach Mac saw Salaam tearing up the league as a high schooler. That’s pretty common for a kid getting recruited to the D-1 level, especially to a powerhouse football school.
But here’s the catch: Salaam played on an eight-man team. Despite being on a small stage, he attracted attention from more than the famous coaches that stood on his high school sidelines. Salaam was also named a Parade All-American, something very few kids from small programs can claim.
“I am proud of and enjoy my collegiate awards, but to play 8-man football and to be named a Parade All-American was just big for me,” Salaaam said with pride in a 2004 edition of Plati-‘Tudes on CUBuffs.com.
Once he arrived in Boulder, the 6-1 210-pounder was suited up with a few more players on both sides of the ball, and players from schools like Nebraska and Oklahoma on the opposite side of the field. That’s a big step for anyone, and his freshman total of 158 yards was hardly the kind of result expected from a future Heisman winner. Sophomore year was a little more comfortable and Salaam notched eight touchdowns and 844 yards as a part-time back behind future NFL back Lamont Warren.
And then came 1994. It took Salaam just five games to eclipse his previous season’s totals with a dozen touchdowns and 892 yards. That season, he became only the fourth player to surpass 2,000 rushing yards in a season, finishing with 2,055 and 24 touchdowns in 11 games. That season, one Buff fans will forever remember for “The Miracle in Michigan” game, the Buffs finished 11-1 and third in the national rankings. But a true sportsman, Salaam sees that season as a real disappointment not for what he accomplished, but rather what his team failed to accomplish. That one loss, a 24-7 defeat to Nebraska stung then and it still hurts even today.
|Rashaan Salaam eclipsed 2,000 yards in 1994 on a memorable 67-yard TD run against Iowa State.
“I really felt that we were one of the best collegiate teams put together in the history of college football. That loss to Nebraska, to this day, still carries a sour taste in my mouth,” Salaam remembered in Plati-‘Tudes. “That loss pretty much null and voided “The Catch,” our win in the heat in Austin, and everything else we accomplished. It punched us in the stomach, and was just a sick feeling. It comes right back talking to you now. Most of us didn’t want to continue on for the rest of the season the first few days after that loss, with the Orange Bowl likely out of the picture. Up to that point, it had been a really special season, we had a lot of things go our way, but after Lincoln, we felt a little cursed.”
“Looking back, the season was beautiful,” Salaam recalled. “We had a lot of record breakers, a lot of award winners, and face it, not many teams go 11-1 playing the kind of teams we played. But not having a national championship banner hanging in the stadium for that team, and not to have a ring, even a Big Eight ring, is what’s disappointing to this day.”
Clearly, Salaam wanted more for his team but was awarded the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s best running back in 1994. And in the Heisman voting, he captured all six regions and was selected over Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter and Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair. Later, he would become the first-round selection of the Chicago Bears and in what should have been his senior campaign as a Buff, took the NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
Buffs head coach Jon Embree was an assistant coach in 1994 and remembers him as a tough, team-first player.
"The thing about Rashaan was his toughness. He was a very physical runner. He was a tough kid and took a lot of shots. He was a great teammate. He was very selfless. I remember how happy he was after we beat Wisconsin, he had about 85 yards. You would've thought he ran for 1,000 that game because he was so excited for the teams’ success."
And Embree has great memories of what it was like being part of history – a Heisman trophy season.
"It was really crazy. Those of us who were really close with the program were in a unique situation because he is our only Heisman winner. To have someone that had such a great chance to win it and to be in that position. There was about three weeks (before) the Iowa State game where it was always being monitored and we were at Kansas and coach pulled him out. People thought that might cost him. Coach Mac pulled him out when we were up by so many.”
Here’s hoping Coach Embree one day has the same challenge as Coach Mac.