George Rogers, the state of South Carolina's lone Heisman Trophy and a multiple hall of fame member, is quick to tell anyone the game played just that significant a role for him, too.
It's hard to imagine now, seeing Rogers at the University of South Carolina's Williams-Brice Stadium on fall Saturdays, posing for photos with Gamecocks fans and his iconic trophy to raise funds for his George Rogers Foundation, which helps provide scholarships to disadvantaged youth. But not long after his NFL days ended, the big Georgia native seemed doomed to suffer a sorry end to his career.
Rogers, who admits he used alcohol and recreational drugs while in the pros, was arrested during a Columbia drug bust in the early 1990s and briefly lost his job working for his alma mater. Then, in the middle of his personal crisis, a friend came by Rogers' house one day and suggested they play golf.
"I felt like I had the world on my shoulders, and my wife said, ‘You need to get out and do something,'" Rogers said in 1998. Though he had almost never played, he says he was hooked the first time he made a birdie. "It got me out of my depression," he says. "The game probably saved my life."
Soon after, it also gave him a way to mend his image and, at the same time, give back to USC. Rogers began an annual celebrity golf tournament, inviting celebrity friends - especially fellow Heisman winners - and raising $3,000 the first year. Now, in its 22nd year, the two-day event (including a dinner and silent auction the night before the golf) averages 10 times that each year, with proceeds going to his foundation.
This summer, the guest list included musician Wynton Marsalis, former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes, USC athletics director Ray Tanner and former NFL players Willie Scott, Harold Green (both USC alums), Hugh Green and Rickey Jackson, among others.
"We had a good turnout, 32 teams," he says. "The economy is down, but we got enough to give our kids the money we're going to give them, and that's the important thing."
Now 54, with a 9-year-old grandson he dotes on, Rogers remains as popular among USC fans as he was in his glory days. Most of his days are spent "being George Rogers," using his fame to help his school and other charities.
And, of course, playing golf; he recently appeared at a tournament in Cookeville, Tenn., hometown of his late USC coach, Jim Carlen, where his team finished third, and is on the course as much as he can be, now that the weather is so nice. "I haven't been so good off the tee, but my second and third shots are absolutely good," he says.
Hometown: Duluth, Ga.
Bio: A two-time All-American at South Carolina, where he led the nation in rushing (1,894 yards) as a senior in 1980 and won the Heisman Trophy. NFL Draft's No. 1 pick in 1981 by the New Orleans Saints, he led the NFL in rushing his rookie year; also played for the Washington Redskins from 1985-87.
Highlights: Led the Gamecocks to back-to-back 8-win seasons and bowl games in 1979 () and 1980 (Gator). Holds USC's career rushing record with 5,204 yards, is the school's only three-time 1,000-yard rusher and has USC's top two single-season rushing totals (1,894 in 1980, 1,681 in 1979). Inducted into the College Football Hall of fame in 1997; also a member of the S.C. Athletic Hall of Fame and USC Hall of Fame.
Where I play: "Around (the Midlands), I like to play at Mid Carolina near Prosperity and right off Interstate 26. In Columbia, The Woodlands is a fun place to play. Columbia Country Club is a nice course and so is Spring Valley Country Club; Northwoods is still a nice one and Oak Hills Golf Club is a lot better. Golden Hills is a nice one in Lexington and so is the Country Club of Lexington.
"In Myrtle Beach, there are so many golf courses, all of them great. You can go anywhere and have fun, but maybe my favorite is the three courses at Barefoot Resort. That place is, wow. They are nice, and the greens are like lightning.
"I like Verdae in Greenville, and the course where they have the (Web.com Tour) BMW Charity Pro-Am, Thornblade, is a really nice one. So is Chanticleer. And I tell you what, Orangeburg Country Club is one of the best I've seen in a small town like that."
Where I eat: "I'm a big fan of Outback and Bonefish Grill - I'll eat blackened anything. Anywhere in the Vista you can find good restaurants, but I like Longhorn. I still like to go to Lizard's Thicket, and oh yeah, California Dreamin'-they've got the best salads, man. And don't forget Doc's Barbecue off Shop Road. Out of town, tell you the truth, I don't eat out much. The last place out of town I went was in Durham, N.C., called the Structure House and that was to lose weight. I lost 30-35 pounds in a month."
What I do for fun: "For me, the three things I do are fishing, movies and bowling. I got a houseful of movies I collect. When I fish, there's a place off Monticello Road where they let me go there. And I like to go up to Greenwood, a couple of places up there; a friend of mine had a pond full of bream and bass. I'm taking my grandson, Cameron, my daughter's son, he's 9. We're going tomorrow. I love to do that."