Rozier, Wounds Healing, Glad To Join The Heisman Scene

Posted: December 15, 1996

NEW YORK — As Mike Rozier readily autographed footballs and miniature helmets in the lobby of the Downtown Athletic Club yesterday, a woman looked at the bandage on his right hand and asked, ``What happened to you?''

``I got shot,'' the 1983 Heisman Trophy winner - who set rushing records at the University of Nebraska and at Woodrow Wilson High School in Camden - said matter-of-factly.

The woman gasped as another autograph-seeker asked, ``How are you doing?'' while the former pro running back kept signing ``Mike Rozier, 30.''

``OK. Still here, so . . .,'' Rozier, 35, answered without finishing the thought, or discussing any details of the shooting Nov. 6 in the McGuire Gardens public-housing area in Camden.

The announcement that quarterback Danny Wuerffel of Florida had won the 62d annual Heisman award was still a couple hours away, and Rozier had just arrived with his girlfriend, Rochelle Pacheco, in a limousine from his home on 27th Street.

Moments later, another of the 20 Heisman winners expected to attend last night came over to greet Rozier, who was attending for the third year in a row.

``Hey, man! I tried to call you and check on you,'' said Steve Owens, the 1969 winner from Oklahoma, as he hugged Rozier, who was wearing a leather jacket with ``Heisman'' on the back; a small, black-brim hat; and a gold cross earring in his left ear.

Owens said his telephone calls to the hospital had not been put through to Rozier's room. Rozier, who spent more than two weeks recuperating in a hospital bed, assured Owens that he was feeling fine.

``Man, I'm glad,'' Owens said. ``I was worried about you.''

Rozier said he had never thought about not attending the ceremony to announce the country's outstanding college football player. For him, it's an alumni meeting - and, this year, a chance to say thanks to those who had called during his recovery.

``Everybody was calling me in the hospital and sending me flowers,'' he said. ``I wanted to see the guys anyway. Every year is special. You get a chance to talk to everybody. You don't know who might pass. You never know, it might be the last day I get to see one of these guys.''

Rozier - who in seven NFL seasons had modest success (4,462 career yards on 1,159 carries, 30 touchdowns, and 90 receptions for 715 yards) - realizes that he came close to dying last month.

``It was a freak accident,'' Rozier said of the incident, in which he and a friend, Bart Merrill, were each shot three times. Merrill is also recovering. Police are still investigating, but have not made an arrest.

``A young man was on drugs, drunk, and, you know, drugs and guns don't mix,'' Rozier said. ``I know the guy. We were talking for about a good 45 minutes before he pulled a gun and started shooting.''

Rozier said he does not have a job and doesn't need one: ``Everything's paid for.'' He said he was happy being near his friends and family, and happy to inspire students in Camden and elsewhere.

Still, Rozier knows that many ask why a man who made millions as a pro football player was in a known drug area. Even though Rozier has acknowledged drug use in the past, he insisted that he was only visiting with friends that night.

``They're going to talk about you, whether you're doing good or bad,'' he said, calling it a burden of growing up in, and returning to, an inner city.

comments powered by Disqus