Hours before the big show in downtown Manhattan, a Heisman Trophy ceremony took place in downtown Elkhorn.
They held it in a special room. A Heisman winner was on hand. Every winner, except for 2005’s, was on hand.
The historic occasion took place on a quiet lunch hour at Shevy’s Sports and Steaks.
There, Eric Crouch was finishing lunch when a customer approached Crouch and introduced himself.
“Do you mind if we get a picture?” said the customer, who said his name was Cole.
“No, that sounds good,” said Crouch.
So Crouch followed Cole and three of his friends back into the “Heisman Lounge.” They stood there — in front of Paul Hornung, Billy Sims, Roger Staubach and Herschel Walker — and smiled for a timeless photo.
It’s been 14 years since Crouch, the former Nebraska quarterback, won the 2001 Heisman Trophy. Crouch said not a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask for an autograph or photo or want to talk about the Heisman.
Derrick Henry will wake up today as a Heisman Trophy winner. He can’t begin to know how life has changed. The phrase “Heisman Trophy winner” will be like a surname.
And he’ll spend the rest of his life signing, posing and being reminded of his greatness. It will be almost as if a light is following him around.
As Tom Harmon, the 1940 winner, once said, “Every Heisman winner walks under a hero’s light.”
You can find that quote on the back wall in the Heisman Lounge.
That’s where Jeremy Edelman keeps the Heisman light on year-round.
The Heisman Lounge is just to the left as you enter Shevy’s, a sports bar in old downtown Elkhorn. This is a cozy place where locals come to watch big games, celebrate high school victories or pile in for lunch.
They can also brush up on their college football history.
The room is a classic, with a charm that comes from an old-school method known as originality.
Most eateries or establishments seek a niche, something that makes them unique. Edelman, a college football fan, looked into his heart when the place opened six years ago.
“I’ve always loved the Heisman,” Edelman said. “There’s just something about it. History. Tradition. People can’t tell you who won the NFL MVP awards, but they all know who won the Heisman.”
And if they can’t, there’s a place where they can find out. Now that the Downtown Athletic Club is closed (from damage after the 9/11 attacks), and there is no more room to hang the Heisman portraits at the venue, the Heisman Lounge is a rare place where every winner’s image can be found together. Talk about historical coolness.
Edelman obtained black and white 8x10 photos of every Heisman winner, framed them and hung them on the back wall in order. It starts with Jay Berwanger (University of Chicago, 1935) and goes through Marcus Mariota, last year’s winner.
He said he found them on eBay and by searching through the sports memorabilia jungles. It took some diligence and some financial investment. The hardest photo to find? Larry Kelley, the second winner, from Yale.
The room already has some interesting lore about it.
1. Crouch’s photo has been stolen three times. Also, the first photo of Iowa winner Nile Kinnick, taken in front of a Heisman Trust table, was taken. Really, folks?
2. One frame is left blank. That one’s for the year 2005, vacant because winner Reggie Bush forfeited his title and gave back the trophy in light of his involvement in NCAA sanctions. Edelman decided to leave that frame blacked out.
“Some people know why, but others want to know why that was left blank,” Edelman said. “I can’t leave it up there because it’s vacated. I do it as sort of a statement.
“When we do parties, people like to put their pictures in the Reggie Bush frame. There’s Matt Leinart, and then there’s somebody from Elkhorn having a birthday party, and then there’s Troy Smith.”
3. There’s a fraud in the group. Well, OK, it’s 1990 BYU.
“The picture I received of Ty Detmer didn’t look right. The conference patch on the jersey was wrong,” Edelman said. “I looked closer, and it’s actually Max Hall, a BYU quarterback 15 years later. I decided to leave it up there to see if anybody noticed. In six years, one person did. He happened to be from Utah and knew.”
Two things are missing in the room. One, an actual Heisman Trophy. Two, an actual Heisman winner.
I took care of the latter. I met both Crouch and Johnny Rodgers at Shevy’s this week, on different days. Both were mesmerized by the wall of photos.
Lots of memories came rushing back. Lots of old friends they met in this unique, exclusive fraternity.
Rodgers, the 1972 Heisman winner from NU, said he was going back to the Heisman ceremony on Saturday night. Rodgers has always embraced the Heisman identity but mostly the friendships that came with it.
He lamented that more and more of his old friends who line up at the ceremony in order aren’t going back anymore. Some can’t travel. Some have passed away.
“I’m moving farther up to the front of the line,” Rodgers said.
Crouch immediately looked for the 1951 winner, Princeton’s Dick Kazmaier. The year Crouch won, Kazmaier was at the ceremony celebrating the 50th anniversary of his Heisman. The two hit it off and kept in touch until Kazmaier passed away in 2013.
“I’ve made so many friends here,” said Crouch, looking back and forth over the wall. “Jason White. Ron Dayne. Billy Sims. Jim Plunkett. Marcus Allen. Johnny Lattner.
“You see them at the ceremony every year. And then you do a few events a year, signing appearances, and there was one thing in New Orleans, a Habitat for Humanity where we helped build houses. We get together at the Heisman House events, too.
“I wish there were more things like that where we got together.”
Crouch couldn’t make this year’s ceremony, with a crazy travel schedule for work and family stuff at home. He lamented missing it, his friends and a couple of nice touches that make the Heisman different.
Every former winner who comes back for the ceremony gets 10 footballs autographed by all the winners in attendance — footballs they can use to raise money for charities back home.
Also, if a former winner comes back and attends the four Heisman events — Friday through Monday night — the Heisman Trust donates a specified amount to an organization of the winner’s choice. Crouch has donated to local churches and “Make A Wish.”
Edelman has a football signed by former Heisman winners in a display case in the Heisman Lounge. What he needs is an actual trophy to hang out there once in a while.
I know of two that are available for appearances, although Rodgers and Crouch have different approaches on that. The Heisman can be like the Stanley Cup or Claret Jug, traveling trophies that end up in all sorts of fun places.
“One difference,” Crouch said. “The Heisman weighs, like, 100 pounds. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to throw out my back lifting it.”
Rodgers’ trophy needs a passport. It’s been to Canada and Mexico with him. He said it’s been to every “Boys Club and YMCA in eastern Nebraska.” Rodgers loves to make Heisman appearances and always totes the hardware with him.
“I keep it at home in a carrying case,” Rodgers said. “It has its own case. I take it to different conventions around the country. People gather around for pictures of themselves with the Heisman. It’s very special, very rare to see.
“If I’m not recognizable, they recognize the trophy.”
Crouch’s trophy has been to Julio’s Mexican restaurant, which was owned by Crouch’s close friend, the late Rick Fox. He takes it to be displayed at Rodgers’ “Jet” Award ceremony, and he recently hauled it to Offutt Air Force Base for an appearance.
But mostly, Crouch keeps the Heisman in its original box. Not even on display for family or friends.
“If you ever see my house, you’d never know I played football,” Crouch said. “That’s not who I am. I’m also very protective of the trophy. I don’t take it out a lot. It gets trashed. People drop it. The wood gets chipped. I want it to be in the same condition when I won it.”
But maybe, just maybe, it can make an appearance in the Heisman Lounge?
“Yeah, that would be fun,” Crouch said. “You know what we should do? Get Johnny, Mike Rozier and myself here together.”
The Heisman Lounge will be open for them, with the light on. It never goes off.
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