National champion Husker kicker Paul Rogers — who may have saved Bob Devaney’s job — dies at 69
Among all the turning points of Nebraska football during its golden era, think of what could have happened without Paul Rogers.
If Rogers doesn’t kick a 51-yarder with 21 seconds left to beat Wyoming in his debut and doesn’t kick two more game-winners — a field goal against Minnesota two weeks later and an extra point in the Big Eight season against Oklahoma State, the Huskers in 1968 seemingly would have been 3-7 instead of 6-4.
Bob Devaney — his job in jeopardy because his 1967 team went only 6-4 and snapped a string of five consecutive bowl appearances — likely wouldn’t have been around after that.
“Coach Devaney always said that had that field goal not gone through (against Wyoming), it really might have cost him and his staff the job,” Rogers said in 2002.
Rogers died this week in Omaha. He was 69. Services will be private.
Rogers was the Huskers’ place-kicker through their first national championship season in 1970. His most prolific day — really one quarter — was the 1969 Sun Bowl, a 45-6 win over Vince Dooley’s Georgia Bulldogs. He made four field goals, including a 50-yarder, as NU led 18-0 after the first quarter and was named the game’s outstanding player.
“It was one of those career days where everything goes right,” Rogers said. “We had chances to kick more field goals after the first quarter, but Coach Devaney wouldn’t let me try any more because we were so far ahead.”
When he left NU, the straight-on kicker owned every mark in the Husker record book for his specialty. His longest field goal was 55 yards, which wasn’t bettered until Alex Henery’s game-winning 57-yarder against Colorado in 2008.
Pittsburgh drafted Rogers in the eighth round in 1971 and he looked set to be the Steelers’ kicker — until they brought in Roy Gerela, cut by the Houston Oilers after two seasons, for the final exhibition game and cut Rogers. Gerela won three Super Bowl rings with the Steelers. Rogers signed the following spring with the New York Giants but nine-year man Pete Gogolak kept his job.
From Rock Rapids in far northwest Iowa, Rogers was his state’s Class A quarter-mile champion in high school (best time 49.3 seconds) and came to Nebraska as a multi-position player who also had been recruited by Colorado, Minnesota and Iowa State. He was at flanker as a sophomore, behind Larry Frost and Mick Ziegler, after averaging nearly 5 yards a carry on the 1967 freshman team.
Rogers entered the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
Survivors include daughters Samantha and Sabrina Rogers and brother Steve.