Photo: Rashaan Salaam
NOTE: Story below was the first in a season long series on the 20th anniversary of Rashaan Salaam winning the 1994 Heisman Trophy. However, a computer hacker damaged most of the subsequent stories.
A story hit the media in 2011 that 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam’s Heisman rings were sold at an auction house in Chicago. They drew a top bid of $9,000.
Speculation quickly spread across the Internet that Salaam was another athlete gone broke. The reality is Salaam safely invested his initial NFL contract with the Chicago Bears as a first-round draft pick in 1995.
“My Dad sold the rings,” Salaam said with frustration in his voice.
Salaam’s investments have stood the test time of time, including the 2008 economic crash. His NFL career was limited to four years, but he’s living a comfortable life.
Lately, Salaam has been traveling the country working for STAT Performance. The group puts on football clinics and speaks to young athletes. Last week he was in Wyoming talking football.
“We were way out there, but we had fun,” Salaam said. “I’m enjoying this. Eventually I wanted to start a foundation to help kids make good choices.”
Like the one he made with his money two decades ago.
Salaam’s planned foundation will be called SPIN and based in Colorado, where he has resided for the past year. SPIN stands for Supporting People in Need. He’s collaborating with Robert Hawkins, a social worker at Jefferson High School in Edgewater, Colo.
“The goal of the SPIN Foundation will be to help kids turn a negative into a positive and not turn a positive into a negative,” Salaam said. “I really believe each kid has a gift, and it’s up to them to position themselves to fulfill their gifts.”
With Salaam moving onto the next phase of his post-athletic career, I reminded him that 2014 is the 20th anniversary of his Heisman Trophy season when he ran for 2,055 yards at Colorado.
“Thanks for making me feel old,” he replied.
And this is from a guy who doesn’t turn 40 until October 8.
The Big 40 marks probably only the second time in Salaam’s life he’s felt age weigh him down. He was always young for his class throughout school. The first time was when his NFL window was closing down on his career in 1999 with the Cleveland Browns.
He was only four years removed from a 1,074-yard rushing season with 10 touchdowns as a Bears rookie in 1995. Then-Chicago head coach Dave Waanstedt viewed the 6-foot-1, 224-pounder as a power back to control the ball on offense and complement the rugged defense.
But Salaam’s rookie season was plagued by fumbles. Then his career was dogged by injuries, including a devastating leg and ankle damage – a spiral fracture and dislocated ankle.
Rashaan, whom I first met when he played 8-man football at La Jolla Country Day, attended a sports luncheon I had invited him about 10 years ago when I was the media coordinator at the San Diego Hall of Champions. Rashaan and his mother Khalada Salaam had agreed on my suggestion to loan his Heisman to the SDHOC.
“It’s time to share it with the San Diego public,” said his mother, who was holding it at her home.
I picked up the trophy from his mother, and for a brief time I drove around San Diego with the Heisman on the passenger seat. I admit I had it at home on my mantel for a day before I brought it into the museum for public display.
At that aforementioned luncheon, a guest tapped me on the shoulder and asked if that was Rashaan Salaam. I told him it was; Rashaan was soon signing plenty of autographs.
I knew Rashaan had once described himself as a bust.
“See,” I told him, “You’re still the Heisman Trophy winner.”
Better yet, Salaam was the overwhelming best choice in 1994 when he was only the fourth college player to rush for 2,000 yards in the regular season. Penn State’s Ki-Jana Carter, whose NFL career was derailed by a knee injury with the Cincinnati Bengals, was a distant second in the voting.
The 1994 Heisman wasn’t one of those controversial votes such as 1992. That was the year San Diego State All-American running back Marshall Faulk lost out to Miami quarterback Gino Torretta -- in part due to relentless on-air, tub-thumping by ESPN’s Lee Corso.
I reminded Rashaan of his elite club at another San Diego Hall of Champions affair. When Faulk was inducted into the San Diego Hall of Fame in 2009, I thought it would be a good idea to gather Salaam and his Heisman for a group photo along with other all-time great backs with San Diego ties -- Faulk, then-San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson and retired Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis of San Diego’s Lincoln High.
As the foursome posed, Faulk, Tomlinson and Davis caressed the Heisman with awe; the owner stood back and watched with a smile. Davis playfully hugged the trophy at one point as the NFL Network cameras rolled.
Faulk, Tomlinson and Davis have NFL fame and have banked millions of dollars, but they aren’t – and never will be – members of the Heisman Trophy club.
Among them only Salaam knows the richness of the Heisman Trophy’s aura.
Rashaan's 1994 season statistics
--- 1) No. 8 Colorado def. NE Louisiana 48-13 at home; Salaam, 24 carries, 183 yards, three TDs, three catches, 40 yards, 0 TD.
--- 2) No. 7 def. No. 10 Wisconsin 55-17 at home; 26-85-4 TDs; 2-69-0.
--- 3) No. 7 def. No. 4 (at) Michigan 27-26 (106,427); 27-26; 22-141-2 TDs; 3-18-0.
--- 4) No. 5 def. No. 16 (at) Texas 34-31 (77,809); 35-317-1 TDs; 5-45-0.
--- 5) No. 5 def.(at) Missouri 28-23; 28-166-2 TDs; 1-41-0;
--- 6) No. 4 def. No. 22 Oklahoma 45-7 at home; 25-161-4 TDs; 1-7-0.
--- 7) No. 2 def. Kansas State 35-21 at home; 28-202-2 TDs; 1-2-0.
--- 8) No. 2 lost to No. 3 (at) Nebraska 24-7 (76,131); 22-134-1 TDs; 2-24-0.
--- 9) No. 7 def. Oklahoma State 17-3 at home; 29-174-0 TDs; 2-28-0.
--- 10) No. 7 def. (at) Kansas 51-26; 30-232-3 TDs; 3-16-0.
--- 11) No. 7 def. Iowa State 41-20 at home; 29-259-2 TDs; 1-4-0; (67-yarder for 2,000)
--- 12) Fiesta Bowl, def. Notre Dame 41-24; 73,968;
The next time 1994 Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam speaks to a group of youths as he does these days, they’ll hear words he would like to share with 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston if he had the opportunity.
“With social media, you don’t have an opportunity to make mistakes and put yourself in bad positions,” he said. “My main message is to surround yourself with people doing good things. You are 100 percent the company you keep.”
Salaam, college football’s fourth 2,000-yard rusher with 2,055 yards as a junior at Colorado, would offer more specific advice in a one-on-one with Winston. The Florida State redshirt sophomore quarterback has continued to add to his resume of transgressions that most alarmingly includes an accusation of rape for which he was not charged.
“He leaves you scratching your head,” Salaam said. “With all the social media, you would think the light bulb has turned on by now or he would at least slow down a little bit. He has to understand he’s not like everyone else; he’s the Heisman Trophy winner. I’ve learned many of these lessons in my life and try to share them. When I talk to kids, I try to tell them to turn a negative into a positive and to not turn a positive into a negative.”
Salaam was a first-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears in the 1995 and a 1,00-yard rusher as a rookie. But his NFL career was soon derailed by fumbles and severe leg and ankle injuries.
Later, as part of a comeback effort, he admitted to marijuana use, although he was never arrested or suspended in his NFL career. The mea culpa didn’t help his on-field comeback that failed, but he’s approaching 40 years of age and attempting an off-field comeback.
He’s working to establish SPIN – Supporting People in Need – in Colorado, where the San Diegan has lived the past year.
“For me, it’s redemption,” Salaam said. “I can’t go back to change the things I shouldn’t have done. But I can tell young people the right things to do. I have the story greatness and of messing up. I can tell them what to do and what not to do based on experience.
“I tell them to be goal-oriented. I tell them they’re building a foundation and to stay away from under-age drinking and from marijuana and other drugs.”
He is collaborating on SPIN with Robert Hawkins, a social worker at Jefferson High School in Edgewater, Colo.
“A lot kids don’t have hope,” Salaam said. “They’re not big dreamers and they follow the crowd. They have to understand they can be special no matter their background.
“Every kid can be successful, but it’s up to them and the decisions they make. They have to think big and have courage not to follow people who will drag them down. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but they have to decide to make the right choices.”
Salaam suspects people such as Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher must have that “blue-in-the-face” frustration after Winston’s latest escapade. His half-game suspension was extended to a full game, yet Winston took the field for warmup in full pads as if he would play with cameras following him. Fisher sent him to the locker room to take off his pads.
“He’s not looking good if he wants to be a top-flight quarterback in the NFL,” Salaam said. “Quarterbacks have to make good choices. He’s ruining his resume. He’s got to realize the media is not going to let him get away with his antics.”