Forty-three years after he and two other men held up a gas station following a night of drinking, 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers was granted a pardon from the state of Nebraska on Thursday
"I feel like the weight for that particular incident is off my shoulders," Rodgers said after he walked out of his Board of Pardons hearing.
The board voted 3-0 to pardon the 62-year-old Rodgers, who has spent his post-football life as an entrepreneur and pitchman in Omaha.
Rodgers said he has long regretted what he called an alcohol-fueled prank in the spring of 1970. The holdup occurred the night after he completed his last day of classes his freshman year and netted $90 that was split three ways.
The crime was first investigated as an armed robbery. Rodgers pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of felony larceny and was sentenced to two years of probation. Rodgers has repeatedly denied that he had a gun during the holdup.
A pardon does not expunge Rodgers’ record, but it does restore civil rights he lost after his conviction, such as the right to be a juror, hold public office and hold certain licenses. The board also gave approval for Rodgers to own a firearm, if he chooses to.
The pardons board is made up of Gov. Dave Heineman, Attorney General Jon Bruning and Secretary of State John Gale.
Rodgers, wearing a red shirt under a dark blazer with a ”Win Your Life” lapel pin, told the board that he has lived a mostly good life and had met the criteria for a pardon.
"I’m seeking a pardon because this incident happened when I was 17 years old," Rodgers told the board. "I had 10 minutes of insanity, which has hurt me my whole life."
Four friends, including Rodgers’ high school quarterback, testified in support of Rodgers. Former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who was Rodgers’ position coach, wrote a letter of support.
Gale mentioned that after the larceny conviction, Rodgers was picked up for driving under a suspended license in 1973 and had a drunken-driving conviction in 1997. Gale also noted that Rodgers’ record continues to show felony convictions in California for firearms charges related to a 1985 confrontation with a cable-television technician who was disconnecting service from his house.
Rodgers said he planned to seek a pardon in California.
Gale said Rodgers was to be commended for his work with youth, returning to the university to earn degrees in journalism and advertising and for, by all accounts, being a good father to his five children.
"You’ve done a lot of good things in your life as far as charity and with kids," Bruning said. "For our purposes, we require 10 years with a clean record and in the end, we treat similar people similarly whether they’re widely known or not widely known. Mr. Rodgers has done what we’ve asked of any applicant."
Heineman said several people had contacted the board to weigh in against a pardon for Rodgers, hinting that he was being given special treatment. The board also received correspondence from people who pointed out that Rodgers had been hit with civil lawsuits for some of his business dealings.
The pardons board only considers criminal acts as obstacles to a pardon.
Heineman gave Rodgers an opportunity to answer those who say he was given special consideration because of his status as an All-America football player.
"I don’t think there’s anything special about what I’m requesting," Rodgers said. "It’s been a considerable amount of time that has taken place since the incident and I’ve actually had a pretty good history of trying to do positive things."