Eric Crouch. Has there been a more polarizing figure in Nebraska football history?
A home-grown Nebraska white boy with a list of awards - including the 2001 Heisman Trophy - that would make Tommie Frazier's mantle look a little empty, and a 35-7 record as a starter, he should have the kind of unconditional love from Husker Nation that allows one to live life on a scholarship of free steak and booze while daddies let their college sophomore daughters have sleepovers at his place.
There always seemed to be some controversy surrounding him, some of his own making, most not. Bobby Newcombe, with whom his name will always be intertwined, won the starting job in 1998, but both would have injury issues that year. Some Husker fans will still grumble, yours truly included, that the legend of Major Applewhite never gets started if Solich starts a healthy Crouch over Monte Christo in the Texas game, instead of waiting for Monte to lay it on the carpet for seemed like about the 15th time in his last four quarters. However, a Holiday Bowl loss to Arizona in which Crouch was grounded for 28 yards rushing and threw 2 INT's caused fans to turn on him, not for the last time.
1999 opened with Bobby Newcombe winning the QB battle, a decision that looked questionable at best once the games started. Before that happened, however, the infamous "Crouch runs home to Omaha with Frankie following" incident occurred, further souring some. Never mind that time would show he had good reason to be royally pissed, even if he didn't initially deal with it, ahem, gracefully.
Once the games started, though, it became apparent that Frankie's initial decision had been about as sound as his inclination to run reverses on 4th & short. After the Husker offense sputtered against Cal early, in went Crouch to lead one scoring drive, hit Tracey Wistrom for a 70 yard TD on the next, and with Newcombe back in, take a middle screen 60 yards for score. As the rest of the offense mobbed him, Newcombe quietly went and sat on the bench, and the Crouch era had begun.
His best team was probably that 1999 season which was marred only by a 20-14 Texas loss in which they outgained the Longhorns 429-275 but lost 3 key fumbles. A battered, basically one-armed Crouch would avenge the loss for his only Big 12 title but their best chance for the big one had been lost.
He would spend the next two years carrying the Huskers on his back, like Tommie Frazier never had to, and generally had the war wounds to show for it while amassing 552 carries over 3 straight seasons, rushing for over 1000 each year. To put that in perspective, Roy Helu just became the 1st running back with back-to-back 1000 yard seasons since Calvin Jones. 18 years ago.
People remember the big losses like 62-36 to Colorado. They forget that he ran for 162 yards while passing for 198 and had them 1 yard from pulling within under a touchdown after trailing 35-3 early on, before a fumble took the wind out of their sails. I'll always remember Brent Musberger (TOOL, cough, cough) gleefully exclaiming, "BOULDER, COLORADO IS WHERE ERIC CROUCH'S HEISMAN CHANCES CAME TO DIE!!!". Wrong again, Bwent. That's right up there with "MICHIGAN IS YOUR UNDISPUTED NATIONAL CHAMPION!!"
They remember the 37-14 pounding by Miami but forget his 114 yards rushing. And the fact that he wasn't out there on defense.
I choose to remember him for the big plays like this the ol' Black 41 Flash Reverse from Thunder and Stuntz:
Or the other Heisman highlight play that I like to think of as "Fat Mizzouri Guy Turned Into Human Bobblehead":
So what say we forgive the hotheaded disappointment of a 20-year-old finally, and fully embrace the guy who became the 3rd point of the Nebraska Heisman triangle. For those who would question his Heisman credentials, I'd point out that Ken Dorsey and Rex Grossman were your runners up. For those who would snottily point out that a national title eluded him, I'd introduce you to Turner Gill and note that lack of the big trophy doesn't seem to tarnish his legacy.
He played through pain, always chugged full speed ahead on the field, won some thrillers, and most of the time just plain won. Sounds like Husker to me.
Added by request - Crouch makes a Hawkeye do his own version of "Down goes Frazier!!"