I was reminded this week once again just how wide the range of opinions that Husker fans hold over Eric Crouch. To some, he's a heroic Heisman Trophy winner who carried the Huskers to the national championship game. To others, he's a vile, self-indulgent quitter who has done nothing but embarrass Nebraska throughout his career.
From my perspective, I've never - ever - questioned Crouch's heart or desire. This is the same quarterback who survived the full Linda Blair treatment by Kansas State's Travis Ochs. (No penalty, fer crying out loud?) The same quarterback who took a lickin' in nearly every game and just kept on tickin', even when the supporting cast disappeared around him.
Others see a ball hog who never wanted to share the spotlight. Some people thought that Bobby Newcombe should have never been replaced by Crouch in 1999. Many despise the way Crouch gave up on the NFL in 2002.Frankly, I don't agree with much of that. Crouch was simply a better quarterback than Newcombe that season. The reason why Newcombe only lasted two games as the quarterback was because the offense was struggling with him calling the signals. Witnesses who watched the practices that season thought Crouch should have won the job after fall camp, but Frank Solich was reluctant to bench Newcombe after recovering from his season ending injury in 1998. As for the glory-hogging, well, Crouch was the only consistent weapon on that Husker team. Correll Buckhalter had a better NFL career than I ever anticipated, based on his Husker days. His tendency to fumble led me to nickname him "Drivehalter". And frankly, after Deangelo Evans left, there was a serious dropoff in Husker running backs. Dahrran Diedrick wasn't bad, and Cory Ross was underrated. But it wasn't until Roy Helu's arrival in 2007 that Nebraska really had a serious I-back on campus.
The NFL question dogs Crouch to this day, and it's one that I think Crouch regrets to some extent. He tried the CFL, NFL Europe, and last year, the UFL with the Omaha Nighthawks. Now he says he's done trying to play, and at this point, that's probably for the best. He's in his mid-30's now with a successful business to focus on.
Still, some Husker fans dog Crouch. Take this comment made to KOZN-1620 AM radio's "Unsportsmanlike Conduct" earlier this week:
"I can't believe how much the media in this state loves this guy. He is selfish quitter. He quit on his team at just about every level. All he really cared about at Nebraska was winning individual awards. He wasn't even the best QB on the team that was Newcombe. Eric said if he wasn't the start quarterback it wasn't playing."
That goes back to the quarterback race prior to the 1999 season. Crouch, by many accounts, outplayed Newcombe, yet Newcombe retained the starting job. Rumors say that Crouch quit the team, but he never missed a practice. Crouch did drive back to Omaha and met with Millard North head coach Fred Petito, who apparently called Solich about the situation.
In any event, from my perspective, Crouch gave Nebraska everything he had on the field and walked away with the game's highest honor. Why he's held in disdain by so many Husker fans is inexplicable in my mind. Is he Tommie Frazier? No. Is he Brook Berringer? No. But he earned his place in Husker lore, and deserves a lot more from Husker fans.