If you remember the winding, 95-yard touchdown run at Missouri that highlighted Eric Crouch's 2001 Heisman campaign, you know it couldn't have been easy keeping up with the Nebraska legend on the playgrounds of Omaha. Nearly a decade later, it still isn't.
Crouch is now the owner of Crouch Recreation, a company that installs park and playground equipment ranging from water slides to scoreboards in Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa.
Crouch was the quintessential quarterback for the Huskers' vaunted triple option attack, rolling up a 33-5 record as a starter over three years with one Big 12 championship and a shot at the BCS title in the 2002 Rose Bowl. At just 6-feet, NFL scouts deemed Crouch too small to play under center on Sundays but were enticed by his quickness. Crouch was selected in the third round of the 2002 draft by the Rams, who converted him to receiver to join "The Greatest Show on Turf," then coming off a stunning Super Bowl upset at the hands of the upstart New England Patriots and their obscure young quarterback, Tom Brady. But Crouch suffered a severe leg injury in his second preseason game. By September, he had officially announced his retirement from football.
"I made the mistake in my career [of] saying, 'Just get drafted the highest position and I would be open to playing anything,'" Crouch said. “And when I got to the NFL, that really wasn't the situation. I was really a quarterback at heart."
Months later, he unretired. Bouncing between quarterback and safety, Crouch tried to catch on with the Packers and Chiefs, then spent time in NFL Europe and the CFL. But injuries continued to plague him. In 2008, Crouch was drafted with the third overall pick in the All-American Football League, before it folded without putting on a single game.
To this day, Crouch is still getting calls. The UFL's Omaha Nighthawks, an expansion franchise that already features 'Husker legend Ahman Green on its roster and tried out former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett over the weekend, tried to lure Crouch out of retirement a couple months back. Crouch declined, pointing to the fact he's had eight surgeries from football.
After all, the Heisman winner already has plenty on his hands with his small business, which he purchased from a Nebraska family in 2003 after being cut from the Packers. Crouch says it not only gives him a chance to give back, it's also rewarding because it fights childhood obesity, an epidemic that has more than tripled in the last 30 years. And it certainly doesn't hurt business that he just so happens to be one of the greatest Cornhuskers ever, making autographs all part of the job. The children that might one day be using his equipment always want a glimpse of his legendary hardware.
"I've had kids come over and ring the doorbell [and say], 'Hey can we see your Heisman?'" Crouch said. "And I take them and let them see it and their eyes get about as big as they can and they're running out of the house screaming, 'Hey, we saw the Heisman!' and they take that around the neighborhood."
How’s that for viral marketing?
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Jim Weber is the founder of LostLettermen.com, an historical college football and men's basketball site that links the sports' past to the present.
- Eric Crouch