Mike Rozier ran to his car to get something for the waitress at The Pub.
“My rookie card,” Rozier said of the little paper memento that showed Rozier as a running back for the Pittsburgh Maulers of the United States Football League in 1984. “That’s old school.”
Rozier is old school, a South Jersey football legend who played his last high school game on Thanksgiving Day in 1979. He’s 34 years removed from winning the Heisman Trophy, and 26 years removed from his last appearance in the NFL.
But he’s still Mike Rozier, the sharpest dresser among all the former winners on the stage every December at the Marriott Marquis in New York for the annual presentation of the award to college football’s top player.
“They’re always asking, ‘Hey Mike, what are you wearing next year?’ ” Rozier said. “I never know, but I know I’ll have a hat.”
He’s still Mike Rozier, the 56-year-old guy willing to race anybody — including the current Heisman Trophy winner — down the hallway of the swanky hotel in Manhattan.
“I wanted to race one of them one year and his coach was like, ‘No, no, he’s got a bowl game,’ ” Rozier said.
He’s still Mike Rozier, Camden’s favorite son and the future football superstar who once dreamed of becoming a trash collector.
“I wanted to be a garbageman,” Rozier said. “It’s in my yearbook.”
Rozier is like so many old-time Camden folks, a man who will never turn his back on his hometown. He’s still trying to live up to the lessons from the neighborhood around 27th Street on the east side of the city.
“We didn’t have much,” Rozier said. “Me and [younger brother] Guy, we were the youngest. On Christmas, we wouldn’t get much, but we would always get new bikes.
“I was a bike rider. Pennsauken, Delair, Merchantville. If my parents [Garrison and Beatrice] knew how far I used to ride, they would have whupped my butt.
“My parents took care of us. The whole neighborhood took care of us. That’s how it worked back then.”
Rozier will be inducted into the Camden Schools Foundation Hall of Fame dinner and annual fundraiser Feb. 21 at Tavistock Country Club. The foundation is a non-profit that provides college scholarships and supports school trips and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education.
Charitable causes have moved near and dear to Rozier’s heart as he looks back on a life “filled with blessings.” He recently began the Mike Rozier Cancer Foundation with his brother Guy to provide support for patients as well as their families.
“Get involved now,” Rozier said of his message. “Don’t wait for something to happen. Don’t wait for you or somebody in your family to have something go wrong.
“Get involved now. Do it now. Help people while you can.”
The former Woodrow Wilson High School and University of Nebraska star has a full-time job these days: being Mike Rozier. He’s good at it, too. He does charity appearances and speaking engagements, makes regular stops at celebrity golf events.
“I’m from Camden, and they pay me to play golf,” Rozier said, shaking his head in wonder.
He seems to know all the wait staff at The Pub, the famous old steakhouse off the old Airport Circle in Pennsauken. But he’s not quite as gregarious as his younger brother.
“I call him ‘The Mayor,’ ” Rozier said over lunch the other day. “If Guy walked in here, he would know everybody in this place in 10 minutes.”
Mike Rozier was as good a football player as ever suited up in South Jersey. There’s a reason the field behind the old high school on Federal Street is called Mike Rozier Stadium.
At Nebraska, Rozier played for legendary former coach Tom Osborne, a man he still reveres.
“Like a second father to me,” Rozier said.
Rozier ran for 1,689 yards for a 12-1 team as a junior for Nebraska in 1982. He ran for 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior, when Nebraska lost to Miami, 31-30, in the national title game. Little-remembered fact: Rozier ran for 138 yards in the first half, leaving in the third quarter with an ankle injury.
“I still go back [to Nebraska] about five times a year,” Rozier said. “They never forget you.”
Rozier came out of college at the height of a bidding war between the NFL and USFL. As did a lot of stars such as Reggie White, Steve Young, and Herschel Walker, Rozier played for the upstart league for a couple of years.
He played seven more years in the NFL for Houston and Atlanta. He was a Pro Bowler in 1987 and 1988.
“Never got hurt too bad,” Rozier said. “Little bit with this knee, little bit with this knee. But I can still run. I can still work outside.”
Rozier lives in Sicklerville with his wife, Rochelle, an attorney, and their teenage son, Michael. Rozier said he tries to spend time with his parents, who live in Willingboro.
“I can walk in the house right now like this,” Rozier said, turning his beret backward. “My dad will say, ‘Boy, turn that hat around.’ He’s old school.”
Like father, like son.
If You Go
Camden Schools Foundation Hall of Fame induction dinner
Where/when: Tavistock Country Club,Feb. 21, 5:30 p.m.
Class of 2018: Dr. Lawrence Ragone, Carmen G Rodriguez, Mike Rozier, Zettra Goodman Waters and Dr. Hyeema Watson.
Tickets: $100 includes reception and buffet dinner. A table for 10 costs $900. Corporate sponsorships are welcome.