Rashaan Salaam is one of the more celebrated running backs in college football history. His incredible 1994 season that saw him rush for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns helped carry the University of Colorado to an 11-1 record, finishing #3 in the college rankings and beating powerhouse Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. For these achievements, Salaam earned the highest honor a college football player could ever achieve, claiming the Heisman trophy.
Most would think a 20-year old kid would be overjoyed at such an achievement and the notoriety that comes with it. As Elizabeth Merrill of ESPN revealed in a tremendous article about the late former Chicago Bears running back, it wasn’t the case with him. He went into the event silently hoping that he wouldn’t win, even though everybody in the building knew he would.
Only Salaam isn’t smiling as much on this trip.
He does not want to win the Heisman. He doesn’t even have a speech prepared. He knows the pressure and attention that comes with the award and wants no part of it. His mother, Khalada, seems equally wary. She has prayed that the Heisman, if he wins it, will not be the pinnacle of his career.
“Dawg, don’t even sweat this,” Sapp told Salaam earlier in the week. “It’s just a trophy.”
Rashaan Salaam never embraced the spotlight
In many ways Salaam was correct. Winning that trophy brought so much more notoriety to him than before. So much that the Chicago Bears made him their 1st round pick in 1995. Many hoped this kid would be their next Walter Payton. A tough, dependable runner with a defensive mindset on every single carry. Things started out well. Salaam had over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie, winning Rookie of the Year honors.
However, the burdens began to weigh on him more and more. Injuries started to pile up and his work ethic slipped due to a growing addiction to marijuana. This, in turn, led to a frequent problem with fumbling. Eventually, the Bears lost patience and decided to cut him. He failed to really catch on anywhere else and was out of the league by the start of the new millennium. This failure apparently hung with him for the rest of his life until he tragically committed suicide in 2016.
This is a reminder to people out there and what may look like a great honor to many isn’t the case for everybody. Some, like Salaam, only see it as an additional burden to carry.