A great Buffalo

Awards

Heisman Trophy (1994)

Doak Walker Award (1994)

Walter Camp Trophy (1994)

First-team All-American (1994)

First-team All-Big Eight (1993 & 1994)

1993 Aloha Bowl MVP

CU Athletic Hall of Fame (2012)

Career statistics

Rushing attempts: 486

Rushing yards: 3,057 (CU rank: 3rd)

Rushing TDs: 33 (CU rank: 4th)

Receptions: 38

Receiving yards: 412

1994 Heisman season

Rushing attempts: 298 (CU rank: 1st)

Rushing yards: 2,055 (CU rank: 1st)

Rushing TDs: 24 (CU rank: 1st)

Receptions: 24

Receiving yards: 294

NFL career

Chicago Bears: 1995-97

Cleveland Browns: 1999

1995 first-round draft choice (21st overall)

Rushed for 1,074 yards in 1995

When Rashaan Salaam went to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in 1994 as a 20-year-old running back from the University of Colorado, he was in awe.

"You get a chance to meet some of your childhood heroes that you grew up watching, like Tony Dorsett," Salaam said as he looked back at that day.

Two years ago this month, Salaam was preparing to go back to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony and celebrate the 20th anniversary of his award.

"Now you're the guy people want to meet," he was told.

"Think so?," he said. "I don't look at it like that."


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Whether he knew it or not, Salaam, who passed away on Monday night at the age of 42, was a hero to a lot of young fans, and he will always be revered among the CU community as one of the greatest athletes to come through Boulder.

"I was 8 yrs old when my daycare took us to CU's campus," CU fan Victor Romero tweeted. "Saw him & he signed autographs for all of us. He made a fan for life."

Salaam came to CU from La Jolla Country Day school in San Diego, where he made a lasting impression on some who saw him play eight-man high school football.

Salaam
Salaam (CU Sports Department / Daily Camera)

"My brother-in-law was a safety for The Bishop's School and he came up on a sweep and took Rashaan down," said Mike Costa, from XTRA 1360 Fox Sports radio in San Diego. "Rashaan got up and slapped him on the helmet as if to say, 'nice tackle.' The next time they ran a sweep, Rashaan plowed over my brother-in-law on his way to a long TD."

After a slow start to his CU career in 1992, Salaam ran for 844 yards as a sophomore in 1993, sharing backfield duties with Lamont Warren.

In 1994, Salaam produced arguably the greatest single-season performance in the history of Colorado football.

Beginning the season as a 19-year-old junior (he turned 20 on Oct. 8 of that year), Salaam rushed for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns. At the time, he was just the fourth player in Division I history to eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark. He also caught 24 passes for 294 yards.

On Dec. 13, 1994, he awarded the Heisman Trophy, given annually to the top player in college football.

"It put me on a level that's so big," Salaam said in 2014. "Winning the Heisman is one of those things, it's a dream come true."

While it was a dream come true, Salaam was never one to gloat about being a Heisman winner. He always viewed it as a team award.

"One of our greatest players to come through - obviously our only Heisman winner - and even a better person," CU associate athletic director/sports information David Plati said. "He's one of those guys that he hated the attention. He never wanted the spotlight on himself and he felt a little guilty that he was getting all this publicity and all this love when he wanted that credit really deflected to the offensive line and Kordell (Stewart) and everybody that surrounded him."

For many of the fans, what Salaam did on the field will never be forgotten. Perhaps the lasting image was of him sprinting down the sidelines for a 67-yard touchdown against Iowa State on Nov. 19, 1994 - a run that put him over the 2,000-yard mark.

"I was at the game when he broke the 2,000 yard mark. It was unbelievable," CU fan @RBCUfan tweeted.

David Smith tweeted: "Without a doubt (it was) watching him race down the sideline for long TD against Iowa St to go over 2000 yards in his last home game."

Michael Manning e-mailed Buffzone.com with this memory, "For me, it was the back-to-back Michigan and Texas games in '94. Both were away. I was at the Michigan game and while he wasn't the star of that game, he banged out 141 tough yards. ... His stats in the Texas game were off the charts."

For those who played with Salaam, the memories go far beyond the field.

Stewart, the quarterback during Salaam's career, posted on Instagram: "One of my best teammates and friend is no longer with us. He was a great one....we will miss this dude. The things we did together on the field could NEVER be matched, but the person was just as dynamic."

Receiver Michael Westbrook, who was close with Salaam when they were teammates at CU, said his greatest memory was the run against Iowa State, but it wasn't the run so much as the seconds after Salaam reached the end zone.

"He didn't want the notoriety for rushing for 2,000 yards, and I thought that was hilarious," Westbrook said. "We put him on our shoulders and he didn't want to be up there. How shy he was about stuff like that, it makes me laugh because that's just how he was. He never wanted credit for stuff."

When Salaam and Plati returned to Denver after the Heisman Trophy ceremony 22 years ago, several of Salaam's teammates were there to greet him.

"He was a great guy. He was a great teammate," CU's left tackle in 1994, Tony Berti, told BuffZone.com in 2014. "Nothing would have held us from being at the airport that day. We picked him up and we all went out and had wings and hung out for a while. It was a really special experience."

Salaam had a tough upbringing that included his father spending time in jail and the family being homeless for a time.

Salaam had tough moments after leaving CU, too.

He skipped his senior season and declared the 1995 NFL Draft, where the Chicago Bears drafted him 21st overall.

Salaam ran for 1,074 yards as a rookie, but struggled from that point on. He dealt with an addiction to marijuana and said, "I tried to get away with natural ability too much."

For years, he said he beat himself up for the errors he made. But, as he prepared to go to New York two years ago, he said, "I'm hoping to use my story to go and influence kids."

Despite the tragic end to Salaam's story, he will forever be an inspiration to those who watched him, played with and knew him best.

Asked how Salaam should be remembered, Westbrook said: "As a selfless, humble, kind, good-spirited human being."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com /BrianHowell33.