In the Chicago Bears locker room, Rashaan Salaam once asked an approaching reporter, “Why do you want to talk to me? I haven’t done anything yet. You should talk to these guys,” gesturing down the way toward some of his offensive linemen. Such was the genuine humility of a man often recalled as the ultimate team player. A man who ironically, won arguably the greatest individual award in all of sports.
Rashaan Salaam accomplished the improbable, rising from playing 8-man football at La Jolla Country Day High School to winning the Heisman Trophy in 1994. Salaam grew up in San Diego’s Skyline neighborhood and his mother had to be convinced to let him play football because she wanted him to focus on academics. But football was in Rashaan’s blood. His father was Teddy Washington, a talented running back who played at San Diego State in 1966-67. A sizable high school back at 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Salaam scored a California high school-record 50 TDs in his junior season while rushing for 2,164 yards (18.8 per carry). In 2½ seasons, he compiled nearly 5,000 yards (4,965) and scored 112 touchdowns. One of the nation's most-prized recruits out of high school, Salaam was drawn to Colorado University by former CU coach Bill McCartney, assistant linebackers coach Brian Cabral and late running backs coach Ben Gregory. "He had the heart of a Buffalo, a great team player and an unforgettable smile," Cabral said of Salaam.
In the 1994 season as a junior with the Buffs Rashaan Salaam became just the fourth player in college football history at the time to surpass the 2,000-yard mark in rushing. He won the Heisman Trophy by a landslide 248 votes and 842 points and was also the runaway winner in the voting for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's top running back. He also became the fifth player in CU history to earn unanimous All-America honors. In one of the greatest seasons for a running back in college football history, Salaam helped the Buffaloes finish the 1994 season at No. 3 in the country in the college football AP poll. He also won the Walter Camp Award for best player in college football.
In the 1995 NFL draft, Salaam was selected in the first round by the Chicago Bears at No. 21 overall. He became the youngest running back ever to rush for over 1,000 yards during his rookie season. He also scored 10 touchdowns that year and won NFC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. He played three seasons for the Bears and also played briefly with Cleveland and Green Bay in 1999, but was hampered by knee and ankle injuries for much of his pro career. Salaam was inducted into CU's Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012 and was on the ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame for the first time in 2014.
Tragically, Rashaan Salaam, died last year as a result of suicide at the age of 42. In the wake of his untimely passing, Salaam was publicly remembered by those who knew him best as much for his kindness, humility and generous spirit, as for his prolific talent on the gridiron. Former CU coach Bill McCartney remembered Salaam not only as a great player, but as a great teammate. "He was very coachable," McCartney said. "He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn't take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive." "Rashaan will be remembered as one of the greatest football players to ever wear a Buffs uniform," CU Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said. "His 1994 Heisman Trophy brought great prestige and honor to the university."
In 2014 Salaam sold his Heisman Trophy to a sports memorabilia dealer who resold it to a collector that same year. The trophy is accompanied by a letter from Salaam acknowledging the sale. The trophy’s present owner is Tyler Tysdal, a Denver-based real estate and private equity investor and longtime sports collector. In memory of Rashaan Salaam, Tysdal and his family intend to donate all net proceeds from the sale of the trophy to the National Institutes of Health to support research on athletes' medical conditions, which includes brain injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). “A gifted football player won this trophy. We wanted to honor him by utilizing it to benefit other players who need help,” said Tysdal. “It’s our hope that people will be inspired to donate to CTE research so we can identify and treat those athletes already suffering from brain injuries and prevent these injuries in the future.”