The Nebraska Board of Pardons granted a hearing for a full pardon Tuesday to former Nebraska football great Johnny Rodgers.

The board set his hearing for Nov. 14, at which time Rodgers will be able to make his case for a pardon from robbing a gas station as a  college student.

The former Husker wingback did not appear Tuesday before the board, which is made of Gov. Dave Heineman, Attorney General Jon Bruning and Secretary of State John Gale.

Rodgers has said he applied for the pardon because it was time to put his youthful crime behind him. He said he was doing it for his family, friends, the University of Nebraska and the state.

Rodgers' application for a pardon came with  letters of support from former NU football coach and athletic director Tom Osborne, Omaha attorney and politician Hal Daub, organized labor leader Terry Moore, former coach and Omaha Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Donald Benning and former World-Herald reporter and Cornhusker State Games Director Tom Ash.

"John has tried to help those in need, particularly young people for whom he has been a good role model," Osborne wrote. "The thing I admire most about John is the fact that he has done an excellent job of being a father to his five children."

Four of his children have college degrees, and one is an honor student in high school, Osborne said.

The former Heisman Trophy winner is asking for a full pardon of the felony conviction he received in 1971 for grand larceny. He and two other young men robbed a gas station attendant at the end of Rodgers' freshman year in college, and he was sentenced a year later to two years' probation.

Rodgers said the three were drinking in their dorm room and thought about going out and pulling some sort of end-of-school mischief. At first they considered getting gas and just driving away without paying, but he thought his car would be recognized. So the plan became to park the car, steal the money and then go get gas.

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Rodgers said he considered it a youthful prank. But, the story goes, a year later -- after he had become a national football celebrity -- one of the other young men bragged in his hometown about pulling a stickup with Johnny Rodgers.

A court document, signed by then-County Attorney Paul Douglas, charged Rodgers and the other two with stealing property from gas station attendant Glen Griggs, without threats, use of force or violence.

Rodgers pleaded guilty and was sentenced to   probation and ordered to pay restitution and court costs. 

In June 1973, he was discharged from probation, and his civil rights were  "restored the same as though a pardon had been issued," according to a probation release order signed by then-District Court Judge William Hastings.

Rodgers has said he applied for the pardon because it was time to complete unfinished business.

"I go around telling people and kids never give up on anything big or small, and I don't want to give up on that as well," he said. "It's just something that's been hanging over me since that time."

Rodgers has other offenses on his record, according to the Pardons Board report, including a 1972 charge of driving under license suspension, 1987 charges from California of being a felon in possession of a firearm and assault with a deadly weapon, and a 1997 driving under the influence conviction in Nebraska.

He was convicted on a deadly weapon charge for allegedly pointing a pistol at a cable TV technician who had arrived at his home to disconnect his service for nonpayment. On appeal, that conviction was reversed.

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Reach JoAnne Young at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com -- You can follow JoAnne's tweets at twitter.com/ljslegislature.


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