OXFORD, Miss. — It wasn't in Langston Rogers' job description, but it was in the DNA of the man who retires Friday as Ole Miss' senior associate athletic director for media relations.
A couple of nights before the 2003 Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York, Rogers found himself standing in the bushes outside of Rebels quarterback Eli Manning's hotel room in Orlando, Fla.
Several hours after Rogers and Manning attended the ESPN College Football awards, Rogers got a call at about 1 a.m.
"Mr. Rogers, Mr. Manning is in the lobby and appears to be drunk," said the voice of the alleged front desk clerk. "He's incoherent. He's in a chair and we can't move him."
Rogers raced to the lobby. No Manning.
He went upstairs and pounded on his hotel room door. No Manning.
That's when Rogers, a chronic worrier whose nickname of "Chicken Hawk" fits someone who lives by the motto "beware of the unguarded moment," went into panic mode.
"I go outside, step through bushes and I'm looking through Eli's window," Rogers said. "If people saw me, they had to think I was a peeping Tom. It's a wonder I didn't get arrested.
"There are clothes thrown all over his room, but no Eli. I thought he might be in the bathroom. Then I thought he might be in jail. I'm literally shaking. I kept thinking what Olivia (Manning, Eli's mother) told me a few days before. She said, 'Take care of my baby.' I didn't sleep a wink the rest of the night."
Several hours later, when Rogers and Eli were scheduled to meet in the lobby to head back to New York, Eli reported on time at 7 a.m., bright-eyed and dapper.
A few weeks later, Rogers found out Eli had pranked him.
"Even Olivia was in on it," Rogers said. "I told Eli I was going to get him back the night before his first Super Bowl."
Hard work and loyalty
There haven't been many times in Rogers' honor-filled career -- he has won every sports-information-director award imaginable, including being named to the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame -- that he has been caught off-guard.
It's one of many reasons why in 29 years at Ole Miss, after his previous 17 as sports information director at Delta State, his alma mater, Rogers, 66, has survived and thrived. He has lived through a revolving door of five chancellors, five athletic directors (including interims), seven head football coaches and two NCAA probations.
"I'm not sure you ever appreciate your sports information director enough -- he may be one of the least-appreciated people at a university," said legendary Ole Miss quarterback Archie Manning, Eli's father. "Langston's job has been more than just handling what's coming up. He has great vision. He's always hustling."
Rogers' work ethic is what got him hired at Ole Miss in 1981. Then-athletic director Warner Alford knew of Rogers' work at Delta State, so Alford called then-Delta State registrar Melvin Hemphill, who had been Alford's high school coach in McComb, Miss.
"Coach Hemphill was pretty clear," Alford said. "He said, 'You listen to your old coach, now. You hire that boy today. He's the workingest boy I've ever seen in my life.'
"As I've told people before, Langston Rogers is in the category of Most Valuable Player, a No. 1 draft choice. His passion for his job and the way he advised Ole Miss coaches and student-athletes is just a gift. And he has the greatest work ethic I've ever been around."
Rogers established his tireless work ethic as a youngster in Calhoun City, Miss. Raised by his grandparents because his mother died when he was an infant and his father was in the Merchant Marines, young Langston worked almost every odd job available.
He got into the publicity business at East Mississippi Junior College. The school's football coach, Bob "Bull" Sullivan, gave Rogers a scholarship in 1961 as a baseball player, football team statistician and student sports information director.
Besides a dawn-to-dusk-and-beyond work ethic, Rogers learned early that loyalty would make him successful.
"I'm loyal to those I serve," Rogers said. "I keep my mouth shut and I do the best I can. I take a lot of pride in loyalty."
Most of the football coaches Rogers has worked with, from his first (Steve Sloan) to his last (Houston Nutt), have felt that kinship.
"When you're the coach, you're Langston's man," said Billy Brewer, Ole Miss' coach from 1983 to 1993. "When something happens, good or bad, he doesn't take sides. He does his job."
CBS announcer Tim Brando said public relations directors with Rogers' savvy are a dying breed.
"Langston has gently given great advice when warranted to me and other media on how to deliver the message, do our jobs and at the same time have good relationships with people we cover," Brando said.
Though Rogers never promoted a Heisman winner -- Eli Manning finished third in '03 -- he did have 18 first-team football All-Americans. Two of his greatest career accomplishments were national awards won by Patrick Willis and Wesley Walls.
Despite Ole Miss' 4-8 record in 2006, Rogers convinced voters that Willis was worthy of the Butkus Award as college football's best linebacker. And in his senior season of 1988, after being switched from linebacker to tight end, Walls made first-team All-American and went on to a 15-year NFL career.
"A lot of guys when they switch positions get lost in the shuffle," Walls said. "Langston portrayed my story as someone who could have been an All-SEC linebacker making a position switch to help the team. He got my name out there and NFL scouts started looking at me. If Langston believed in you, he made sure people knew about you."
Rogers has never asked for a "thank you," but he cherishes the times he gets them, such as after the last game of running back Deuce McAllister's college career at the 2000 Music City Bowl. Rogers had pushed McAllister as a Heisman candidate that season ("The Deuce Is Loose" was the theme), but early-season injuries took McAllister out of the race.
"We're walking to the dressing room after leaving the media interview room, and the next thing I know I feel an arm around my shoulder," Rogers. "It was Deuce. He said, 'Mr. Rogers, things didn't turn out like we'd hoped. But I want you to know I appreciate everything you did.'"
The Hawk never rests
It's a good bet that Rogers won't be idle in retirement. He'll have time to help his wife, Paula, with her show dogs -- "Maybe we'll get a big-time champion and I'll be his press agent," he joked -- catch up on reading and visiting his four grandkids.
There's also a chance that he'll be a consultant from time to time on special projects with the athletic department, especially if the university ever constructs an athletic Hall of Fame building.
Rogers will also have time to plot revenge, all these years later, for Eli Manning's prank that nearly sent him over the edge.
"I never did get Eli back because when he and the Giants actually got in the Super Bowl, I thought better of it, because there was too much on the line," Rogers said.
"Now Eli has a house in Oxford. And since he's a spokesman for DirecTV, I'm thinking it might not look good if his satellite TV mysteriously quits working one day."
The Langston Rogers file
Hometown: Calhoun City, Miss.
Family: Wife, Paula; children Laura and Bill; grandchildren Austin, Anna, Abbie and Avery.
Career: Retiring on Friday as senior associate athletic director for media relations at Ole Miss, where he has worked for 29 years. Came to Ole Miss as sports information director in 1981, promoted in 1984 to assistant athletic director for sports information, and promoted again to his current title. Previously was sports information director for 17 years at Delta State, his alma mater.
Nickname: "Chicken Hawk," which he got when he worked at Delta State, because of his frenetic, worrywart habit of observing everything to anticipate any problems. "My son was a bat boy for the baseball team and they called him 'Sparrow,'" Rogers said.
Honors: Mississippi Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame, College Sports Information Directors Hall of Fame, CoSIDA Trailblazer Award for improving level of ethnic and gender diversity within CoSIDA, CoSIDA past president, CoSIDA Arch Ward Award for outstanding contributions to the profession.
Did you know?: Rogers had his first article published when he was 8, covering a Little League baseball game for the Calhoun City Monitor-Herald. "On my byline, I wrote 'By Langston Rogers, Sportsriter,'" he said. "The editor of the paper (June Murphree) printed it exactly like that, misspelled, to teach me a lesson. I learned my lesson."
— Ron Higgins: 901-529-2525