As a family still mourns, Rashaan Salaam's 'stolen' Heisman Trophy is up for auction

Khalada Salaam is convinced her son's Heisman Trophy was stolen.

That became evident to her following that tragic day less than 13 months ago. Rashaan Salaam's family had gathered in sadness to clean out his Boulder, Colorado, condo.

Their beloved son, brother and friend shot himself on Dec. 5, 2016, at a Boulder park, 2 miles from Colorado's Folsom Field where Salaam played on his way to winning the 1994 Heisman Trophy.

"When we went to Boulder to bury Rashaan … I didn't see it in his apartment," Khalada said. "I thought it was in a restaurant or something. I thought it would pop up.

"It didn't pop up."

The first time anyone in the family knew for sure where the trophy had gone was after reading an internet post last month. SCP Auctions of Laguna Niguel, California, was advertising Salaam's trophy as up for auction.

The sale concludes Saturday. The bidding has eclipsed $275,000 as of Friday morning. Heads on all sides are still spinning.

"Your text to me is the first I heard of it," Rick Neuheisel told CBS Sports this week. Neuheisel was Salaam's offensive coordinator that magical season at Colorado.

Salaam wouldn't be the first former Heisman Trophy winner to sell his hardware. He would be the first to do so despite appearing to be financially solvent when he committed suicide.

Adding to the swirling mystery: Khalada's stolen-trophy assertion is based on the fact that her son's condo was unlocked when the family arrived to collect his things.

"You could just walk right in," she said.

Adding to the lingering sadness: Khalada said a representative from Boston University's CTE Center called the day her son died. They wanted Rashaan's brain for ongoing CTE research related to football players.

The family declined. An autopsy later revealed Salaam died of a gunshot to the head.

"It's bizarre, so bizarre," Khalada said from the family's home in San Diego. "I didn't want them to send Rashaan's brain to Boston. Not because I'm a Muslim. If I was a Christian, I wouldn't have done that … I couldn't have done that. "

At some point on Saturday, a bidder will gain ownership of college football's most revered trophy. This one also happens to be a piece of Salaam as far as his family is concerned.

The family still isn't sure how it got away. A Heisman spokesman said there is "no evidence" the trophy was ever sold.

The winner actually gets two trophies: one for himself and one for the school. In 2016, a Colorado spokesman said Salaam's trophy was "lost."

"I've had [access to] the trophy for 20 years and now I have no claims to it," Khalada said. "But I'm not going to make myself any sicker than I've been since Rashaan left."

Her son rushed for 1,000 yards in his rookie season with the Chicago Bears in 1995. He was out of the league three years later.

Injuries limited his pro career, but Salaam was a hero forever at Colorado where -- at the time -- he became the fourth major-college player to rush for 2,000 yards.

While he made his name running the ball, his best play may well have been a key pass block for Kordell Stewart on Colorado's most famous play. Stewart's "Hail Mary To the Victors" bomb to beat Michigan in 1994.

Over the years, Salaam's infectious smile became famous around CU. He moved from his native San Diego back to Boulder. Salaam was grand marshal of Colorado's 2014 homecoming parade. He founded at least one company and worked with charities.

That's not the picture of someone with suicidal thoughts.

"I always felt that way about Rashaan; he was a team guy," Neuheisel said. "I always felt like, when his playing career ended, he would find a job in the athletic department and be an ambassador."

Neuheisel had dinner with Salaam approximately two years ago.

"He looked excited, interested in [working for] the Pac-12 Network," he said. "He seemed like a happy kid."

However, Salaam's brother told USA Today in December 2016 that Rashaan had "all the symptoms" of CTE. His father also told the paper, "It could be concussions. It could be something else."

Khalada concluded, "It never entered my mind he would sell this. You just never know what people are thinking when they are under a lot of stress."

A mystery lingers.

Denver venture capitalist Tyler Tysdal is the trophy's current owner. Tysdal says he bought the Stiff Arm from a dealer in 2014 who offered "a letter of authenticity" from Salaam.

Tysdal will not reveal the identity of that dealer who, Tysdal says, acquired the trophy from Salaam. It is known Salaam previously sold his Heisman ring for approximately $8,000 in a separate transaction in 2011.

"This is his trophy," Tysdal said of the Heisman. "He was willing and wanting to sell it."

Tysdal intends to donate all the net proceeds to CTE research, a gesture that has little to do with Salaam. Tysdal's two daughters have suffered head injuries playing sports. A friend, Grant Carter, played with Junior Seau. The former NFL great committed suicide in 2012. His brain was found to have CTE.

"There are no [personal] profits here," Tysdal said.

"I just felt, out of common courtesy, that they should talk to the family," Khalada said. "If there are any proceeds to be gotten, it should go to the family."

Both Tysdal and SCP vice president Dan Imler said it would be a "fairy tale" if money from the sale found its way to the Salaam family.

"We would be very supportive if that would happen," Imler said.

However, there is no plan for either seller or auctioneer to do so themselves. Business is business.

Imler said he did speak to a Salaam family representative on a "fact-finding mission" once the auction was announced.

"What's the deal here? What's happening here? Where has it been?" Imler said, recalling his questions.

Hearing that, Khalada speculated the contact may have been by a friend of Salaam. "That wasn't anyone from the family," she said.

rashaan-salaam-heisman-getty.jpg
Rashaan Salaam receiving the 60th Heisman Trophy in New York. Getty Images

Imler did provide a glimpse to why any athlete would sell such an award.

"A lot of these guys just aren't connected to the objects the way you would think they are," he said.

Imler gave the example of Bob Cousy, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer. Cousy sold off 150 items from his personal collection -- including his 1957 MVP trophy -- for more than $455,000 back in 2010.

"He had no emotional attachment to the trophy itself," Imler said. "He said to me, point blank, 'I don't need this piece of wood and metal to remind me I was the MVP in '57.'"

The SCP press release mentions the sale of at least seven other Heismans, including one owned by O.J. Simpson that netted $255,000 in 1999. SCP was able to get $228,000 for the plaster cast used to create the first Heisman in 1935.

The Heisman Trust won't be involved in purchasing Salaam's trophy, nor has it ever bought one in such a transaction.

Perhaps the unseemly practice of selling the treasured trophy to outsiders will end. Since approximately 2005, Heisman winners have been required to sign a document before receiving the trophy. It includes a promise that, should they or their family ever consider selling the Heisman, it must be sold to the Heisman Trust.

Still, the well-intentioned edict can't possibly address the ongoing loss of more than a trophy for the Salaams. 

"I will recover from this," Khalada said. "This trophy is not going to interfere from me feeling better."

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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