This is my countdown of the greatest Nebraska Cornhuskers to wear each jersey number, 1-99. For background on the project, click here. We’re going to start at #99 and work our way down to #1. For each number, I’ll list the best player to wear that number, some of the other memorable Huskers to don that jersey, as well as a personal favorite of mine.
Now we move into the corn-fed heart and soul of Nebraska football: numbers 79 through 70. Other than a couple of centers, the big uglies here rarely touch the ball* But don’t take these numbers lightly. Of the 17 retired jerseys in Nebraska history, five of them reside in the 70’s.
*No touches aside from a couple of fumblerooskies by a famous 71 and an equally famous 75…
Best Player: Rich Glover, Middle Guard, 1970 – 1972
Other notables: Josh Sewell
Personal Favorite: Glover
Comments: Easily on the short list for Greatest Defensive Player in Nebraska history, Rich Glover won the Lombardi and Outland Trophies, finished third in the Heisman, was a two-time All American, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. To say that he was dominating is a big understatement.
During Ndamukong Suh’s senior season, I heard various people comparing Suh and Glover. I was born a couple of years after Glover graduated, so aside from his 22 tackle game of the century in the Game of the Century, I only know his play from grainy highlight films. I wish I was more familiar with his overall body of work to see if he and Suh were on the same level, or if Glover was a step above.
Glover’s #79 was out of circulation between 1972 and 1995, so very few Huskers have worn it. Even fewer of those were starters, or even names that the average fan would recognize. In a way that makes sense. Glover left a very large legacy, one that will not be easily matched.
Best Player: Dennis Carlson, Offensive Tackle, 1963 – 1965
Other notables: Mike Erickson, Tom Punt, Tim Rother
Personal Favorite: Mike Erickson, Offensive Tackle, 2001 – 2004
Comments: As good of a job as huskers.com does, as amazingly thorough as Google is, I really struggled to find a lot of information on what made Dennis Carlson the best to wear #78. For that matter, I did not have a lot of success finding anything on Tom Punt or Tim Rother. All I know is those three earned all conference honors (1965 for Carlson, 1990 for Punt, and 1987 for Rother). Carlson gets the nod for being elected into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Let me know in the comments what I should know about Carlson’s career, or if there is a better candidate.
Random trivia: At 6′ 8″,Tom Punt is credited with being the tallest football letter winner in school history; a feat that current sophomore Zach Sterup will likely match in 2013.
Erickson is one of those linemen who didn’t blow you away with his talent or abilities (never got past honorable mention All Big XII), but was one of those guys that once he got a starting job, he never gave it up. While he was not exactly part of a great era, starting every game for three seasons is rather impressive.
Best Player: Walter Barnes, Middle Guard, 1963 – 1965
Other notables: Toniu Fonoti, Lance Lundberg, Carl Nicks, Dick Rupert, Adam Treu
Personal Favorite: Toniu Fonoti, Tackle, 1999 – 2001
Comments: This was a tough call to make. Prior to starting this project, I was not familiar with the career of Barnes, and I was a big fan of Fonoti. Both were All-America and both were all conference (one year for Fonoti, two years for Barnes). Fonoti was a finalist for the Outland and Lombardi trophies, and Barnes was a two-way player (center and tackle on offense, middle guard on defense). Fonoti was only the third Husker to start on the offensive line as a true freshman. According to his Huskers.com bio, Barnes became a fan favorite his hits on kickoff coverage, and earned the nickname “Crazy Horse”. In the end, I penalized Fonoti for skipping his senior season to jump to the NFL. Had the big Hawaiian stuck around, I think he would own this spot hands down, and would likely be in the pantheon of Pipeline greats.
That said, Fonoti will always be a personal favorite. Big, quick, and strong, he owns the school record for pancake blocks in a game (32 against Texas Tech – 41% of all offensive plays) a season (201), and a career (379).
Best Player: Chris Spachman, Defensive Tackle, 1983 – 1986
Other notables: Brian Boerboom, Lydon Murtha, Dave Walline, Joel Wilks
Personal Favorite: Billy Diekmann, Tackle, 1997 – 1999
Comments: Chris Spachman played on the same defensive lines as Jim Skow and Danny Noonan in the mid 80s. While not as acclaimed as those two greats, Spachman more than held his own as a three-year starter, All-Big 8 pick, and honorable mention All-America. In addition, he was also an academic all conference pick and a lifter of the year finalist.
Billy Diekmann didn’t play a whole lot, and never lettered at Nebraska, but that’s not why he’s a favorite. I had a class with Billy my senior year at UNL (his freshman year). This wasn’t the first time I had a football player in one of my classes – I believed in the old rule of thumb that the more football players in your class, the more likely you’d be to get an A. But this was one of the first players that I got to know, and Billy was a nice, funny, down to earth Nebraska kid. The kind of guy that you definitely want to root for. The kind of guy that makes up the vast majority of Nebraska rosters.
Oh yeah, the class we shared? MUCO243 – Varsity Chorus (known back then as Men’s Glee Club). You can scoff all you want about singing in a glee club, but not too many people do it to a 6’3″ 290 pound lineman.
Comments: In theory, I should choose a single “best” between Shields and Jacobsen, but how would you do that? Do you pick the first of Nebraska’s eight Outland Trophies (the first Husker to win a major award)? Or do you go with the second player to ever start on the offensive line as a true freshman, and one of six linemen to be all conference three straight years? Both were dominating players who cast a big, big shadow over their position. In the end, I’m choosing to celebrate two Husker legends, who both happened to wear the same number.
Shields does get my personal favorite nod. Yes, he was an amazing (and soon to be Hall of Fame) NFL talent. Yes, he earned the NFL “Man of the Year” award for his charitable work. Yes, his son Shavon is likely to become a standout basketball player for Tim Miles’s Huskers. But Shields is here for one reason. The greatest word in a sport chock full of awesome words:
Best Player: Bob Newton, Offensive Tackle, 1969 – 1970
Other notables: Ricky Henry, Stan Parker
Personal Favorite: Ricky Henry, Guard, 2008 – 2010
Comments: Both players (Newton and Henry) came to Nebraska from the junior college ranks, albeit 40 years apart. The Big 8 used to award a “Lineman of the Week” honor, which Newton won a record four times in the 1970 season. Those performances helped him become a unanimous All-Big 8 pick as well as an All-American.
Ricky Henry is not the most talented person to ever play guard at Nebraska, nor would he be the fastest, most technically sound, or any number of other criteria. But you’d be hard pressed to name too many other offensive lineman with Henry’s fire, toughness, and his nasty streak. While that sometimes led to some frustrating penalties, I think he brought a spark and a passion that was missing from Nebraska’s offensive lines.
Best Player: Kelvin Clark, Offensive Tackle, 1975 – 1978
Other notables: Mark Behning, Marvin Crenshaw, Dan Hurley, Robert Pickens, Fred Pollack
Personal Favorite: Fred Pollack, Offensive Tackle, 1994 – 1997
Comments: Tom Osborne once said that Kelvin Clark was “possibly the best offensive lineman ever to play at Nebraska”. While I’m guessing Osborne said that prior to the careers of Shields, Steinkuhler, Rimington, Wiegart, and others, that is still some high praise. Clark was an All-American and All-Big 8 pick as a senior before becoming a first round draft choice.
In theory, I should make Clark my personal fave just on the basis of his nickname (“Big Neck”), but I’m going with Freddy Pollack, part of some of the greatest offensive lines in school history. The odds are good that before we’re done, I’ll pick every single lineman from 1994 – 1997 as a favorite. Sue me, I loved the dominance of the mid 90s run game, and the Pipeline was a big reason why it was so successful.
Best Player: Zach Wiegert, Offensive Tackle, 1991 – 1994
Other notables: Mike Fultz, Scott Raridon, Carel Stith, Daryl White
Personal Favorite: Wiegart
Comments: Quick: name the most decorated number in school history (in terms of all-conference and All-America honors). 30? 54? 55? 75? Nope, it’s #72. Nine times the 72 jersey has been worn by an All-Conference pick, and four times by an All-American. No other number can match that.
Wiegert is the perfect flagship for this prestigious number. Outland Trophy winner, three-time all-Big 8 performer, and over his 46 career games he only allowed one sack. Wiegert is a standard bearer for O-line dominance.
Even though he was a huge player (6’5″, 300 pounds) I always remember him pulling or way out on the perimeter leading the toss sweep. I could imagine the fear that went through those linebackers or corners when they say big old #72 barreling down on them.
Best Player: Dean Steinkuhler, Guard, 1981 – 1983
Other notables: Carl Johnson, Bob Liggett, Lloyd Voss
Personal Favorite: Steinkuhler
Comments: Another all-time great offensive lineman. Steinkuhler won the Outland and Lombardi trophies, helping the 1983 Scoring Explosion put up 52 points and over 400 rushing yards a game (seriously – read that again and let it sink in. Amazing). In addition to being the father of two Blackshirts (Ty and Baker), Dean is probably best known for scoring the first points in the 1984 Orange Bowl via the fumblerooski.
I’m very fond of this number. During my high school football career, I held the bench in place while proudly sporting the 71. Why 71? While it wasn’t specifically because of Steinkuhler, I was well aware of his legendary career – even if I knew I would never replicate a fraction of his success. Besides, as a lineman, my options were limited (really, who wants to be a 73 or a 79?). Seventy-one is a tough, yet handsome number (the vertical lines are slimming). Steinkuhler’s #71 went into temporary retirement after he graduated, and since it reentered the roster back in 1994, I can tell you every player to wear the glorious 71 both starter (Jake Andersen, Jeremiah Sirles) and scrub (Mike Van Cleave, Matt McGinn, Mike Masin).
Best Player: Doug Glaser, Offensive Tackle, 1987 – 1989
Other notables: Eric Anderson, Brian Blankenship, Bob Lingenfelter, Donnie McGhee, Tyrone Robertson
Personal Favorite: Eric Anderson, Offensive Tackle, 1994 – 1997
Comments: As part of my bias towards the mid-90s teams, I really wanted to give the nod to Eric Anderson, but in reading about Doug Glaser’s career, I knew that wouldn’t be fair. Glaser’s resume (All-America in 1989) trumps Anderson’s two All-Big 8 honors, but what put it over the top was a great stat within Glaser’s huskers.com bio: He missed three games with a broken toe during the 1989 season. In the three games he sat out, the Huskers averaged 335 yards rushing. In the eight games he played, Nebraska rolled up 390 rushing yards per game. That’s impressive.
Eric Anderson always struck me as the quiet, reserved member of the great Pipeline teams; the lunch pail guy who would calmly come in, kick your ass for four quarters, and then go back to being a regular guy. Who knows, maybe his big glasses threw me off. What he did was replace one of the best offensive tackles in school history (Zach Wiegert) without a big drop-off in production.