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.
We’re going to stay in the trenches with numbers 69 through 60.
Best Player: Mike Kennedy, Linebacker, 1963 – 1965
Other notables: John Havekost, Tom Welter
Personal Favorite: Kurt Glathar, Center, 1980 – 1982
Comments: For the 1964 season, rule changes allowed schools to return to two platoon football. When Coach Bob Devaney broke out his offensive and defensive squads, he wanted a way to tell them apart. As the legend goes, assistant coach Mike Corgan was sent out to a local sporting goods store to get some new practice jerseys. The store owner had some black jerseys that weren’t selling. He cut Corgan a deal and the new jerseys were issued to the first string defenders.
Mike Kennedy was one of the very first Blackshirts, starting the first game after the practice jerseys debuted. He went on to earn All-Big 8 honors as a linebacker the following year.
I have zero recollection of Kurt Glathar as a football player. But he made a big impression as the assistant principal of my junior/senior high school. The school did not have many discipline problems to begin with, but a 6’2″, 250 former lineman strikes a big presence around a bunch of teenagers. While I didn’t visit his office too often, I do remember his team pictures from the two Orange Bowls he played in.
Best Player: Jake Young, Center, 1986 – 1989
Other notables: Bill Lewis, Steve Lindquist, Mike Mandelko
Personal Favorite: Young
Comments: What position is Nebraska best known for? You could make arguments for I-Back, Kicker, Rush End, or a number of other choices. I would make a case for Center, as Nebraska claims arguably the greatest Center in college football history (Rimington) as well as seven others who earned All-America honors. Consider this run: six times in the 1980s, the All-American center was a Cornhusker.
Two of those honors were won by Jake Young, a cornerstone of some dominating offensive lines. In addition, he was also an Academic All-American. Sadly, Young was a victim of a terrorist attack in Bali.
Best Player: Aaron Taylor, Center/Guard, 1994 – 1997
Other notables: LaVerne Allers, Greg Orton, Kevin Ramaekers
Personal Favorite: Taylor
Comments: There have been a lot of All-Americans at Nebraska. Several players have earned multiple All-America honors. But only Aaron Taylor did it at two different positions. I still have a hard time believing that any coach – even Tom Osborne – would take an All-American center and move him to a different position for his senior season, like Taylor did. Not only did Taylor repeat his honors, he also picked up the eighth Outland Trophy in school history. Only five other Husker linemen earned all-conference honors in three straight seasons.
Best Player: Wayne Meylan, Middle Guard, 1965 – 1967
Other notables: Brenden Stai
Personal Favorite: Brenden Stai, Guard, 1991 – 1994
Comments: Meylan was a fearsome presence in the middle for the early Devaney teams. He was named Player of the Year by the Big 8 in both his junior and senior seasons, while picking up All-America honors in both seasons. Meylan’s life was tragically cut short in 1987 when a World War II era airplane he was piloting crashing during an air show in Michigan. He was posthumously elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991.
When I think of the Pipeline in the 1990s, I think of guys like Brenden Stai. Not overly flashy, not loud or boisterous, but completely and utterly dominating. Stai was 300 pounds of muscle and brute strength that opened gaping holes all game long.
Best Player: Joe Armstrong, Offensive Guard, 1966 – 1968
Other notables: Andy Keeler, Oudious Lee, Randy Theiss
Personal Favorite: Greg Austin, Offensive Guard, 2003 – 2006
Comments: Normally, when you’re describing football players who wear a number in the sixties, “versatile” is not an adjective that comes to mind. Joe Armstrong is the exception. He earned All-America honors as an offensive guard, but played both guard and center, helping the Huskers rack up the yards on offense. In addition, he also punted, averaging a very respectable 39.1 yards per punt. Hard to imagine any other offensive lineman also serving as a punter.
At his best, Greg Austin was an average lineman on some below average teams. The problem was, Austin was rarely at his best. He suffered a knee injury during his freshman season, and fought injuries throughout his career. My lasting image of Austin is him limping back to the huddle after every play. My hunch is that Greg Austin’s knees still hurt him today, and that pain will only get worse over the rest of his life. And for what? The ability to start on some of the most forgettable teams in school history and to be criticized when his limited mobility caused him to miss a block.
We can surely criticize the coaches for continuing to play a guy who was probably never more than 70% healthy for a conference game (and I did), just as we can criticize the coaches for not having anybody on the bench who was better than a guy essentially playing on one leg (which I did). But you could never criticize Austin for not giving everything he had. I wasn’t a fan of his performance, but I respected his toughness and determination.
Best Player: Bob Brown, Offensive Guard, 1962 – 1963
Other notables: Jim McCord
Personal Favorite: Jon Zatechka, Offensive Guard, 1994 – 1997
Comments: Bob Brown’s career is defined by firsts and seconds. He was the first African-American in school history to be named All-American, and was the first All-American in the Bob Devaney era. Brown is just the second Husker to be elected to both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame (Guy Chamberlain is the other). Brown was described as a “relentless” player and helped the 1963 team win the first Big 8 title in school history in Devaney’s second season.
And one more notable second: Bob Brown’s #64 is just the second number to be permanently retired at Nebraska. No Husker has worn 64 since Kurt Mann in 2004.
Even without the legacy of Bob Brown, Jon Zatechka would not be the greatest to wear #64. Heck, most folks would tell you that he wasn’t the greatest to wear a Husker jersey with “Zatechka” on it (big brother Rob had the better career). But, Jon has one memorable moment that Brown or brother Rob can’t claim: he scored a touchdown. While not as glorious as a fumbleroosky (he fell on a fumble in the end zone), he was the first lineman since Dean Steinkuhler to score, and I’m pretty sure no offensive lineman has scored since.
Best Player: David Clark, Defensive Tackle, 1978 – 1989
Other notables: Tom Alward, Greg Jorgensen, Lynn Sinkbeil
Personal Favorite: Andrew Rodriguez, Guard, 2010 – 2013
Comments: This was a hard one. There are three worthy candidates as David Clark, Greg Jorgensen, and Lynn Sinkbeil all earned All Big 8 honors once in their careers. However, I could not find much (i.e. any) information about their respective careers to distinguish them into a clear winner. I’m giving the nod to Clark for two rather trivial reasons that I am a sucker for: 1) he was a walk-on, and 2) he is part of a set of brothers to play at Nebraska (see big brother Kelvin at #73). I wish I could tell you more about what made David Clark a legend, and I’ll gladly listen to a case for Jorgensen or Sinkbeil.
The personal favorite pickings were pretty slim too, but I’m going with Andrew Rodriguez. Not because he is an in-state kid, a guard with talent and potential, or anything like that. I’m going with A-Rod because of a rather dubious achievement from the 2012 Wisconsin game – he was flagged for a false start at the end of the game while Nebraska was in “victory formation”. Aside from the ridiculousness of it (and the frustration of another stupid penalty on a lineman), it proves two things I believe in as a fan: You will see something you have never seen before during every game – but only if you’re there to see it. I could have been one of the thousands of people who headed for the exits when Nebraska started running out the clock. But I would have missed something as rare and ridiculous as an offensive lineman jumping offsides while his team is trying to run out the clock.
Best Player: Ken Mehlin, Guard, 1991 – 1993
Other notables: Bob Sledge, Matt Hoskinson
Personal Favorite: Cole Pensick, Offensive Line, 2009 – 2013
Comments: Ken Mehlin is representative of what made Milt Tenopir’s offensive lines great. While those lines featured some of the greatest linemen to ever play the game (Rimington, Shields, Wiegart, Taylor, etc) they were also filled with guys like Mehlin – undersized walk-ons who grew up playing 8-man football in some small Nebraska town while dreaming of playing for the Cornhuskers. Mehlin earned All Big 8 honors as a senior and also earned academic honors.
Cole Pensick is cut from the Ken Mehlin mold. While Pensick earned a scholarship offer in high school, he has still been one of those dedicated in-state rocks that the program is built on – willing to do whatever, whenever to make the team better. The story of his 2012 season is pretty telling. After being a career backup, Pensick battled Justin Jackson for the starting center job and lost out. During a practice, they needed somebody to jump at guard. When none of the guards stepped forward, Pensick jumped in and became the top backup at both guard spots before shifting back to center when Jackson was injured.
Best Player: John McCormick, Guard, 1984 – 1987
Other notables: Mike Huff, Spencer Long, Clete Pillen, Erik Wiegert
Personal Favorite: Brandt Wade, Guard, 1994 – 1998
Comments: As a junior coaches said John McCormick was the best offensive guard at Nebraska since Dean Steinkuhler. As a senior, he did his best to live up to such high praise. McCormick earned All Big 8 and All-America honors in 1987. In addition, he was named the Big 8 Offensive Player of the Week after the Oklahoma State game, where he graded out perfectly for his 65 snaps. That was the first time in 16 years that an offensive lineman won Player of the Week honors.
Brandt Wade, from Springfield-Platteview High, is one of two future Huskers that I my high school team faced (kicker Ted Retzlaff of Waverly is the other). I wish I had some good stories of how I got the better of a future Husker, but there are some inconvenient and indisputable truths: a) I was not good football player, so b) I didn’t play much, and c) I’m sure Wade dominated me as Platteview marched down the field for a score. But in one of my few career highlights, I blocked a PAT that turned out to be the difference as the Gretna Dragons won the 1992 Sarpy County Shootout.
Best Player: Tom Novak, Fullback/Center, 1946 – 1949
Other notables: N/A – permanently retired since 1949
Personal Favorite: Train Wreck
Comments: The #60 jersey has not been worn by any Husker since Tom “Train Wreck” Novak finished up his stellar career in 1949 as the first – and still only – Husker to earn All Conference honors in each of his four seasons. Novak played both ways, as a center, fullback, and linebacker, and was also a three-time letterwinner on the NU baseball team. Tom Novak is still one of the true legends of Nebraska Football.
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