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.
I love the disparity of numbers 39 – 30. At one end (39) is a fairly bleak field of candidates, while on the other end (30) you have two of the greatest I-Backs in school history. And with another mixed back of I-Backs, fullbacks, linebackers, corners, safeties, kickers, wingbacks, and others, it makes the picking rather difficult.
Best Player: Andra Franklin, Fullback, 1978 – 1980
Other notables: None
Personal Favorite: Jeff Souder, Safety, 2005
Comments: A starter in three different seasons, Andra Franklin was a mainstay at fullback in the late 70s. A gifted runner, Franklin averaged over 5 yards a carry during his Nebraska career, while also proving himself as an excellent blocker. Franklin earned All Big 8 honors in 1980.
Jeff Souder only played one season at Nebraska, and did not do much more than cover kickoffs. But, oh, were those fun to watch. Souder was generously listed at 200 pounds, but that was 200 pounds of excitement, energy, and desire to go blow somebody up. I remember before kickoffs how he would jump around and excite the crowd like it was 4th and Goal with a national championship on the line. Even though his career didn’t go as planned, that excitement was real.
Best Player: Barrett Ruud, Linebacker, 2002 – 2004
Other notables: Dan Alexander, Steve Forch, Bruce Pickens
Personal Favorite: Dan Alexander, I-Back, 1996 – 2000
Comments: RUUUUUUUD!!!! Nebraska’s all time leader in tackles, second to Grant Wistrom is tackles for loss, and is on the short list of greatest linebackers in school history. A three year starter, Ruud was a force all over the field. He had a nose for the football on running plays, but also excelled in pass coverage, recording 12 break ups and two interceptions in his career. While he strangely only earned first team All Big XII honors once, he was a three time academic All Big XII performer.
When I think of Dan Alexander, I think of two things: First, was amazing potential – the gifted athlete, seemingly chiseled from marble who captivated a fan base with his spring game performances – before knee injuries derailed him. And secondly, there is his run. 1999, at Colorado. Eighty yards right up the middle. And the cherry on top: he pulled away from Ben Kelly, a Colorado cornerback with exceptional speed.
Best Player: Ken Geddes, Linebacker / Middle Guard, 1967 – 1969
Other notables: Sam Koch, Jake Wesch
Personal Favorite: Tony Ortiz, Linebacker, 1996 – 1999
Comments: Bob Devaney once described Ken Geddes as best all-around athlete he ever coached. And while that is pretty high praise considering the talent Devaney had around him, consider this: In 1968, Geddes was All Big 8 as a linebacker. The next season, Devaney and coach Monte Kiffin moved Geddes to middle guard. In 1969, Geddes earned All Big 8 honors again.
Tony Ortiz was a smooth and fast linebacker who helped anchor one of Nebraska’s greatest defenses – the 1999 unit. He was one of those players that was always good for a “wow – did you see that?” moment in every game. Sometimes it was using his speed to make a play, and sometimes it was him laying a big hit, but he was fun to watch.
Best Player: Larry Wachholtz, Safety, 1964 – 1966
Other notables: Correll Buckhalter, Dana Stephenson
Personal Favorite: Matthew May, Linebacker, 2007 – 2011
Comments: It really isn’t fair to Larry Wachholtz to simply list him as a “safety”. Sure, he was an outstanding defensive back, earning All Big 8 honors twice, and All-America honors as a senior. His seven interceptions as a senior was in the top ten nationally. But that is not all he did: he was an excellent punt return man, leading the Big 8 in return yards twice, and missing out on the national lead by seven yards his junior season. And if that was not enough, Wachholtz also kicked PATs and field goals.
What is not to like about Matthew May? A Nebraska native, he walked on and contributed on special teams as a redshirt freshman. When injuries depleted the linebacking corps, he stepped up and became a solid contributor. Off the field he was academic all conference and was named to the Brook Berringer Citizenship Team for his efforts in the community. Every Nebraska team should have a Matthew May.
Best Player: Jeff Kinney, Halfback, 1969 – 1971
Other notables: Rick Berns, Steve Damkroger, Curt Tomasevicz
Personal Favorite: Andy Janovich, Fullback, 2012 – Present
Comments: I wasn’t alive for Kinney’s career, so most of what I know is Game of the Century highlights – Kinney running through the Sooner secondary with his tear-away jersey hanging on for dear life. And while that game (171 yards and four touchdowns) is arguably the pinnacle of his career, it doesn’t begin to explain Kinney’s greatness.
Kinney burst onto the scene as a sophomore, leading the team in rushing, receiving, and scoring. Kinney was All Big 8, All America, and academic All America in 1971. Nebraska won two national titles with Kinney in the Husker backfield, and when he left, Kinney held the NU career records for rushing yards and touchdowns.
Andy Janovich is probably not going to have a career like Jeff Kinney, but that doesn’t matter to me. What matters is there is a kid from my small town, Class B high school (Gretna) who plays for Nebraska. And that is really the heart of why we Nebraskans love the walk-on program so much – it is our connection to the team; our local point of pride that we can celebrate. In his young career, Janovich has given Gretna residents and alumni much to be proud of – starting as a walk-on true freshman, getting a carry (the first Dragon to touch the ball in a Nebraska uniform, I believe), and earning a scholarship before the 2013 season.
Best Player: Trev Alberts, Linebacker, 1990 – 1993
Other notables: Stewart Bradley, Dave Butterfield
Personal Favorite: Cody Glenn, Running Back / Linebacker, 2005 – 2008
Comments: Before we talk about Trev, let’s start by clearing our minds. Get rid of your opinion of him as UNO’s athletic director. Forget about his time on ESPN where he often went out of his way not to be a NU homer. Disregard Mel Kiper, Jr’s hissy fit over the Colts selecting Alberts in the 1994 draft. Heck, forget the rumors that Erin Andrews is nothing more than Trev in drag. None of those things have any impact over his playing career.
Trev Alberts was an excellent, excellent player. His 1993 season (Butkus Award, All-America, Big Eight Player of the Year, school record 15 sacks, and so much more) still stands as one of the greatest campaigns by a Blackshirt. I’ll never forget how strong he was. Several times, he appeared to be blocked, or the quarterback was about to escape, but Alberts would grab him with one arm and pull him down. He may be polarizing after he left NU, but there is no doubt that he is one of the all time greats.
Cody Glenn is definitely a personal favorite of mine. A bruising runner, he was an excellent short yardage/goal line guy. An unselfish, team player, he moved to linebacker for his senior season for the betterment of the team (and to avoid a logjam at RB). But that move was no joke, Glenn turned out to be a pretty decent linebacker before an undisclosed violation of rules cost him his final four games.
Best Player: Dana Brinson, Wingback, 1985 – 1988
Other notables: Barry Alvarez, Clester Johnson, Matt O’Hanlon
Personal Favorite: Barry Alvarez, Linebacker, 1965 – 1967
Comments: Dana Brinson was a stand out wingback / kick returner for Husker squads in the mid 1980s. When he graduated and went to the NFL, Brinson was in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt return yardage. He picked up first team All Big 8 honors as a senior in 1988.
I was not alive for Barry Alvarez’s playing career, and I was not a huge fan of his Wisconsin teams (I find it hard to support any team other than Nebraska), but I have the utmost respect for the program he built at Wisconsin, and especially for the way he did it: using the Bob Devaney model to build a tough running game featuring a lot of home-grown talent; even down to modeling Wisconsin’s uniforms after Nebraska’s. Alvarez’s efforts to get Nebraska into the Big Ten should also be recognized.
Best Player: Ed Stewart, Linebacker, 1991 – 1994
Other notables: Ken Clark, Adrian Fiala, I.M. Hipp, Brandon Jackson, Kent McCloughan
Personal Favorite: Stewart
Comments: Ed Stewart was another stand-out linebacker on the early 1990’s teams, he blossomed as a senior into a leading force in Tom Osborne’s first national championship team. An All American, Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year, and Butkus Award finalist, Stewart was a sideline to sideline playmaker, a sure tackler, and hard hitter.
Personally, I think Stewart was robbed and should have won the Butkus Award in 1994 (Dana Howard of Illinois? C’mon.) I think they didn’t want to give the aware to two Huskers in a row.
Best Player: Joe Orduna, Halfback, 1967 – 1970
Other notables: Harry Wilson
Personal Favorite: Jay Sims, I-Back, 1995 – 1997
Comments: Joe Orduna was the leading halfback on Nebraska’s first national championship team. In 1970, Orduna scored a team high 15 touchdowns and rushed for 897 yards. Part of a 1-2 punch with Jeff Kinney, Orduna earned All Big 8 honors in 1970.
I love blowout wins. Certainly, a big part of that is for the easy victory, the domination of a less opponent, the joy of seeing seven, eight, nine touchdowns being scored. But I also love watching the career reserves, the guys who – let’s be honest – will likely never see the field get their moments of glory. Jay Sims was a talented back, but he played on the same Husker teams as Lawrence Phillips, Ahman Green, Clinton Childs, and Damon Benning. Suffice it to say, touches were going to be few and far between. But how may fourth string I-Backs can say they scored an 80 yard touchdown against a Nick Saban defense (at Michigan State, 1995)?
Best Player: Mike Rozier, I-Back, 1981 – 1983
Other notables: Dahrran Diedrick, Ahman Green, Marv Mueller, Paul Rogers
Personal Favorite: Ahman Green, I-Back, 1995 – 1997
Comments: At a school known for producing excellent backs, Mike Rozier is easily the best of the best. Let’s start with that amazing 1983 season: 2,148 yards, a 7.81 yards per carry average, and 29 touchdowns. And here is my favorite: in his final four Big 8 conference games, Rozier gained 929 yards. That’s more than Joe Orduna’s team leading season total in a national championship season. All Big 8 all three years, All-America twice, the 1983 Heisman trophy, and he has since been enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. Rozier owns a plethora of single season and career records both at Nebraska, and in the former Big 8.
After Rozier’s stellar career, Nebraska took #30 out of circulation for 12 years. Imagine the pressure of the being the first guy since Rozier to wear the vaunted 30? Talk about big shoes to fill. Well, Ahman Green damn near filled them. Another back from the Omaha Central pipeline, Green burst onto the scene at a rather slow time in Husker football history: an undefeated team trying to defend their national championship after their star I-Back and Heisman candidate Lawrence Phillips was suspended. All Green did was become one of the greatest backs in school history. An amazing runner who was blessed with strength and toughness to match his sprinter speed, Green likely would be Nebraska’s all time leading rusher had he returned for his senior season (he was only 900 yards behind Rozier).
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(Author’s note: So you may be asking yourself one of two questions, “what’s with the letter E in parentheses in the title?” or “What does a list of Husker greats have to do with the letter E?” Allow me to explain…
For the month of April 2014, I’m participating in an A to Z blogging challenge, where I must publish 26 posts in the the month of April, each focusing on a different letter of the alphabet. Today’s letter is E (hence the title), but I really didn’t have a good idea for E. However, I’ve been wanting to finish up this series. Conveniently, the next round up was 39-30 and a three is like a dyslexic “E”. Yes, that is a bit of a stretch, but if it worked for the CBS show “Numb3rs” it can work for me too. More from the A to Z series can be found here.)