Tom Osborne

A Nebraska 30 for 30? Careful What You Wish For

Over the last few years, Nebraska fans have been asking for ESPN to produce a “30 for 30” documentary on the “glory years” Nebraska teams of the mid 1990s.  I lost track of how many times I saw this idea come up on radio shows, message boards, or Twitter.  Finally, those requests have been heard as a film covering the 1994 and 1995 teams is being created.

Just be careful of what you’re wishing for, Husker fans…

On the surface, I understand the appeal.  The majority of 30 for 30 films are excellent.  They provide a great insight into people, places, and moments in time that make up the sporting landscape.  The unprecedented success of Nebraska between 1993 and 1997 (three national championships, with a missed field goal and a team wide flu outbreak standing in the way of five titles in a row) is certainly a memorable time for many college football fans.

What if I told you…

Then there are a personalities from that era:  the consummate winner Tommie Frazier, the beloved backup Brook Berringer, the passionate leadership of Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter, the hard-working in-state walk ons, the list goes on.  And never forget legendary coach Tom Osborne transforming from the guy who couldn’t win the big one to one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

In the eyes of some fans, the documentary would (if not should) be a 90 minute love fest for all things Nebraska.  It would be like those silly hype videos K-State used to produce after they beat Nebraska – just with better production values.

But that assumption is wrong.

There is no drama or national interest in exploring why NU’s walk-on program and a large crop of in-state players were a vital part of that run.  Any discussion of how the 1995 team shut up Steve Spurrier and the ESPN talking heads would probably be left on the digital editing equivalent of the cutting room floor.  Yes, the 1995 team is likely the greatest team of all time, but don’t expect to watch a highlight video.

Instead, a Nebraska 30 for 30 will likely focus on the things that darken that period.  Lawrence Phillips.  Christian Peter.  Tyronne Williams.  Riley Washington.  The tension between Tommie and Brook.  Tom Osborne becoming a “win at all costs” coach.  CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg.  Scott Frost campaigning for a title after Osborne’s retirement.  Where Scott Frost was rumored to be the night Phillips was arrested.  The decline of the program after Osborne left.  Who knows what other skeletons and whispered rumors may come to life that would cast a permanent shadow over an era that Nebraska fans consider sacred?

In 2014, BTN produced “Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer“, a beautiful and moving documentary on the life and playing career of Brook Berringer.  I’m guessing that film inspired a lot of the desire for a 30 for 30 film.

Best case scenario, the documentary is made by a film maker with Nebraska ties or who bleeds Big Red.  The film is a 90 minute highlight reel of the championship teams, with little to no mention on the player arrests during the championship run, and fades to black as Tom and Nancy Osborne walk out of Memorial Stadium the day after the 1998 Orange Bowl.  But do you really think ESPN would make that movie – let alone air it?  I don’t buy into the perception of an ESPN bias against Nebraska, but that film probably goes straight to the Watch ESPN app.

More realistically, expect a 30 for 30 on the 1994 and 1995 Nebraska Cornhusker teams to open with the embarrassing losses to Miami and Georgia Tech, and Osborne’s realization that he needed more speed – especially on defense.  Nebraska gets those players – by taking advantage of Prop 48 rules and taking guys with questionable character.  The film likely spends a chunk of time on Phillips and Osborne’s decision to reinstate him while trotting out the old narrative that Osborne was focused more on winning than helping a troubled kid.  The arrest records of other Husker players are discussed, possibly with more information coming to light on how things were swept under the rug.  Who knows what other skeletons will be found in the closet when people go in with bright lights and high def cameras?

Remember:  a lot has changed in the last 20 years.  The influence of Osborne and the football program – both within the University and in Lincoln – no longer exists in college football.  Crimes by athletes, especially those against women, are handled differently – and usually much harsher – than they used to be.  Things that we accepted as a price of success in 1995 may seem outrageous in today’s climate.  The average viewer is likely to come away from the film thinking “Wow, Nebraska was a great program – but at what cost?”

Will you and I watch it?  Absolutely.  Heck, ESPN will probably never have better ratings in the state of Nebraska then when this thing airs.  Will some fans be upset or disappointed by it?  I’d bet on it.  Will it be a good reflection of Osborne, the program, the University, and an era that fans consider sacred?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Bottom line:  You asked for a 30 for 30, and you’re getting one.  I just hope you know what you asked for.

Husker Hot Takes – Fiala and Phillips Edition

I’ve got a handful of post-Spring Scrimmage thoughts I’d like to share, but I want to focus on the two biggest Husker stories of the week:

Former Husker linebacker and broadcaster Adrian Fiala passes away at age 67.

Adrian Fiala was a standout linebacker on the Bob Devaney teams of the late 1960s.  Although he graduated just before Nebraska won back-to-back national championships, he is widely credited for helping to elevate the team’s play from 6-4 mediocrity to a 9-2 team on the cusp of greatness.  Fiala was a two-sport standout, serving as a catcher on the Nebraska Baseball team.

But for most Nebraska fans, Fiala’s biggest impact was as a broadcaster.  He was a fixture in the Husker broadcast booth between the end of the Pavelka/Sadlemeyer era and the current Sharpe/Davison team.  He was a fixture on NET’s Big Red Wrap-up show.  He was blessed with a deep, booming voice, a humble folksy charm, and a level of preparation that inspired his colleagues.  When you think of the greatest Husker moments between 1996 and 2010 – Stuntz to Crouch, Alex Henery’s 57 yard field goal, and countless others – you could count on Adrian Fiala sharing your excitement and enthusiasm in the radio booth.  Was he a homer for Dear Old Nebraska U?  You bet your backside he was, and I never heard him apologize for supporting his home state alma mater with everything he had.

Personally, I enjoyed his work on countless NET Nebraska Baseball broadcasts more than his football broadcasts.  I always felt his strengths as a broadcaster:  a friendly demeanor and a gift for story telling, were perfectly paired for the rhythms of a baseball game.  I will greatly miss him the next time NET does a game.

Speaking of which…I would humbly suggest that NET honor Fiala during their next Nebraska Baseball broadcast (Saturday, April 18) by remaining silent during the home half of the first inning.  It would be a cool tribute to a man whose words accompanied so many Husker games.

Fiala fans should check out 93.7 The Ticket

After leaving the Husker broadcast booth, Adrian Fiala gave his talents and credibility to upstart Lincoln sports radio station 93.7 The Ticket.  The transformation of The Ticket from small time sports radio operation to one of the best Husker voices in the state is largely due to Fiala’s work mentoring the talented group of young broadcasters at 93.7.

The station’s staff – especially program manager and Fiala’s “Husker Legends Show” co-host John Gaskins – has done an amazing job of paying tribute to Fiala.  They have collected several beautiful and touching stories from a who’s who of Nebraska legends.  I encourage you to listen to the clips on their podcast page.

If for nothing else, you’ll want to hear the unbelievable story of the priest who gave Fiala the Last Rites on Monday.  While in college at Nebraska, the future priest performed as Herbie Husker.

Yes, a Nebraska legend received his last rites from Herbie Husker.

There is truly no place….

*   *   *

And on the opposite end of the spectrum…

Lawrence Phillips is accused of murdering is cellmate in a California prison.

The publicly available facts are rather limited at this time, but Lawrence Phillips is believed to have killed his cellmate last weekend.  Before I explore the Nebraska-centric angles and implications, let me acknowledge that very little of what follows is as important as a man being killed by another man – even if the deceased was serving 82 to life for first degree murder.  As much as it upsets me to see every transgression Phillips commits reported as “former Nebraska running back” instead of “ex-NFL running back”, I get that grievance is beyond trivial compared to the loss of life.  That said…

Can we stop referring to Phillips as “Former Nebraska Running Back”?

While I did see several articles and tweets referring to L.P. as an “Ex-NFL running back”, many still reference his 27 games (and just 14 starts) at Nebraska.  Admittedly, this comes from a fiercely proud Nebraska native and alumnus who wants to protect the name of his school.

I get that his first criminal acts took place in Lincoln, but at the same time, it’s been almost 20 years since Phillips was a member of the Nebraska football team.  Is there a statute of limitations that kicks in eventually?  Are other former NFL players accused of felonies identified by their pro team(s) or by the college they attended?

Many national pundits are taking advantage of this crime to attack Tom Osborne’s decision to reinstate Phillips.

Among the “highlights”:

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch linked a 20 year old Jim Murray column from the LA Times.  Deitsch refers to the column as “ahead-of-its time“.  I agree in that the style of one-sided outraged indignation used by the legendary writer seems lifted from today’s #HotSportsTake culture where clicks are more important than being measured or balanced.

Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde retweeted the Deitsch tweet and chased it with this gem:

A respected national media member attacking Osborne’s integrity because he reinstated Phillips*?  Sheesh.

*I can’t remember if I’m on record or not about T.O. and L.P., so here goes:

Tom Osborne did not need Lawrence Phillips to win the 1995 National Championship.  That team would have been considered one of the greatest teams of all time with Ahman Green, Clinton Childs, or Damon Benning as the feature back.  To argue otherwise displays complete ignorance on that team’s talent, and the dominance they displayed throughout the season.  Remember, on the very first play in NU’s first game without Phillips, Clinton Childs went 65 yards for a touchdown (against a respectable Arizona State team a year away from a top 5 ranking and Rose Bowl berth).

Faced with the decision of what to do with Phillips, there should be no debate that the easiest option for Osborne (and Nebraska) would be to kick him off the team, expel him from school, and completely wash their hands of him.  Keeping him on the team – even if for the asinine reason of “winning at all costs” – is much more difficult for everybody involved.  The potential for distraction derailing a special season goes up exponentially with Phillips in uniform after September 10, 1995.  Period.

I truly believe Osborne knew in the depths of his soul that the best chance for Lawrence Phillips, human being, to be successful was to remain in the structured and supportive environment of the Nebraska Football program.  I have no doubt that Osborne, a devout Christian, believed he could turn Phillips’s life around.

Could Osborne/Nebraska have handled the Phillips situation better?  Hindsight always says yes.  Certainly, there is the notion that Osborne should have cut his losses and tossed L.P. to the wolves.  I’d listen to the argument that Osborne should not have reinstated Phillips until after the bowl game – giving him structure without opening the door to the “win at all costs” columns.

Clearly, the extra chance(s) Osborne gave to Phillips ultimately did not work out.  His reputation will be forever tarnished nationally (and to a lesser extent, locally) for choosing to support Phillips.  But what if Lawrence Phillips had left Nebraska, gone to the Rams and put together an average NFL career?  What if Phillips had gone through the last 20 years without arrest, professional insubordination, or anything worse than a parking ticket?  Would national pundits still take shots at Osborne’s “integrity”?

Or would they laud him for helping to turn around a troubled kid?

Damon Benning provides a raw and poignant look at who Lawrence Phillips is

Tuesday morning on 1620 AM’s excellent “Sharp and Benning in the Morning” radio show, they devoted two segments to Damon Benning speaking eloquently and passionately about Lawrence Phillips.

Damon Benning gives an in-depth look at who Lawrence is.  At one point, Benning says he is trying to “tell the story without excuses”.  It is a powerful listen.  You can hear the normally reserved Benning become emotional multiple times.

As fans – and likely as people who grew up in better environments than Lawrence Phillips – it is very easy to attack, dismiss, and write Phillips off as a thug or a piece of garbage.  Certainly, that is your right, especially if you feel that Phillips has done irreparable damage to Nebraska and Tom Osborne.  But the main thing I took from Benning’s words is it is not always easy to try to understand who the man is, where he came from, and how he processes life.  Benning describes Phillips as a smart, yet complex person built on a “shaky foundation”.  Benning notes that in his experiences “hurt people hurt people”.

Benning does not defend what Phillips has done or what he is accused of doing.  Nor does he attempt to justify his actions by sharing details of L.P.’s childhood and Nebraska career.

The first segment starts around the 2:05 mark.  The second picks back up around 5:00.  I strongly recommend listening to both segments.

*   *   *

If there is any positive we can take away from these two stories, it is that both have resulted in local radio hosts elevating their craft to exemplary and memorable levels.

But I wish this week was more about some silly scrimmage.







10 Ways Bo Pelini was Dead Wrong

While I think there were some moments of truth and honesty in Bo Pelini’s comments to his former players after being fired from Nebraska, it is sadly obvious that there are many more pieces of spin, delusion, and possible fabrications.

Since I don’t really feel like splitting hairs or getting caught up in spin, I’m going to point out ten quotes where Pelini was completely, unequivocally, dead wrong:

1.  “I didn’t really have any relationship with the AD.”

I include this one not from a fact or crap point of view, because I have no idea what type of relationship Bo and Shawn Eichorst had – nor is it really relevant to the point.

I include it because if Bo did not have a relationship with his boss, his direct supervisor – the guy who could fire him – that’s on him.  I’m not saying that Bo needed to be a brown-noser or bestest buddies with ol’ Shawnie, but if I was concerned about being fired – or more appropriately, wanting to avoid being fired – I’d make sure my boss knew who I was, what intangibles I bring to the table, the names of the kids who be uprooted if I’m canned, etc.

I know Bo was a little busy trying to build a football team good enough to win championships and silence 1.8 million critics, but that doesn’t excuse not making an effort.

2.  “(Eichorst) was never going to come out in the paper and support (us).”

From an story dated August 13, 2014:

  • “I really enjoy what he brings to the table.”
  • “I think we’re stable. We have a seasoned coach who has won a bunch of games. We’re resourced the right way. So we should be optimistic. We have good kids in our program. It’s never been about a lack of effort or passion.”
  • “We’ve done everything they’ve asked us to do, within reason, so to me that should be a sign of support right there.”

All three of those quotes were said by Shawn Eichorst in regards to Bo Pelini.  Writers from the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, and Associated Press were in the same interview so Eichort’s words of support definitely made it into the “papers”.

3.  “I went to a couple of the members of the board…and I said ‘Hey, you know what, if this guy ain’t gonna do his job, and if he doesn’t have the balls to go out there and support me, support these kids, support this program, then do me a favor and get rid of me.'”

Going over your boss’s head to the board is an underhanded jerk move in almost all situations.  For a man who touts accountability and doing things the right way, this really makes him look hypocritical.

4.  “And I said, ‘Hey bud, you can’t support somebody underneath a f—— rock.’ I said, ‘To do your job at this level, at a place like this, you gotta be a grown a– f—— man to lead something.'”

Without diving into a massive tangent about Eichorst’s style, his critics, and his performance to date, I will say that one of the things an employee has very little control over is how their boss leads and supervises them.  Some bosses are micro-managers who need to be involved in everything.  Some work best in the shadows, allowing their people to perform on their own.  Smart employees figure out how their boss functions.  Successful employees adapt and change.

Clearly, Eichorst’s behind the scenes leadership style is not what Bo Pelini felt he needed to be successful.  But it doesn’t mean Eichorst’s style does not work or that he cannot be a strong leader of Nebraska Athletics.

5.  “And fellas, this all stays here.”


Pelini may be wise to spend some of his buyout money on some sort of anti-spy technology for the that blocks recording devices.

Or maybe not trash his boss, fans, and/or media when in the company of anybody outside his immediate family.

6.  “I am going to speak my mind, and that probably bothered (Eichorst) and bothered the chancellor.”

I would hope that Bo was encouraged to speak his mind while he was at NU.  When Bo was given a topic that he was passionate about, he always came through with interesting and poignant things to say.  Off the top of my head, Bo’s comments on recruiting reforms, marijuana usage, the decision to play the Penn State game after the Sandusky story broke wide open, and his concerns about ESPN’s involvement with the SEC Network were all well thought out and a welcome change from the non-answer clichés most coaches give.

But, yeah, I’m sure Eichorst and Harvey Perlman were bothered when Bo dared them to fire him last year.  You just can’t do that.

7.  “I would have resigned a year ago. Because there was some things that were going on that were making me miserable…I said I could suck it up.

As numerous others have mentioned, the majority of this speech is a case study on the many ways Bo Pelini is deluded.

But if Bo Pelini ever seriously believed that he could “suck it up” and not let the litany of injustices he perceived get to him for an entire season….wow.  That may be the most self-unaware thing he said at Nebraska – and this speech has plenty of strong contenders.

8.  “It’s a b—- here.”

Yeah, the expectations at Nebraska are greater than those at 90% of the schools in the FBS, but so are the resources, traditions, and passion level.

I’ll be honest:  this may be the quote that pisses me off the most.  I would like to believe that after seven seasons as the head coach, Bo Pelini had a greater affinity for Nebraska (the program and the state).  Instead, he comes across as some ungrateful jerk who was too busy crafting his Messiah complex after another blowout loss to appreciate all of the advantages he had at his disposal.

Is Nebraska (the state or the program) an ideal spot for a college football powerhouse?  Of course not.  I could give you 2,015 words on the limitations Nebraska’s coach faces in 2015.  But don’t go calling my school or my state a bitch – especially to 100 guys who you recruited to come here.

9.  “I thought you guys were more mentally beat in (the Wisconsin) game than we got physically beat. It’s a culmination of the negativity.”

Okay, scratch what I said in #7.  THIS is the most self-unaware thing Bo Pelini said at Nebraska.

Or is it…

Now that I give it a second thought, it occurs to me that Nebraska ended the first quarter with a respectable lead over the Badgers.  Was that a culmination of the negativity?  Or what about when Bo dressed down Daniel Davie on the sideline?  That sure looked like a mental beating to me.  Coincidentally (or maybe not) that is when the wheels started to fall off.  Maybe the Wisconsin game WAS a culmination of the negativity – the negativity that Pelini infused in the team.

Or maybe trying to blame the media, fans, and other external noise for a blowout loss is incredibly stupid.

Take your pick.

10.  “I’ve been to these other places and it ain’t quite — the scrutiny, the negativity, it ain’t like that everywhere.”


The reason you didn’t face scrutiny and negativity at Oklahoma and LSU was mostly because those teams were successful.  There is surprisingly little scrutiny and negativity when a team (like the 2007 LSU squad) wins a National Championship.

Oh wait, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Let’s look at your alma mater:  I’m guessing there was more scrutiny and negativity at Ohio State in 2011 when Luke Fickell went 6-7 than 2010 when Jim Tressel went 12-1 or 2012 when Urban Meyer when 12-0.  Wonder why that is?

*   *   *

A few assorted odds and ends from the Pelini transcript:

Who leaked the audio?  I’m not surprised that it was recorded.  Heck, if you told me 10 different guys recorded it, I’d believe you.  But who was the one who shared it with the World-Herald?  Was it a player?  Another coach?  A member of the support staff?  If it was a player, was he an upperclassman or a younger guy?  Was he a starter, backup, or somebody buried on the depth chart?

“But at the end of the day, what I wanted to make sure, if there was gonna be a change, that I would have time to get on my feet. They gotta pay me.”  I believe as much as anybody that Pelini loves and supports his players, but it is worth noting that he says this sentence way before he states any sort of concern for the players.

What the hell is Bo talking about with “when they forced coach Osborne out”?  In a brief interview with the World-Herald, Osborne said “I wasn’t forced out”.

I tend to take Osborne at his word (he’s earned that respect from me), but I will gladly listen to any and all conspiracy theories.

“If it’s true what (Eichorst) said — someone told me, that it ‘crystallized’ for him on Saturday night”  Am I to interpret from this quote that Pelini did not watch (or has not read quotes or seen clips) from the press conference announcing his firing?

I don’t think that the Pelini family gathered in the theater room that Sunday afternoon to watch Eichorst issue his statement and answer questions, popcorn in hand.  But Bo seems like the kind of guy – as reinforced by this speech to his players – that would probably watch to make sure that s.o.b. Eichorst isn’t trashing him.

“Let me tell you, you go back a year, fellas, when I said what I said after the Iowa game? I was trying to press — I wanted to find out then where they stood. And unfortunately all I found out then was that they were p—— and they were gonna do what was politically right, or what they thought was the politically right thing to do.”  Two reactions to this one:

1.  I find it interesting that his outburst was a calculated move (or so he claims now).  I wonder if his coaching in that game was also a calculated move – because I will always believe he coached that game like guy who wanted to be fired.

2.  How was Eichorst’s decision to retain Pelini and publicly support him “politically right”?  If you’re talking about the politics of getting people to support your decision, I could easily argue the “right” choice would have been to fire Bo last year.

Or is “politically right” a reference to a certain conservative U.S. Representative who is rumored to have played a role in Pelini being retained?

Has any former Husker football player gone on to work at (or own) a McDonald’s?  Let me know in the comments.

Pelini makes many references to the “support” he did not get from Eichorst.  What exactly did he want?  Did Bo expect Eichorst to make a public statement of support after the Wisconsin or Minnesota games?  Were there resources or other needs that Pelini asked for but did not receive?  Was Pelini wanting Eichorst to be a more hands-on boss and a more visible presence at practice?  Did Pelini expect an open-door policy from his boss?

What level of support was Bo getting from Tom Osborne when T.O. was Pelini’s boss?  Maybe I’m not remembering correctly, but if feels like Osborne gave Pelini as much public support as Eichorst gave:  a few words of support as part of a bigger interview on the athletic department.

But behind closed doors, it must have been a different story.  My guess is Osborne really played a role in mentoring Pelini.  I suspect Osborne gave him guidance, advice, and the reaffirming support from somebody who has walked in his shoes.

This is pure speculation on my part, but I think this quote from Pelini’s address to his former players supports my theory:

“It’s difficult when you don’t feel you have any support and nobody’s behind you.”

That sure sounds like somebody who wishes he had his mentor to lean on.

“There is a lot of things that go on there, and if you don’t have a grown man standing in front of the thing saying, ‘Hey, I’m behind it,’ getting everybody, rallying them — I can do it all I want, but they’re b——- at me, too. If they don’t get somebody to rally this whole thing together, it’s hard.”  This quote is so telling to me.  I see this as validation of the Bo-leaver belief that Pelini can be a top-level coordinator but is not equipped to run a program.  I see this as Bo looking for somebody to be a deflector for the program’s criticism so he can keep his focus on football.

The part that intrigues me the most is the impression I get Pelini expected his AD to fill that role.  Again, maybe my memory is failing me, but I don’t recall Osborne playing that role when he was the AD – at least not publicly.

How many Nebraskans are waking up today regretting that purchase they made from the Youngstown State bookstore?  It’s amazing how quickly this audio has changed perceptions.  Tuesday night, I drafted a couple of paragraphs about how Pelini seemed to be walking into an ideal situation at YSU.  I fully expected many of the fans who still feel a fondness and loyalty for Bo to become Penguin fans this fall – much in the same way that Ohio University merchandise was found in many Nebraska stores in 2004.

But today?

I’m sure Pelini supports still exist, but you’d have better luck finding a liberal Nebraskan west of Kearney than getting somebody to express their support for Pelini.



Twenty Ways Bo Was Right

Fans and media members are reacting to the leaked audio of Bo Pelini’s farewell address to his team from a few days after he was fired.  Most of that reaction is rightfully critical as Pelini was very harsh – both in language and in message – in attacking his former boss, fans, media, and University leadership while portraying himself as somebody who was not supported by the administration.


There are several areas of Pelini’s speech where the coach is right, speaking the truth, or unintentionally stated an absolute fact.

Here are the nuggets of truth mined from the Omaha World-Herald’s transcript of the speech:

Husker Hot Takes – 9/26/2014

Turn on a fan, because I have more Husker Hot Takes:

The Boyd is Back in Town. 
Pioneering Strength & Conditioning coach Boyd Epley has returned to the Nebraska athletic department as the Assistant Athletic Director for Strength and Conditioning.  The reaction I saw was all very positive.  Of course, Husker fans have a strong affinity for bringing back people that they associate with the pre-Callahan glory years.  Epley certainly fits the bill.

Frankly, I’m not real sure what to make of this.  On one hand, I certainly know and appreciate the many innovations Epley is responsible for, as well as the physical advantages the Huskers had over most of their opponents during his 35 year tenure.  Yet, I also heard rumblings from many outlets about a drop-off towards the end of his first run in 2004.  Additionally, the rash of athletic pubalgia injuries in that time was concerning.  I guess I’m in wait and see mode on what Epley’s day-to-day role will be – and how it will translate to results on the field and court.

The important caveat in this hire is that Epley will oversee all sports – except football.  This has the detractors of current S&C coach Tim Dobson (who apparently is responsible for every ACL injury in Lancaster County since 2010) plotting for Epley’s triumphant return to football – possibly in time for his 70th birthday later this year.

Tim Miles Lands Another Big-Time Recruit
This week, highly touted basketball recruit Ed Morrow, Jr. gave his verbal commitment to play for Nebraska.  Now, I know even less about basketball recruiting than I do about football (read:  absolutely nothing), but the hype metrics (four stars, #62 in the nation per ESPN ) are very impressive.  Obviously, Tim Miles and his staff are doing an excellent job on the recruiting trail, as Nebraska is poised to have it’s best hoops class ever.

But let’s also give credit to an unlikely figure in Nebraska’s hoops revival:  Tom Osborne.  It was Osborne who worked to get the world-class Hendricks practice center built.  It was Osborne who helped broker a deal to get Nebraska into the Pinnacle Bank Arena, and you better believe that Osborne’s support played a role in the arena ballot initiative getting approved by Lincoln’s voters.  And finally, Osborne gets credit for firing the ultimate nice guy, Doc Sadler, and for finding/hiring Tim Miles.

And since Morrow is a basketball recruit, let’s give a big assist to the 91,000 fans who attended the Nebraska – Miami football game last Saturday.  The atmosphere and fan support in Memorial Stadium was impressive.  It is very easy to imagine Miles telling Morrow that it gets just as crazy inside The Vault.  A great game day atmosphere pays dividends for all Nebraska sports.

Ameer Abdullah offers some tough love for Jameis Winston
After Monday’s press conference, Ameer Abdullah was asked about Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who sat out last week’s game for yelling something inappropriate in the middle of Florida State’s campus.  As is Abdullah’s style, he was honest, yet measured in his comments:

“Great reward brings great responsibility, and he needs to mature and understand that every decision I make has dire consequences, not only to myself but my family, team, coaching staff and university. And before I act, I need to make sure I represent myself in the right way.”

On the surface, this is rather odd.  I mean, when is the last time you saw an athlete from one school discuss an athlete from another school / conference – especially in a negative light?  But both Abdullah and Winston are from the Birmingham, AL area and have known each other for many years.

Regardless, I find it fascinating to see Abdullah offering such advice publicly.  Had Ameer said something to the effect of “Yeah, I’ve reached out to him to share my thoughts and opinions, but I’d prefer to keep it between us” nobody would have batted an eye.

Was Ameer out of line with his comments?  I don’t think so.  As we discussed last time, Abdullah is a natural leader who is not afraid to call it like he sees it.  And given Winston’s off-field exploits in the last year, he’d be wise to listen to his old friend Ameer.  Abdullah clearly has his life pointed in the right direction, and the sky is the limit for what he can accomplish.

The Cornhusker Marching Band will #FearAmeer. 
On Wednesday, the Director of the Cornhusker Marching Band tweeted that the band will spell out “Fear Ameer” during their halftime performance of the Illinois game.

*Side note:  I bet that software that created this image is fun to play around with.  I’d have those pixelated performers going in all sorts of crazy formations.  Hell, I’d write this entire section in marching band formations if I was smart enough.

In the past, I have been critical of the band for halftime shows that many fans find uninspiring.  Therefore, I love that the band is doing unique and potentially viral – I guarantee national outlets like ESPN, Deadspin, Bleacher Report, and others will show it.  Embrace the star player, get him (and your band) some hype.  That is the definition of “win/win” in the social media age.  My question is will this a one time deal, or will the Pride of All Nebraska continue to step out a little more?  Maybe they don’t go full Ohio State viral video mode, but I still believe there is room for improvement in their halftime shows*.

*Case in point:  The theme from last week’s Miami game was songs to commemorate the writing of the Star Spangled Banner.  Seriously?  No disrespect to the talented musicians in the band, but I have no desire to watch that.  With the 1994 National Championship team being honored at the Miami game, the theme “Songs of 1994” (featuring Ace of Base, Salt-N-Pepa, Tag Team, and Snoop Dogg) should have been an absolute no-brainer.  It would have been a fun performance for fans to watch, and I’m guessing more enjoyable for the band members to play.

Environmentalist’s Idea Goes Over Like A Lead Balloon
Benjamin Vogt, an English professor at UNL, has started an online petition to have Nebraska halt the traditional practice of releasing red balloons after the first touchdown.  He calls the practice “mass littering” and claims the balloons are not bio-degradable (he buried one in his yard to back his claim) and potentially harmful to animals.  A quote from Vogt in the story Deena Winter of wrote this week:

“The reality is that while the balloons may indeed shatter, the pieces are not impossible for animals to eat…In fact, the fringe of shattered latex balloons mimics the shape of jellyfish, a favorite meal for many ocean animals.”


I realize that I only minored in English, but my dad was a biologist with the Fisheries Division of the Nebraska Game & Parks for many years.  So I know that, yes, there ARE jellyfish in Nebraska (really).  But I also know that the only ocean animals within the borders of the Cornhusker state reside in fish tanks, aquariums, and the Henry Doorly Zoo.  While it is possible that a fragment of a balloon released from Memorial Stadium could find its way into the aquarium at your dentist’s office (Shark bait!  Hoo ha ha!), I’d like to see the wildlife casualty numbers before we scrap this beloved tradition.

Regardless, should the balloons go away, I am prepared.  Back in 2012, when there were concerns over helium supplies, I made a list of alternate methods to celebrate the first touchdown.  I think many of them still apply today.

How to Appease Husker Fans of All Generations

Nebraska is renowned for having excellent fans who support their Cornhuskers to the end.  The sellout streak at Memorial Stadium will reach 340 by the end of the 2014 season.  But there has always been a divide among Husker fans in the stadium.  There are those fans who want games to be raucous events, and some who would prefer to go, sit, and quietly watch the game.  Typically, that latter group is labeled “blue hairs”, as they tend to be some of the older fans who have had season tickets for decades.  Over the years*, the blue hairs have been telling fans to sit down, shut up, and generally do things that one might consider counter to having a loud, intimidating environment for opposing teams.

*I’ve heard the residents of West Stadium referred to as “blue hairs” since the early 1990s.  Which means that some of the folks who used to complain about blue hairs can now be considered blue hairs themselves.  

The latest example comes to us from the Lincoln Journal Star’s Letters to the Editor page where Charley Ackerman writes to voice his displeasure with the loud volume coming from the new million dollar sound system – it is too loud for him to converse with those in his section.  Charley also is displeased by the quantity of “hip-hop hogwash”* being played from the speakers.

*Seriously, “hip-hop hogwash” might be the greatest combination of letters in the history of the English language.  I cannot adequately express how much I love that phrase.  Hip-hop hogwash.  Hip-hop hogwash.  Hip-hop hogwash.  It never gets old!

Predictably, Charley’s letter has been met with rolled eyes, Internet mockery, and suggestions that he and his fellow blue hairs stay home.  But I don’t think we need to get to that extreme.  Besides, it’s worth noting that the blue hairs – especially those in the West stadium – are often big and long-time donors, whose money is not easily replaced by young alums repaying student loans.

But on the other side, there are fans who think Nebraska is too traditional, too stuck in their ways, too willing to cater to the old farts who have sat in the same seats since LBJ was in office.  They would like to see Nebraska move onto the cutting edge – or at least keep up with other teams that are doing new and exciting things.

So how do we reconcile the wants and needs of these two very diverse sects of the same group?  Simple, we take a page from my hometown church.

The church I grew up in does two services.  The early service is the traditional one with the full scripture readings, old hymns, and beautiful old sanctuary.  The early service at Resurrection Lutheran is almost exactly the same today as it was in 1985, and there is a loyal and devoted crowd (my silver-haired mom included) who would not have it any other way.  It is familiar, it is classic, it is timeless.

The late service is the contemporary one.  It’s held in the fellowship hall and has a small band that leads newer, upbeat songs while overhead screens display scripture and images.  The contemporary service has a more laid-back, fun vibe to it and it also draws a loyal crowd.

Since Nebraska Football is often referred to as the “state religion”, let’s apply these same concepts to the Game Day Experience:

Games with 11 am kickoffs will be the “traditional service”.  The Tunnel Walk will be played, with “Sirius” as the background music.  Speaking of music, most of the in-stadium music will be provided by the Cornhusker Marching Band.  To appease our friend Charley, the speakers will be at a reasonable volume, and no hip-hop hogwash will be played during the traditional service.  (Athletic Department staff will consult with Tom Osborne to see what kind of music he enjoys).  There will be no smoke when Nebraska comes out of the tunnel, no fireworks after scores, and nobody will put up a net when a PAT or field goal is kicked – just throw the ball back down to the field, please.  The large HuskerVision screen in the south end zone will display graphics so it resembles the old First Federal Lincoln scoreboard.  Halftime refreshments will consist of non-alcoholic grape juice and a thin, stale wafer.

Nebraska will always wear their iconic uniforms (red jerseys, white pants, and the white helmet with the sans-serif N), and the congregation will be asked to wear red.  Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck will be asked to limit the number of passes called, and encouraged to run at least three fullback dives as well as an option to the short side of the field.  Prolonged standing is allowed, but will be strongly discouraged.  The wave may occur, but expect it to take several attempts to really get going.  Don’t bother trying to connect to the in-stadium WiFi, because it will be turned off.  But you can tune into Kent Pavelka and Gary Saddlemeyer’s call on KFAB.

Outside of Memorial Stadium on the University ...

Here is the church, those are the steeples…(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Games with 7 pm kickoffs will be the “contemporary service”.  The stadium speakers are cranked up so the residents of Crete can hear what is going on.  Instead of a marching band, Nebraska employs a full-time DJ who spins “hip hop, but no hogwash”.  The big screens and ribbon boards are alive with replays, stats, cat videos, and tweets from @FauxPelini scrolling continuously.  The Tunnel Walk is completely revamped with smoke, lasers, strobe lights, and a new song that gets everybody amped up.  Every game, Nebraska comes out in a new and exciting alternate uniform and helmet, raising the bar for other schools.  Beer vendors will be everywhere in the stadium.

To encourage fans to stand up, the benches in the first 50 rows will be removed.  Depending on the opponent, fans will be asked to wear black, red, or white shirts.  Students will wave towels all game long while performing more organized cheers and chants than a major league soccer team.  The opening offensive play of the second half will be decided by a Twitter poll with #DeepBall being a perennial favorite.  Before the fourth quarter, the entire stadium rocks as the DJ plays the song that puts Wisconsin’s “Jump Around” to shame.

*   *   *

There.  Hopefully this will keep all of Nebraska’s passionate fans excited about coming to games in Lincoln.  More importantly, it will help make sure that folks like Charley can complain about other more pressing issues, like Beck’s play calling, the price of a slice of pizza, or the number of steps up to his seats in section 34.

Husker Spelling Nazi

In our online world, the Spelling/Grammar Nazi is one of the absolute worst people you can meet (right behind Always Partisan Guy).  The Spelling/Grammar Nazi completely ignores your message, and just focuses on your typos, misspellings, and unfortunate usage of apostrophes to misdirect discussions and discredit you.  That guy is annoying.

Trust me, as somebody who runs a website littered with typos, missing words, and a disregard for several punctuation rules, I have little room to talk.  Most of my posts are like Disneyland for a Grammar/Spelling Nazi.  I understand this.


If you truly believe that you are a Nebraska Football fan, if you “bleed Husker red”, are a “real fan”, and vow to always support the Huskers – and especially if you want ME to believe those things, please for the love of Tom Osborne, do me a favor:

Learn to spell their dadgum names.

Look:  I don’t care if you want to post your crazed conspiracy theories of how Bo Pelini released the F-bomb tape himself, how Steve Pederson was bribed by Texas to destroy Husker football, or which member of the national media hates Nebraska this week.  (Hint:  all of them.  They all hate Nebraska).

But from this moment forward, I will immediately stop reading whatever you have to say if your tweet, Facebook comment, message board post, blog, or rant scribbled in crayon contains any of the following:

  • Tommy Frazier
  • Bo Pellini*
  • Harvey Pearlman
  • Jason (or Christian) Peters
  • Tom Osbourne
  • GrantWinstrom


  • Johnny Rogers
  • Jordan Westercamp
  • Alex Henry
  • Steve Peterson
  • So, so many more (feel free to post ones you have seen in the comments)

*I’ll grant a special exception for the use of “Pellllini” (with four “L’s”, get it?).  Admittedly, it’s not very clever, but it still gets a pass because it immediately tells me which side of the Bo/No Bo debate you live on.  Troll on, Bo-Leaver.

Let’s be clear, I don’t expect you to spell every single Husker player’s name correctly.  Names like Ndamukong, Amukamara, and Makovicka aren’t that easy to spell (pro tip:  use Google to double-check).  Of course, almost everyone will know who you’re talking about if you say “Suh”, “Prince”, or “That kick-ass fullback from Brainard”*

*Okay, that one doesn’t work as there have been two kick-ass fullbacks from Brainard. 

Also, I understand that browsers, mobile devices, and apps like to auto-correct your spelling.  But I also understand how to edit auto-correct to make it say what I want it to say – or turn it off altogether (again, Google).

I know all of this makes me sound like an hypocritical ass, but I’m at my wit’s end with seeing “passionate, life long fans” screw up the relatively basic names of Husker legends.  Seriously folks, it’s not that hard.

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 19 – 10 (T)

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.

As we near the home stretch, we get into the teens.  Lots of defensive backs, I-Backs, and as one might expect, lots and lots of quarterbacks, including one of the most famous players in school history.  A guy so popular and beloved, fans still wear his #15 jersey years after he graduated:  Beau Davis.


Best Player:  Kyle Larson, Punter, 2000 – 2003
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  John Klem, Split End, 1999 – 2002

Comments:  The pride of tiny Funk, Nebraska, Larson was one of the greatest punters in school history.  A three year starter, Larson averaged over 43 yards per punt, which put him second all time at Nebraska, with 30% of his kicks going over 50 yards.

As a senior, Larson set the school record for yards per punt (45.12), was a consensus All Big XII pick, an All-American, and one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, which is given to the nation’s best punter.

When you see that John Klem was a “split end”, you would likely assume that he was a receiver.  Maybe he was a “possession” guy or a maybe a deep threat, but certainly a guy who would catch his fair share of passes.  John Klem played in, by my rough count, 32 games at Nebraska over his four seasons.  He caught one pass.  For nine yards.  In the fourth quarter of a non-conference game with Nebraska up by 45.

Frankly, this is what makes me love John Klem.

Klem was a blocker.  Period.  With apologies to recent standouts like Quincy Enunwa, Niles Paul, and Kenny Bell, Klem is one of the best blocking receivers to ever play at Nebraska.  Part of the reason is there was little deception in his game.  My buddy Husker Luke figured it out early on:  when Klem is on the field, it is going to be a run.  Even if it’s 3rd and 9, if Klem was out there, it was likely going to be a run.

How effective of a blocker was John Klem?  Consider this from his junior season (2001):  He played major minutes in Nebraska’s first 11 games, and NU was undefeated.  After a torn ACL against K State knocked him out for the remainder of the season, Nebraska lost their final two games by a combined 99-50.  I’m not saying the 2001 team wins a national championship with a healthy John Klem, but it would have helped.


Best Player:  Jon Bostick, Split End, 1989 – 1991
Other notables:  Jim Anderson, Quincy Enunwa
Personal Favorite:  Brook Berringer, Quarterback, 1992 – 1995

Comments: Jon Bostick was one of the finest split ends Nebraska had in the ten years before the champion era began.  He earned All Big 8 honors as a senior, working opposite of talented tight end Johnny Mitchell, but Bostick was more than just some guy who benefited from relaxed coverages.

I love the story on this page that talks about how Bostick had to be pulled out of a redshirt four games into the 1989 season.  In his first game (against Oregon State), his first catch goes for a 60 yard TD.  Bostick followed that up with 176 yard and four TDs in his next two games.

I will always have a great fondness and appreciation for Brook Berringer’s career. He was easily the finest passing quarterback at Nebraska in the twenty-five years between Dave Humm and Zac Taylor, but he was also deceptively good running the option. Sure, I always thought Brook looked a little stiff on his options, but compared with Tommie Frazier, anybody is going to look less than fluid.

I sometimes wonder if Brook gets enough credit for the role he played on the 1994 championship team – not only running the team while Frazier battled blood clots, but also for keeping Nebraska within striking distance in the Orange Bowl so Frazier and Cory Schlesinger could do their thing.

I was a student at UNL when Berringer died, just a few weeks before the NFL draft, and his passing really shook me. It was sobering to realize that a guy who seemingly had everything (talent, brains, looks, a desire to give back) could be taken far too soon. I commend the University for that they’ve done to honor Brook’s memory and his legacy.



Best Player:  Reggie Cooper, Safety, 1987 – 1990
Other notables:  Ciante Evans, Dan Hadenfeldt
Personal Favorite:  Todd Peterson, Wide Receiver, 2004 – 2008

Comments:  Reggie Cooper may have been a player ahead of his time. At 6’3″ and 210 pounds, he was a man among boys in the defensive backfield. Cooper used that size and speed to earn four letters, All Big 8 honors twice, honorable mention All-America twice, and finish as the leading tackler among defensive backs. The game may have changed since Cooper’s day, but there will always be room for a guy like him.

Todd Peterson also had prototypical size at his position. As a 6’4″, 215 pound wide receiver, he gave his quarterbacks a big target and sure hands. And while Peterson had an excellent career (top five in school history in receptions and receiving yards), he’s a personal favorite for how he did it.

Peterson walked on to Nebraska in 2004, the same year that new coach Bill Callahan infamously took an axe to the storied walk-on program – choosing to pursue highly touted recruits over in-state guys from Class C-1 schools.

But Peterson’s talent was too much to deny. He made it on the field as a redshirt freshman, and was starting by the end of the season. From there, he became a reliable presence and kept several three and four star recruits on the bench. Additionally, Peterson was equally strong in the classroom, and was a leader in community involvement.


Best Player:  Maurice Purify, Wide Receiver, 2006 – 2007
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite: 
Mike Stuntz, Quarterback/Wingback/Safety, 2001 – 2005

Comments:  Sixteen is the final number in the countdown to have never produced a first team all conference selection, although it certainly seemed like Maurice Purify would be the one to break that barrier (he was second team All Big 12 as a junior in 1996).

Purify was big, fast, and strong. Arguably, he was one of the most physically gifted receivers Nebraska has ever had. Purify excelled in deep routes, short routes, and his specialty: the jump ball. His 9 yard catch of a Zac Taylor lob at Texas A&M capped a huge comeback and helped the Huskers win the Big XII North division crown in 2006.

I’ve always been fascinated by the guys who participate in the biggest of plays on the biggest of stages. Is it foundation for a strong career, or is it a pinnacle that is never approached again? Mike Stuntz is a good example of the latter.

Recruited as a quarterback, he made it on the field as a true freshman in 2001. As a wingback, he threw one of the most famous passes in school history: Black 41 Flash Reverse to Heisman Trophy winner Erich Crouch. In 2002, he moved back to quarterback, he was 10-25 passing for 100 yards.

From there, Stuntz bounced over to defense seeing mop-up and special teams duty. Aside from Black 41 Flash Reverse, his biggest claim to fame was dating the “hot tutor” from the Tommy Lee Goes to College “reality” show.


Best Player:  Tommie Frazier, Quarterback, 1992 – 1995
Other notables:  Bob Churchich, Alfonzo Dennard, Vince Ferragamo
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  If I were to call Tommie Frazier the greatest Husker player in the last 50 years would you disagree?  What about the greatest of all time?  Still no?  Certainly you could make a case for a handful of other guys (the three Heisman winners, Suh, Bobby Reynolds, or Train Wreck Novak), right?  Or you could try to break down Tommie by citing his stats – especially his career completion percentage of 49.5%.  But Touchdown Tommie Fraz-ah would still win.

Because that’s what Tommie Frazier did.

He won.

A Big 8 best 33-3 as a starter – a mark that would have been even higher if he didn’t miss seven games due to blood clots – you knew that when #15 went under center, or more appropriately, started running the triple option, that Nebraska was going to win.  Oh those option plays.  For my money, Tommie’s position coach Turner Gill is the only one who came close to matching Frazier’s mastery of Osborne’s signature play.  Frazier had a true gift for knowing when to pitch or when to keep as he glided down the field.

As good as Frazier was in regular games, he was even better in bowl games.  True, his bowl record sits at 2-2, but consider that his first bowl loss (in the 1993 Orange Bowl) was as a true freshman.  The blame for the second bowl loss could be placed on a number of people (i.e. some dubious missed calls, two defensive penalties that allowed FSU to score with 1:16 left, or the right leg of Byron Bennett), but there is no way Frazier could be blamed for giving his team every chance to win a National Championship.

From there, Frazier’s big game dominance took off.  It took most of the first quarter of the 1994 Orange Bowl to shake off, but Frazier all but willed Nebraska to Tom Osborne’s first National Championship.  In 1995, he was even better.  Frazier used and abused Steve Spurrier’s Florida Gators, racking up 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns, including one play known simply as The Run.

The only regret I have about Tommie Frazier’s career is that he played in an era where Heisman voters viewed the award not as it should be (college football’s most outstanding player), but as “who will have the best NFL career”?  This led to one of the greatest injustices of the 20th Century as Eddie George stole Tommie Frazier’s Heisman.


Best Player:  Jerry Tagge, Quarterback, 1969 – 1971
Other notables: Dennis Claridge, Gerry Gdowski, Barron Miles,
Personal Favorite: 
Barron Miles, Cornerback, 1992 – 1994

Comments:  Before there was Tommie, there was Jerry.  Jerry Tagge was the quarterback on the first two National Championship teams in school history (1970 and 1971).  Like Frazier, all Tagge did was win, compiling a stellar record as a starting quarterback, and playing his best games on the biggest stages.  In the 1971 Orange Bowl against LSU, Tagge was an impressive 12 of 15 passing against one of the nation’s best defenses.  It was his QB sneak from the one yard line that clinched the championship.

Tagge earned All Big 8 and All-America honors after the 1971 season, and finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting.  Although his accomplishments may have been overshadowed by those of Frazier and other famous Husker QBs, Tagge should be remembered for setting the standard of excellence.

Pure and simple, Barron Miles was a play maker.  An excellent cornerback, Miles had a knack for the ball and always seemed in position to make a big play.  Over his career, he had seven blocked kicks, 19 pass break ups (including six in one game) and numerous “wow” moments.  My favorite Baron Miles moment was in 1993 at Oklahoma State.  The Cowboys were punting from their own end zone when Miles came streaking in for the block.  He ended up catching the ball just off the foot of the punter and rolling onto the turf with a momentum shifting touchdown.


Best Player:  Carlos Polk, Linebacker, 1997 – 2000
Other notables:  Zac Taylor
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  From the mid 80s through the mid 90s, the best Blackshirts were usually lined up at outside linebacker/rush end. The four-year career of Carlos Polk marked a shift, as the best Blackshirt was usually the guy anchoring the middle linebacker position. I’m talking about guys like Polk, Barrett Ruud, Lavonte David, and to a lesser extent Phillip Dillard, Steve Octavien, and even another #13 from a defensively challenged era: Corey McKeon.

But let’s focus on Polk, a bruiser with deceptive speed and a strong nose for the football. A four-year contributor, he was a two time All Big XII performer, and an anchor on one of the finest defenses in school history (1999). He was named first team All-America in his senior season.


Best Player:  Turner Gill, Quarterback, 1981 – 1983
Other notables:  Dave Humm, Jarvis Redwine
Personal Favorite: 

Comments:  Keep in mind, we’re only here to talk about Gill’s playing career, which is kind of too bad considering Gill coached three of the finest quarterbacks in school history (Frazier, Scott Frost, and Eric Crouch) while being a valued lieutenant to both Osborne and Frank Solich, before taking Buffalo from laughingstock to conference champion. Of course, Gill is not short of accomplishments as a player.

Let’s start with the biggest one: he had the keys to one of the greatest offenses in NCAA history and operated it with the skill and precision of a race car driver. Take a moment to truly appreciate this: The 1983 Huskers, quarterbacked by Turner Gill, averaged 52 points and almost 550 yards of offense per game. Gill became the first Husker quarterback to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season. His greatness stretched back to his first start when he set a (then) school record with four touchdown passes in a game against Colorado.

Gill was named All Big 8 three times, finished fourth in the 1983 Heisman Trophy vote.


Best Player:  Matt Herian, Tight End, 2002 – 2006
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite: 
Matt Turman, Quarterback, 1993 – 1996

Comments:  Matt Herian was another player ahead of his time. The guy with the tight end size and wide receiver hands and speed, today’s NFL is full of guys who have the same skill set as Herian.

He exploded onto the scene as a freshman, catching seven passes for 301 yards (an absolutely ridiculous 43 yards per catch) and four touchdowns. Yes, you read the correctly: 57% of his freshman year receptions went for touchdowns.

Unfortunately, Herian is also a starter on all-time “What Could Have Been” team. During his junior season in 2004, the first in Bill Callahan’s West Coast Offense, Herian was a putting together another excellent season when he suffered a nasty leg injury against Mizzou. Herian sat out the entire 2005 season, and came back for the 2006 campaign, but he just wasn’t the same player. I believe the sky would have been the limit for a healthy Herian.

To fully appreciate Matt Turman, we must put ourselves in his shoes the morning of October 15, 1994.  The greatest player in school history (Frazier) is out.  His backup, a legitimate NFL prospect (Berringer) is out too.  That leaves you, a 185 pound walk on from a Class C school to try to guide your 6-0,#2 ranked team to victory at #16 Kansas State, a team that had a very stout defense.  Granted, his moment of greatness consisted mostly of handing the ball to Lawrence Phillips and getting out the way, but still, Matt Turman – a.k.a. The Turmanator – may be the least likely guy to ever lead a championship-level team to victory.


Best Player:  Bret Clark, Safety, 1981 – 1984
Other notables:  Charles Fryar, Keithen McCant, Mike Minter
Personal Favorite: 
Roy Helu, Jr., I-Back, 2007 – 2010

Comments:  Bret Clark was an excellent safety for Tom Osborne’s early 80s teams.  Clark had a great talent for breaking up passes, tying the school record for pass break ups (8) in his sophomore and senior seasons.  He finished his NU career holding the school record for PBU.  During his senior season, Clark led the team in pass break ups, interceptions, and fumbles recovered.  A two-time All Big 8 player, Clark also earned All-America honors as a senior.

Roy Helu, Jr. is one of my favorite I-Backs from the last 20 years.  He combined speed, power, vision, and a love for hurdling over defenders to become one of the most vaunted rushers in school history.  Two memories of Helu stand out:  2009 at Kansas, Nebraska is in a dogfight until the Huskers decide to put the game on Helu’s shoulders.  Despite several nagging injuries, Helu picked up 85 yards and two critical touchdowns on Nebraska’s final two drives.

And then there is his masterpiece:  2010 versus Missouri.  On NU’s first play, Helu went 66 yards for a touchdown.  Later in one of the most complete quarters of football Nebraska has ever played, Helu went for a career long 73 yard TD run.  When it was all said and done, Helu had 307 rushing yards (and 317 all-purpose) breaking Calvin Jones’s twenty year old record of 294.  It was one of the most dominating performances I’ve had the pleasure to watch at Memorial Stadium.

Previous:  29 – 20

Next:  9 – 1


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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Does Nine Wins Matter?

With a win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl, Nebraska would reach the nine win mark for the sixth straight year.  For some, this is a crucial threshold that must be met.  But does nine wins really matter?  Does it hold the same level of excellence that it did 10 or 20 years ago?  And should it be the standard for Nebraska’s football program?

I know what some of you are saying, nine wins isn’t the standard that it used to be – assuming Nebraska becomes bowl eligible, they will play at least 13 games a season compared to the 11 or 12 games per year back in the 80s and 90s.  Prior to the 2006 season, most teams played an 11 game regular season schedule.  For the most part, about 20% of all FBS teams (or Division I, if you prefer) reached nine or more wins in a given season.  After 2006?  The extra game means that an extra 10 -20 teams (about 7 – 10% of FBS schools) make it to nine wins.  In other words, you can win a lower percentage of games and still get to nine wins.  

Additionally, with Nebraska’s current non-conference scheduling model (one game against a BCS team, one game against a mid-major, and two cream puffs) and some of the weak teams in the Big Ten, Nebraska should be able to rack up six or seven wins without breaking much of a sweat.  In other words, nine wins is a baseline expectation, not a cause for celebration.  

I understand all of that.  But I truly believe that nine wins matters, and should continue to be the standard by which Nebraska teams are judged. For me, it breaks down like this:

0 – 5 wins:  A complete failure of a season.  Somebody should be fired.

6 – 8 wins:  A disappointing season.  Staff changes may be necessary.

9 – 10 wins:  An acceptable season.  There are a few exceptions, but I will almost always be happy with 9 wins.

11 – 12 wins:  An excellent season.

13 or more wins:  A season to remember.

So why do I think nine wins today is as impressive – if not more so – than it was in 1980s or 1990s?  The simple answer is that college football has changed a lot in the last 20 – 30 years.  Nebraska is not out in front of the pack like they once were.  How so?

The 85 player scholarship limit has spread the talent out to more teams, creating parity.  Gone are the days when a handful of teams had all of the talented players.  While there is a difference in the level of athlete in power conferences versus the mid majors, that disparity has decreased over the past decade as teams like Boise State, TCU, Houston, Northern Illinois, and others have shown that you don’t have to be a traditional power to make an impact.

The physical advantages Nebraska once enjoyed have eroded.  Back in the 80s, few schools had a weight room or strength program to match what Boyd Epley was doing.  Today, dozens of schools can boast a weight room the size of an airplane hangar.  That is not a knock on the current strength and conditioning staff, it is an acknowledgement that other schools have caught up and are employing the same training and techniques that once gave Osborne’s teams an edge.

The coaching has not been as good since Osborne retired.  Without getting into the Bo-liever / Bo-leaver debate, I think we can all agree that the level of coaching (both head and assistants) has not been as good off since Osborne and his longtime staff retired.  That is not necessarily a knock on the coaching abilities of Solich, Callahan, and/or Pelini (or the lack thereof).  Instead this is meant to acknowledge that the program has not been run by a legendary, Hall of Fame caliber coach since the 1997 season.

Nebraska’s conference schedule is harder.  Let’s face it, the Big Ten has been quite dreadful over the past few years.  But as bad as the B1G has been, it is still a stronger conference than the Big 8 of the 1980s and early 1990s.  Back then, the Big 8 was Nebraska, Oklahoma, and the six dwarfs.  Sure, every so often Colorado or Missouri, or maybe an Okie State or Kansas would put together a decent season, but for the most part Osborne’s teams rolled up nine win seasons by destroying inferior schools like Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s look at based upon games against conference foes ranked at the time they played Nebraska.  Pay attention to the uphill trend with the Big XII and Big Ten:

  • During his 23 seasons in the Big 8, Osborne faced an average of 1.87 ranked conference teams per year.
  • In his two seasons in the Big XII, Osborne faced 2 ranked conference foes per year.
  • Frank Solich’s teams squared off against 2.83 ranked conference foes per year.
  • Bill Callahan’s teams had it relatively easy, only seeing 2.25 ranked conference teams per year.
  • Through the 2013 season, Bo Pelini’s teams have faced an average of 2.83 ranked teams in conference each year.  Throw out the 2013 season (with only one game against a ranked conference opponent) and his average jumps to 3.2 ranked teams each year.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective:  In Osborne’s 25 seasons, he faced three or more ranked conference foes four times – 16% of his seasons. (73, 76, 88, 95).  In the 16 seasons since Osborne retired, NU has faced three or more ranked conference teams nine times (56%).  Only once did Osborne face four ranked conference foes in a season (1973, his first season).  In the last four years it has happened twice.

To be fair, Osborne’s teams typically played a much tougher non-conference schedule than any of his successors.  Osborne’s teams faced an average of one ranked non-conference team every year (not including the bowl game).  Solich, Callahan, and Pelini combined have faced an average of 0.44 ranked teams in the non-conference (excluding bowl games).  Also not factored in is the fact that Osborne’s teams were more likely to win games against ranked opponents than those of Solich, Callahan, or Pelini.

The bottom line:  While today’s teams do have an extra game, Nebraska is seeing both a higher amount of ranked teams and (as Nebraska has regressed in talent and coaching over the past 10-15 years) is also seeing more teams of a similar caliber than Osborne’s teams did.

So why does nine wins matter?

Nine wins matters from a program perspective – how your team is viewed nationally by fans and media alike.  When Nebraska was racking up nine win seasons in the 80s and 90s, the program was viewed as a model of consistency and dominance.  That perception slipped when Solich went 7-7 and completely fell off the table when Callahan went 5-6.  To be able to string together a run of nine win seasons like Pelini has done shows stability, growth, and recovery.  While there is clearly room for improvement, and the fan base wants more, a nine win season does matter and should be appreciated.

Nebraska Movie Roles Rejected by Matt Damon

The city of Lincoln, NE is abuzz with star-struck awe.

Matt Damon has been in town this week.

Supposedly, he is here with his nephew who will be a freshman at the University of Nebraska this fall.  There have also been reports that his nephew will try to walk on to the Nebraska football team.  But frankly, I’m not sure I buy any of that.

I mean, it’s not like Damon is the first famous Hollywood movie star to visit Lincoln.  Harrison Ford (allegedly) checked out one of our gentlemen’s clubs.  Wesley Snipes rented a loft in the Haymarket* while filming a movie.  And let’s not forget our movie star next door, the star of Oscar contenders like Witless Protection and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, Nebraska’s own Dan Whitney (aka Larry).

*My wedding reception was in the loft Snipes rented.  The loft had an attached master suite where we stayed on our wedding night, so technically I’ve shared a bed with Passenger 57.  But I’m pretty sure they changed the sheets after Willie Mays Hayes left town.

So why was Matt Damon really here?  And why did he spend all of his time on campus?

Clearly, he is researching is next movie role.

What movie, you ask?  I’m not sure yet.  According to my University sources, the following ideas were shot down by Damon.

The Osborne Ultimatum*
Damon plays Dr. Tom Osborne, a straight-laced, tea totaling football coach by day and a profane, hard-drinking, rogue double agent for the Enforcement Division of the NCAA Compliance Department by night.  The year is 1983, and Osborne faces an impossible challenge:  guide his Cornhuskers to a National Championship, or allow Miami to win the title, setting in motion a carefully choreographed series of events culminating in the “Death Penalty” being handed out after booster Nevin Shapiro corrupts the school beyond recognition.

Late in the championship game, (which is illogically played on Miami’s home field), Osborne’s Husker trail Miami, but they’re driving down the field.  Turner Gill’s pass is inexplicably dropped by a wide open Irving Fryar, but then back-up I-Back Jeff Smith rambles in for a touchdown, putting Nebraska down by 1 with very little time left.  What does Osborne do?  Kick the PAT and bring glory to himself, or go for two and set the diabolical Operation Hurricane in motion?  Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger (played by Ben Affleck) cannot believe what comes next.

*Initially, I was going to do the Osborne Identity, but today I challenged fellow No Coast Bias writer Chris Hatch of Burnpoetry to do a take on that title.  I figured he’d do one of his Photoshop movie posters (like this one) and that would be end of it.  But no…Chris went above and beyond, creating this masterpiece.  Since there is no way I can improve upon that, I’m stuck with one of the other Bourne trilogy titles.  I chose Ultimatium mainly because I couldn’t remember the name of the other one.

Good Bo Hunting
Matt Damon co-wrote this script about Bo Pelini, a humble janitor from the south side of Lincoln.  Bo is cleaning up in the football offices when he sees a seemingly unsolvable problem on the board – how to stop spread offenses and mobile quarterbacks using lead-footed defenders.  Head Coach Frank Solich is stunned by the revelation and decides to bring Bo on to his staff.  Bo has a mild anger issue, so he must also meet with a school psychologist (played by Carl Pelini) to get in touch with his true self.  Ben Affleck co-stars as Pelini’s buddy, Barney Cotton.

Delaney’s Eleven
Jimbo Delaney (George Clooney) is just released from prison, but wants to plot the heist of the century – stealing Nebraska out from under the Big XII and transplanting it into the Big 10, while sticking it to the pompously smug Notre Dame.  Delaney arranges a team to infiltrate the Big XII, and a complex web of scams, tricks, and bogus media reports is constructed.

A large ensemble cast stars in this movie.  Damon plays Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez.  Ben Affleck appears as Texas blogger Chip Brown.  Julia Roberts plays Nancy Osborne.  Rave reviews for Woody Allen’s performance as Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman.

Delaney’s Fourteen
In this sequel to Delaney’s Eleven, Jimbo Delaney wants to add to his vast empire, by pulling one more big heist.  His team is reassembled, and are ready to go.  But instead of pursuing big, worthy targets like North Carolina, Florida State, Georgia Tech, or Notre Dame, Delaney sets his sites on Rutgers and Maryland.

Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez (once again played by Damon) wonders aloud why the team was gathered, when this caper could have been “pulled off by the same see-no-evil idiots who ran Penn State during the Sandusky years”.  The film is a dud because the projected numbers from the D.C. and New York markets never materialize (that and not even Scarlet Knight alumni want to endure 108 minutes about Rutgers).  Ben Affleck makes a cameo as the ghostly spirit of Joe Paterno.

Tommy Lee Goes to College – The Movie
Surely you remember 2005’s hit “reality” series Tommy Lee Goes to College, where the Motley Crue drummer “enrolls” at UNL and finds himself in all sorts of zany (yet totally realistic) scenarios – like trying out for the Cornhusker Marching Band and studying with the coed known solely as the “Hot Tutor”.

In this feature-length film, the part of Tommy Lee is being played by Tommy Lee Jones, and Damon stars as his nerdy, yet lovable roommate Matt Ellis.  Tommy’s is working in the Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, and may have found a way to reverse the damage caused by concussions in football games.  Unfortunately, Tommy suffered a concussion while practicing as Taylor Martinez’s backup, and the research may be lost forever.  Can Ellis and the Hot Tutor help Tommy Lee recover the research (and win the big game) in time?  Ben Affleck co-stars as Taylor Martinez.

Legend of Pat Tyrance
Damon plays Micah Kreikemeier, a career backup linebacker, struggling to make a contribution to the team.  He forms an unlikely bond with the sage Pat Tyrance, a star linebacker from the 1980s.  Through a combination of hard work, perseverance, and luck, Micah learns the keys to being a feared linebacker.  In the Big Game, Micah uses the knowledge Tyrance gave him to lead Nebraska to an amazing, come from behind victory.  Ben Affleck appears as Linebackers Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/Recruiting Coordinator/Bus Driver/Lunch Lady/Hot Dog Vendor/Assistant to the Regional Manager Ross Els.

Saving Sam Cotton
In this military drama, oldest brother Ben Cotton is brutally attacked by Texas A&M’s Tony Jerod-Eddie.  Middle brother Jake suffers a torn ACL.  Persistent message board threats have forced their dad Barney Cotton into hiding.

Not wanting to deliver the dreadful news that her whole family is gone, Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst instructs a select team of grad assistants and student managers to bring youngest brother Sam Cotton (played by Matt Damon) back home to his mother before it is too late.

Warning:  the first 20 minutes of the film – featuring footage of Nebraska’s loss to Barney Cotton’s Iowa State offense, Jake’s mangled knee (played by Ben Affleck), and ultra slow-motion shots of Ben’s cotton balls being tugged – may be too gruesome for some viewers.

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