Bonistall was a back up quarterback to Dennis Claridge and played
for Bill Jennings and Bob Devaney. Although he never lettered in football
he lettered three years in baseball. He left the team his junior year
to focus on baseball and returned to the football team when asked
by new coach Bob Devaney. This interview was done on August 6, 2004
by David Max.
Where are you from originally?
Originally I'm from Williamsville, New York which is a suburb
Who recruited you to Nebraska?
it's kind of interesting because back at that timeline there weren't
really restrictions on numbers of scholarshiips and stuff like that
and, of course, freshmen couldn't play varsity football so the year
that I went to Lincoln there were 11 full teams that were recruited
and I think the University made a commitment to try to get serious
about it. They actually had bird dogs that kind of covered different
parts of the country. There was a guy named Fritz Chrysler and he
wasn't associated with the University of Nebraska, but he was the
bird dog for western New York. I think Leroy Pierce was an assistant
coach at that time at Nebraska that kind of coordinated that, but
they basically got in touch with me, we sent films out to the University
and I never even visited the school. In fact, I got the scholarship
back in the mail and later found out when I got out there that they
had five guys from western New York and I didn't know any of them.
I actually was only 17 when I went to Lincoln. My first plane ride
was a nightmare, flying from Buffalo to Cleveland to Detroit to Chicago
to Moline to Des Moines to Omaha and to Lincoln. I thought I was going
to a school in Australia by the time I got there because it took all
day and of course those weren't jets back then so it was quite an
event. The guys that picked me up at the airport took me first to
the agricultural campus as a joke so that was pretty funny to them,
but that's kind of the way it started.
was the coach at that time, and so I played football my freshman year
and then I was red shirted as a sophomore. Then I really chose not
to play football my third year because I was on a baseball scholarship
at that time. When Coach Devaney came in he actually approached me
and I came back out and played on that '62 team that really started
things changing. It was really the start of a lot of the winning tradition
that began in that first season. As I recall Coach Jennnings was fired
and Coach Devaney came in I think in late February or early March.
Of course, back then freshmen couldn't play so Coach Devaney was pretty
much stuck with whoever the previous coach had brought in. There were
a lot of us who hadn't played much under the previous coach and so
it was real exciting to start the season winning which we hadn't done
much in the previous three years. That's why the coach left his job
I guess, but Coach Devaney came in and just turned it around with
basically the same players.
Were you recruited by other teams?
yeah, of course at that time I was from the Buffalo area and the University
of Buffalo had a program and Syracuse and Boston College and I actually
was planning to go to Duke on a baseball scholarship and that kind
of fizzled at the last minute. I was scrambling around trying to find
a school and it just worked out that I was able to go to Nebraska
and of course I wanted to go someplace where I thought I had a chance
to play and based on their track record they weren't exactly beating
anybody at that time so it was a good opporutnity to be in on the
ground floor. It was nice to really be a part of that and I guess
I probably represent not the Heisman Trophy winners or the All Americans
or the All Conference players but I think the legacy of that program
is that there were a lot of guys like myself that played. Some lettered,
some didn't, some never ever played, but they practiced every
single day and went through all of that and I've told a lot
people as I've developed my businesses and so forth that I probably
learned more from Bob Devaney about business than getting my business
degree or my MBA or going to all of the management classes that I
ever attended. He was always well organized and communicated tremendously,
whether it was through humor or through anger he had no trouble getting
the message across and he delegated implicitly to his assistants.
He gave them a full range of what they were doing and of course he
retained so many of his assistants. Most had been with him at Wyoming
and they stayed with him until some of them eventually went into head
coaching, but they were very loyal because he kind of let them do
their own thing and then of course on game day he'd take all the information
and he'd make the tough decisions and he'd change the strategy. He
was masterful in being able to exploit weaknesses in the second half
and of course that would lead to victories, which was the ultimate
goal. We went from just very long arduous practices to pretty much
short and sweet, with everything organized, and not as much contact
during the practice season as we had before so we really had people
a lot fresher for games and it worked out pretty well.
So essentially you
chose Nebraska because you thought you had a better opportunity for
and of course, kind of the message that was played out at the time
was that they were definitely making a change in their approach, they
were recruiting coast to coast. We had guys from all over the country.
Obviously a lot of Nebraskans, but I remember there was a sports writer
for the Omaha World Herald. I think his name was McBride. I don't
remember what his first name was, but I remember him writing a tongue
in cheek article about all the foreign exchange students coming to
Nebraska to play football, and he was referring to all of those that
were from east of the Mississippi River, from New York, New Jersey,
Pennsylania, Ohio, Michigan. It was really a wild time because there
were not the same restrictions on recruiting and stuff that of course
exists today. I remember when I was a freshman Nebraska went up to
Minnesota and upset the University of Minnesota. We were a decided
under dog and we upset them and it was just a happy occasion. I remember
when they flew back from Minneapolis they had five or six recruits
with them that I think had already enrolled at the University of Minnesota.
Back in those days school didn't start until the end of September
so they weren't officially enrolled because they hadn't started classes
so I don't know if they shanghied them or how they got them back there
but that was kind of funny that all of a sudden we had these six or
seven guys from Minnesota that showed up for practice the next Monday
after the varsity Minnesota game.
Do you remember any
trying to think. Dennis Claridge, I remember, he was later a fraternity
brother and there was a fellow by the name Bill McDonald, he was a
big tight end. Dick Struts was another name. I'm trying to remember
from a long time ago. I'm not sure if Denney Stewey came in that group
or not, but he also was from Minnesota. They had a bunch of them that
kind of showed up out of the blue and contributed to our freshman
season. The one thing that began to happen at that time was that the
freshmen teams began to go undefeated as they brought in all of us
from all over the place that eventually became the nucleus for the
So what positions
did you play?
the Jennings system I played quarterback and of course at that time
we played both ways so I played defensive halfback. The way the coaches
had it was the quarterback was a left halfback defensively and also
was supposed to be a punter. Well, I don't think I could punt 20 yards.
I could throw the ball a lot farther than I could punt it. Of course,
Denny Claridge was a great punter and he was able to fit that mold
So you and Denny
were quarterbacks - were there any other quarterbacks?
there were a dozen QBs and there was a fellow by the name of John
Faiman that was there at the time and I think he later became a high
school coach in Omaha somewhere.
So how much playing
time did you get?
a freshman I started a couple of the games. I remember when I went
to my first freshman practice and they put the roster up, I was the
9th team quarterback - there were so many people and we had name tags
on the helmets so everybody would get to know us and Warren Schmaekel
was the head coach and Larry Naviaux was a key assistant and they
were very good. They both went on to be head coaches I think at Northeastern
or Boston University or something like that, up in the Northeast but
at that time they were the freshman coaches. Larry Naviaux was an
assistant and he was a player from a small town in central Nebraska.
And the other thing that happened is that I think of 121 of us that
went on full scholarship, I think only 15 of us ever really graduated
because there was not, at that time the support system to help with
academics and the social life and everything else. Probably more than
half of those people went back home because they were homesick. In
my case it was tough too. I was one of the youngest players because
I hadn't turned 18 yet when I started, never been away from home,
had never flown but I was fortunate and I'm sure I would still do
it today. What was really special about the football program was that
we were able to live in the dorm or live in the fraternity house.
There was not an isolated jock house where you had to live so you
got to meet and be a part of the regular student body. I think that
really helped, in my case, in just sticking it out and staying there.
When I first left Nebraska I did, like I think everybody did, a lot
of recruiting and referring and did that for a number of years. With
the restrictions now, you just basically send a letter or make a phone
call and that's about it. You can't participate. I understand why
they do that, but it was fun to be a part of that, too.
What was the feeling among the players when Bill Jennings was
think that my reaction might be a little different, but I think frankly
a lot of people were very happy because he didn't play that many people
and there were a lot of people like myself that didn't get a chance
to play. I think Denny Claridge was red shirted his sophomore year
as well and then we got the opportunity and tht's all that anybody
asked for. With Coach Devaney was there was quite a bit of diversity
with throwing the ball and running the ball. He was a great head coach
but he had some fabulous assistant coaches too that were very, very
good. Mike Corgan was the back field coach and a lot of the other
coaches had been with him since high school and they knew what they
were doing and they were doing it as a team. And of course starting
out that first year so successfully that really kind of set the tone.
I think that being competitive and winning games,
having a winning streak and being undefeated and going down and beating
the tar out of Kansas. Those were just fabulous and then we had a
couple of losses, but by any measure it was a sensational year and
I think it helped set the climate and helped in recruiting going forward
because he showed in his very first year that we could be a winner
when we had not been a winner in a long time. I don't know how many
years before that that they had a winning season but I think it was
So when Jennings
was fired you were actually playing baseball at that time.
a matter of fact I was red shirted as a sophomore and I elected to
play basebal in the spring time because I knew I wasn't playing for
him. Before I hurt my arm I had a chance to go into the pros so I
was pursuing that although for me it was always going to be that I
was going to get a degree because I was the first one in my family
to graduate from college. I had a Dad and a couple of sisters who
started but they never got to finish it so there was no question I
was going to finish it one way or another.
So what position did you play in baseball?
I was a pitcher and I played third base and I lettered three
years. Again, freshmen couldn't play varsity and they didn't have
a freshman baseball program and our teams were mediocre. We didn't
have the emphasis like Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma which were pretty
strong in baseball at that point. I think one year we finished second
or third. Never got to go to the College World Series. I went there
and watched two years but it must be such a thrill to be able to have
a shot at Omaha at the beginning of the season with all the local
support. I think that's something special that going to a university
in a state that was rural and agricultural was all about. Actually,
I got quite a bit out of that because up to that point I kind of thought
that a farm life and living on a ranch was pretty neat and then I
saw how hard those people work to make a living. The guys that came
from farms had to be disciplined in their daily life because they
had chores from dawn to dusk and that's just what you did. I had a
lot of respect for how hard it was for them, and of course I think
that's also why there are so many good offensive linemen who are so
delighted to get out of that grind and come to the University and
not have to get up at 4:00 every morning and milk the cows and start
So when Devaney came,
did he ask you to come back out for football?
I don't know if they lost some guys and they needed more quarterbacks,
and not necessarily to come and play because with Claridge the only
time any of us played was mop up time. We were running scout teams
and doing passing drills and things like that. There's a lot of activities
that takes place on a football team other than just on game day. It's
all that stuff that takes place during the week with practice sessions
and everything else.
Is there a regular season game that sticks out in your mind?
started undefeated in 1962 and we played down at Kansas which was
a real grudge game because in the newspapers prior to that game Coach
Jennings had gone down to Kansas as a back field coach and he had
kind of said that Nebraska should have been pretty good because he
got the players. That was on the bulletin board immediately and that
particular game was an unbelievable game and I think it was their
homecoming and we were the decided underdog. We went down there and
just absolutely annihilated them. We scored five straight touchdowns
and went for two point conversions and we were up 40 to nothing in
the second quarter and I don't know what the final score was, but
it was just an absolute joy and of course everybody on the traveling
team played and it was just a wonderful experience. I think the next
week we played Missouri at home which was really the first sellout
and we lost to them in a tight game, and then we went on and won all
the rest of the games except for the Oklahoma game.
Do you have a favorite Bob Devaney game story?
what I really remember is the week that we played Kansas. Aside from
some of the coaches putting Jennings' comments on the bulletin board,
he really down played it but there was no question of the intensity
of him and his coaches. They wanted to go pound them and we did. Gayle
Sayers, the old Nebraska boy was a star Kansas running back at that
time. On that particular day however, he was fairly ineffective and
we had the ball most of the time and the game was really over by the
second quarter so I don't think he played much the second half just
to keep him from getting injured but Coach had us prepared, there's
no question about it.
Other than the Kansas game, do you have any other games that stick
out in your memory?
the Missouri game which came up right after that, we played that at
home and we had a turnover and Johnny Roland was a key back from Missouri
and he made a long run and we lost that game. We weren't blown away,
it was very competitive but we essentially lost the opportunity to
play for the Big Seven, Big Eight championship.
What are your memories of the Gotham Bowl?
I thnk we were 8 and 2 in the regular season and then we got to go
to the Gotham Bowl in New York City. I was thrilled about that because
we were going to play in Yankee Stadium and being an upstate New York
guy, even though I hated the Yankees, that was kind of a dream come
true to play in Yankee Stadium. We had a bunch of players from the
East that were looking forward to going back and doing that and then
there was a kind of question as to whether we were going to be able
to go. We hadn't been to a Bowl Game I don't think since the Rose
Bowl back in the 40's, so it isn't like they had contingency funds
to do that. They were able to scrape the money together and we went
and it was really, again, just a wonderful experience. All the seniors,
including myself got to go on the Johnny Carson Show and we sang,
"There's No Place Like Nebraska". Being a Nebraska graduate,
it was kinda neat to be on his show and then of course to be in New
York City was very nice too. There was some kind of strike, and I'm
not sure if it was newspaper strike or whatever, but we got a very
poor turnout. They were very charitable - they said there were 10,000
people there, hardly anybody was there. My parents were there. ( chuckle)
and it was probably one of the coldest days I can remember. It was
so cold it was frozen on the field and we actually had to change from
cleats to sneakers to have any kind of footing on it and it was a
great game, I think we won it 36 to 34 against Miami - so it was a
What do you remember about the Oklahoma game in 1963 after President
Kennedy was assasinated?
had to go an extra semester because of the different sports that I
was playing and so the last year that I was there that was the year
that Kennedy was assassinated and they went ahead and played the Oklahoma
game on the Saturday after he was killed and that year we beat Oklahoma
pretty badly. It was really important. The University and the campus
was so jacked up that week. They had parades downtown and pep rallies.
It was going to be the biggest game in the history of Nebraska at
that time and then unfortunately with the assassination that just
took all the emotion out of it. I think Nebraska was one of the few
teams that played that week and I think they did because Bud Wilkerson
was the coach and he had some post with the Kennedy administration.
He just said that he thought that Kennedy would want us to go ahead
and play. There were only a handful of teams that played that Saturday
and Nebraska/Oklahoma was one of them.
Wasn't the assassination on a Thursday?
I think it was on Thursday - and everything was closed. I remember
that people were so shocked by that and we wanted to just get out
and forget about it and all the movie houses in town were closed so
there wasn't much to do. But we did play the game on Saturday.
Do you still make
it back for Nebraska games?
used to go every year, but unfortunately when I graduated I moved
to the East Coast and worked in New Jersey for a time. I've lived
in Atlanta for the last twenty years or so and I still see George
Haney in Atlanta. He was a great Nebraska player. Over the years I've
seen them play at West Point and there was the game that they played
at Notre Dame that we won in overtime in 2000. That was fabulous.
I'm still trying to get tickets to see the Pittsburgh game. Over the
years they've played at South Carolina and Auburn and of course I've
seen them in the Orange Bowl a few times when they were there, but
the last time I was back in Lincoln to see a game was in November
of 2002 - we lost to Texas. We were going down for the winning score
and there was a pass intercepted at the goal line with like seconds
to go in the game. I took my son to that game. He hadn't been to a
game since he was in middle school years ago so he got a kick out
of going to the game.
There's nothing quite
like that atmosphere anymore, is there?
know when I first moved to Atlanta I remember having five or six people
over to the house and we would call one of the alumni's brothers in
Omaha and we would get a microphone out and they'd put the radio on
next to the phone and we'd have a listening party. Of course that's
changed now. The alumni support in Atlanta with Georgians for Nebraska
is super. We have so many people that come and watch the games. They
have two or three different places around town because they can't
get them all in one place. It's a real active alumni chapter but also
what I found incredible about it is that I don't think that half the
people that go to the games actually went to the University of Nebraska.
They might have gone to another college in the state or they might
have just come from there. There are quite a few people that were
stationed in the military at Strategic Air Command and they follow
them too. It's just amazing. And they come in and take over one of
these sports bars and it's almost a game-like atmosphere because they've
got all the CD's for the victory march, you know, There is No Place
Like Nebraska, so they really get fired up pretty good. They have
a lot of fun with it.
What are you doing
in the process of trying to take my third telecommunications company
public. I'm the President/CEO of Global
Solutions, Inc. We're headquartered in Atlanta. We audit phone
bills and we outsource the bill management of phone bills for commercial
clients all over the U.S. and Canada. So that keeps me busy and actually
we enjoy it very much because it's been a good business for us. University
at Buffalo profile.
thanks for sharing your Husker memories with us.
This series of interviews
is being done in conjunction with the Bob
Terrio Classic. Erny Bonnistal can be reached at this email.