Behm played at Nebraska from 1938-1940 and was a member of the 1941 Rose
Bowl team. He was an All American and All Big 6 in 1940. He was inducted
into the College Football Hall
of Fame in 1988. (Here are two pictures from that weekend 1,
was the featured player on the game ticket for the Southern
Miss game on Sept. 11, 2004. Here is a picture at that game with Jim
Rose and Adrian Fiala after a pre-game interview. These interviews
are being done in conjuction with the Bob
Terrio Classic. This interview was done by David Max on May 10, 2005.
DM: Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. All my schooling took place
there until I left Lincoln to go to Harvard Business School, just before
That is obviously how you knew about the Nebraska football team.
Did you graduate high school in Lincoln?
Yes I did, and I ended up graduating in 2-1/2 years. It was a big surprise
when the principal called me in and said, “Look you’re going
to graduate next week.” I said, “No, no, no, I don’t
graduate until June!” He said, “No, you’re going to
graduate now. You know, with this drought and depression we’ve got,
we can’t afford to keep you in school. You’ve done everything
you’ve been asked to do for two years and a lot more than that,
and your grades are almost all 100’s. You’re going to graduate
in a week.” So that’s what I did. I left high school and went
to work for the Bell Telephone Company up in South Dakota, sometime in
How long did you work in South Dakota?
I worked eight months there.
When did you start school at Nebraska?
Well, let’s see, I’m now 85 and I was born in 1919 and I was
18 when I started college, so it was September, 1937.
How did you end up playing football?
Well, it’s kind of a roundabout story. I had a terrible burn on
my right leg when I was five years old, and I was a cripple from five
until about nine, on crutches and wearing braces and all that sort of
How did it happen?
I was playing with a friend in a dry field, and we accidentally started
a fire. I was trapped in the flames, and might have died right then, except
a painter was driving by on his way to some project, and saw me. He grabbed
a painter’s cloth and wrapped me up and carried me home. You can
imagine how my mother felt when he brought me in with skin literally dripping
off my leg! I had burned my leg from ankle to hip and the doctors wanted
to amputate it right away, as there were no antibiotics in those days,
and nothing to fight infection. My father told them no, they were not
going to amputate, he would find another way.
the first day, he gave me a piece of pine wood to bite on, like in the
old days – biting the bullet--, padded his hands with cotton, and
started to massage and work the leg. And he did that for 5 or 6 years,
sometimes twice a day. Then, as the leg got better, he put me through
calisthenics, deep knee bends, the works. Then he put me on a bicycle
and made me learn to ride.
remember very clearly the time I came home from grade school and told
my father I had been beaten up by the big boys in the class. He showed
me how to fight with a brace on my leg and crutches, and I didn’t
have any trouble from then on. That took care of the problem. Anyway,
my father and my mother were really heroes in this story. They even had
to teach me at home for some time until I was able to go to school. I
have a picture of myself when I was 11 years old, and you can see the
scar on my leg, so apparently it had healed enough by that time that I
was able to walk without crutches.
used a cane now and then when I went to high school, but by that time
what I really wanted was to play basketball. I was tall, 6’4”,
but so clumsy because of the bad leg that when I went out for the team,
I couldn’t make the varsity – they put me on the sophomore
team. We played in church basements and warehouses, but I didn’t
care. At least I was on the team, and that’s where I wanted to be.
Then my junior year, I went out for basketball again – same thing.
They put me on the sophomore team. So when my senior year came around,
I went to the coach and asked, “ Is there any chance for me to get
on the varsity?” He said, “None whatsoever!” So I went
to the football coach – his name was Neal Mehring; he played football
at Nebraska and so did his brothers – and asked if I could go out
for the team. He looked me over and said, “Yeah, you can come out.”
So I sat on the bench that year, but I got to practice and I played in
a couple of games, so that’s what started me on football. Neal told
me several years before he died, about 8 years ago, that I was the only
player he ever allowed to come out in his senior year. I never would have
played football if that hadn’t happened.
So you never would have played if you hadn’t gotten kicked off the
Right! Now when I left school in my senior year, this leg still wasn’t
in that great of shape, but I did construction work, which consisted of
digging holes and tamping poles in, cutting brush and clearing right of
way and stringing wire – perfect conditioning. As you know, back
in those days, you didn’t lift weights, you didn’t do any
special exercises, except just stretching. But now I had this hard work
to do, and that worked out very well. Anyway, when I came back to Nebraska,
one of my buddies said, “Come on, let’s go register for the
University.” At that time, it cost $35 a semester for tuition. We
had saved that money up, so we had the money to go to school. He said,
“Let’s go down and register and, while we’re there,
why don’t we register for football?” Lee Farmer was his name,
hell of a guy, he’s down in Tucson right now, great athlete. He
shot his age in golf, which will tell you how great an athlete he is.
And I said, “Lee, I don’t know how to play football. I sat
on that bench for a whole year in high school.” Lee said, “We’ll
have a lot of laughs!” So I went out for football.
I got there, the coach said, “Get down to Floyd Bertoff and get
your equipment.” Floyd gave me the stuff you get for that type of
assignment, and then he said, “What size shoes do you wear?”
I said, “15.” He didn’t say anything – went over
to the coach, came back and said, “You can’t come out.”
I said, “Why can’t I come out?” He said, “We can’t
afford to buy you shoes.” I said, “What if I buy my own shoes?”
He went back to the coach, came back again. Said, “Yeah, if you
buy your own shoes, you can come out.” I made the first team of
Nebraska in my sophomore year in my own shoes.
That was 1938?
Yeah, that was 1938. And I played on the first team and I started most
of the game that year, with my own shoes! Anyway, I did really well in
my junior year but it was in the middle of a very serious Depression –
Depression started in 1929 and lasted until the start of WWII. In 1939
it got really, really bad – like 30-40% unemployment. It was very
hard to get a job. I couldn’t get into the telephone company, they
were laying people off, so I went to the coach and said, “I’m
not going to be able to come back to school. I have to earn $70 plus enough
for my clothes. I can live at home, but if I don’t get my clothing
money or the $70 for tuition, I’m not going to be able to come out.”
He said, “We haven’t got any jobs, we don’t have anything
for you to do.” I was thinking, well that’s the end of my
football career because I’m not going to be able to go to school,
but I read in the paper just a couple of days later that they were hiring
people to shovel concrete in a road construction job -- what is now called
the Cornhusker Highway that runs around the northern part of town. I went
out and applied and they gave me the job, which was to stand in the pit
where they dumped the concrete from the big mixer, spread that concrete
out, tamp it into place, and keep the blade of the spreader wet with concrete.
If the pile got too heavy, we’d shovel it away from the spreader.
We shoveled for six hours straight, with no relief at all. If we had to
pee, the other guy had to do all the shoveling while we peed. So it was
right straight through.
when I finished with that job, I stacked 100-lb. bags of sugar down at
the terminal warehouse, which used to be right down near the University.
At the terminal warehouse, there were train loads of sugar that would
come in from the beet fields in western Nebraska. I don’t where
the sugar was manufactured but it came into this terminal warehouse and
the boxcar would arrive with bags stacked right up to the ceiling. We
had to drag those 100-lb. bags out and put them on a three-wheel cart,
take them into the warehouse, take them off the cart and stack them up
to the ceiling, which was 18 ft. high. We stacked them all the way up
to the top – didn’t have any equipment to get there. We’d
stack the bags up to one level and then toss them up to the next level.
Well, you can imagine the conditioning I got from all that work. When
I reported for practice in my junior year, Biff Jones wouldn’t let
me practice. He put me down on the playing field with a manager and we
threw the ball around, passed the ball, ran a little bit and then went
down to the swimming pool and swam for 45 minutes. That was my two weeks
of practice in my junior year. I was so strong – it was unbelievable
how much strength I had. That’s what kids do now when they lift
weights, but we didn’t lift any weights in those days. I often think
that’s one of the reasons I played so well in my senior year.
You mentioned a story about Coach Schulte.
Yeah, he was the track coach and when I got to school he was in a wheelchair,
I don’t know if it was spinal meningitis or what it was but he was
in a wheelchair and he was sitting on the sidelines – I didn’t
know who he was, but shortly after I got a pair of shoes I was running
down the field – one of the things we did back then, you’d
line up and you’d have a couple of blockers down the field and you’d
have two punt coverers and the ball would be snapped and the kicker would
kick and we were on our way down the field and the blocker would try to
stop us, so the ball carrier down there would take the ball and run –
it was a good experience for all of us. We had been doing that drill a
couple of times and I had been running down the field about the second
time I’d done it – as I was walking back I heard this big
voice – “hey, you, kid”. I looked over and here was
this good looking man, but you could see the pain all over, you could
just tell by looking at him. He said, “come here, kid”. And
I went over and he said, “kid, you run like a cow in the mud, I’m
going to teach you how to run”. And he did and it really was one
of the many things that people did to make my career successful. You know,
being timed on a couple of occasions running 100 yards on the field, on
the grass, against the stop watch, my best time was 11 seconds, which
was pretty damned good with a full uniform on. The track coach heard about
that and said, we can put some shoes on him and maybe he can run something
for us. So they ordered some track shoes and I put them on and I ran,
guess what, 100 yards – 11 seconds. It didn’t matter what
kind of clothes I was in. I was just a big lumbering old locomotive –
get outta my way, it’s gonna be 11 seconds.
Okay coming back to Schulte - he actually
showed me how to stand and how to move – my right foot, because
of my scarred leg it turns out a little bit and he showed me how to run
with that. And I galloped and I got away from galloping and he was a very
helpful man. And, of course, I quickly learned that he was the great Schulte
– I think he was the Olympic track coach for the United States for
one or two Olympics.
I’ve always heard the name Schulte Fieldhouse, but I never knew
the story behind the individual.
Everybody that worked and competed in his age, said he was a real leader.
So when you first met him, he was in a wheelchair.
Oh, yeah, I’d never met him before. I didn’t know who he was.
I don’t even know the years he was in the Olympics – I don’t
even know if that story is true or not.
Did you play in your junior year?
I played every game.
So you just had to do the conditioning for two weeks to get back on the
Yes -- maybe it was ten days, but it was a short period of time.
What position did you play?
I played right tackle, offensively and defensively, and linebacker.
What did you like best – offense or defense?
Nobody has ever asked me that. I guess I don’t really know. I liked
all kinds of football. I enjoyed the whole game. Didn’t matter where
I was as long as I was in the battle.
Fred Meier was your teammate and he was a center on the offensive line
and he also played linebacker, so you guys were linebackers together.
Whenever we ran a five-man line, I was a linebacker. When we played the
regular six-man line, Freddy Meier was always a linebacker on defense,
but I was only a linebacker when we had a five-man line or some special
freak type of defense. We played seven-man line, six-man line and five-man
line. Those were our defenses.
Do you remember any particular games, a regular season game, that sticks
out in your mind?
The game that sticks out in my mind was a game against Minnesota in my
sophomore year. I remember a player on the Minnesota team by the name
of Ed Widseth. He unfortunately played opposite me. He was an all-American
tackle and a wonderful player. He beat the hell out of me. He and his
buddies just beat all of us up. I came out of that game, got myself patched
up and went to a hotel room in St. Paul. I’m lying in the room with
a broken nose and a twisted knee, generally beaten up all over my body,
and I said, “What the hell is this football game? I don’t
know whether I want to play this anymore!” But I did, of course,
and nobody in the next three years beat me up. Certainly not like those
Did you win that game or did you lose?
We lost it by a touchdown, I think.
Tell me something about when you made a road trip, like to Minnesota,
did you go by train or by bus?
We always traveled by train.
When you played Minnesota on Saturday, when would you leave Nebraska?
It was 500 miles – we’d do it overnight. I think we left on
Thursday night and then we’d come back on Sunday.
Tell me about the Rose Bowl game in your senior year. Do you remember
how long that trip was?
I would guess it was two days getting to Arizona where we practiced. I
think we had five or six days near Phoenix in a place called the Camelback
Inn. It’s still there – I saw it a couple of years ago –
gorgeous place now – it’s almost in the middle of the city.
When we were there it was way out in the country.
So when you went to the Rose Bowl you stopped in Phoenix and practiced
for a few days there before you went to Pasadena.
Yeah, there was no way we could practice in Lincoln. It was snowy and
What do you remember before the game – did you do any sightseeing?
They entertained us very well. We went to movie studios, we got to meet
actors and actresses. I remember meeting Robert Taylor and a lot of beautiful
women that were there. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t very interested
in that. I was out there to play football.
never missed a game when I played. I played every game for three years
and when I got to Phoenix I was in fantastic physical shape. I felt strong,
felt good, I didn’t have anything wrong with me. Then I was stretched
out on the sideline when one of the players was rough housing with another
player, stepped backwards and put a cleat right in my hip joint. It really
was a very bad injury. I could stand and walk carefully, but I couldn’t
put any pressure on that leg or I’d collapse, so I didn’t
start the Rose Bowl game. Herndon did. I filled in for Herndon half of
the game but they kept me out when things got a little grim because I
was “playing on my newspaper clippings.” I’m not sure
they ran very many plays at me – I don’t remember the game
at all. I was just glad to get it over with. To me the Rose Bowl was an
absolute disaster because I was injured. I wasn’t able to play to
my ability. Maybe Herndon did a lot better job than I would have if I
were in there, but I didn’t get to start the game.
But you did play for half the game. What were the substitution rules –
were there any regulations as to how many substitutes you could have?
Very limited. If you came out in a quarter, you couldn’t go back
in that same quarter. There wasn’t unlimited substitution until
long after I quit playing football.
During your three years as a starter on the varsity, during a 60-minute
game, how many of those 60 minutes would you play?
I would guess that it would be typical in a game for me to play at least
half of the time, maybe three-quarters.
Other than being injured in the game, what do you remember about the game?
I think there were two things that impressed me about that game –
one was the quality of the Stanford team. They had four back-field men
that all went on to be successes as pros. They had Stanley, who was a
fullback. They had Albert, who was a quarterback. They had four absolutely
terrific back-field men and the T-formation that they ran – that
was the first time we’d ever seen a T-formation -- was very baffling
to me. But we did extremely well against it. I don’t think their
defense was as great as their offense. That offense that they had was
Do you remember how full the stadium was?
It was absolutely sold out. When I came out of the dressing room in any
game I’d ever played up till then, I didn’t know there was
a crowd there, I didn’t know anything but the football field. I’m
sure the emotion and drive of any game affected me, but I wasn’t
aware of it. But in the middle of the Rose Bowl game, when I was on the
field, I heard this great cheer that Stanford has that starts out by saying,
“Give ‘em the axe, the axe, the axe, give ‘em the axe,
the axe, the axe” – they start very softly, 100,000 people
all saying, “Give ‘em the axe, the axe, the axe,” and
they get to the end of the progression of sound and every one of them
is screaming at the top of their voice, “GIVE ‘EM THE AXE,
THE AXE, THE AXE.” And I stopped and looked at the crowd –
only time I ever did.
What was it like when you came back to Lincoln after the game –
were there any fans there to meet you?
We came in to Union Station in Lincoln – it was a mob. They really
were wonderful. We had a huge delegation of people to meet us, and I was
embarrassed because we lost – we weren’t supposed to lose
that game. The whole experience, it started to go sour when this guy damaged
my hip. I don’t think to this day he even knows he did it.
Was the Rose Bowl game the last game of your career?
Yes, that was it.
After that, you went on and graduated from Nebraska?
I graduated from Nebraska and I got a fellowship that I used to go to
Harvard Business School. My wife, Betty, and I were going to get married,
but we didn’t have any money at that point so we decided I’d
finish my education and then we’d get married – that was the
fall of 1941 when I went to Harvard and of course war was declared December
7th of that year and a couple of weeks after that, I was in the Army.
At Nebraska, I had been a Lieutenant Colonel of the ROTC and I had won
the Field Artillery Association medal, so I was immediately in the Service.
How many years were you in the Service?
Almost five years. I think it was about three months short of five years.
When you got out of the Service, what did you do?
Went to work for Corning Glass Works.
Did you go back to school at Harvard?
I went back to see a couple of my professors and the Dean, and they all
recommended that I not go back to school. By that time I had a baby and
a wife and they thought I’d be able to get a good job. I spoke with
George Abel a couple of years before he died – he was one of the
great football players on our team and one hell of a guy – and he
went to Harvard Business School after WWII. He was being interviewed there
by the Dean of the college and the Dean said, “Oh, you’re
from Nebraska, do you know Forrest Behm?” He said, “Yes, I
played football with him.” The Dean said, “I hope you’re
as good a student as he was, because he had the highest first year average
of anybody that ever came to this School.”
So you went to work for Corning and you never went back to school?
No, I never did.
How many years did you work at Corning?
When did you retire?
I technically retired In December, 1986. As an officer and a member of
the Board, I had to retire at 65. But they wanted me to stay on as a “consultant”
and do some things that had to be done. Jamie Houghton, the Chief Executive
Officer, said, “We’re going to retire you just like we must,
but you’re going to stay in the same office, you’re going
to have the same secretary, and I want you to help me change the company’s
management practices.” So I stayed for three years with Jamie Houghton
helping to institute total quality management, and instead of retiring
at 65, I retired at 68.
Do you still live in Corning, New York?
In the same house I built 50 years ago. You know I’m a Nebraskan,
so you have to have land, right? In 1960, I bought 600 acres of land back
in the woods here. The country around here is all hilly and wooded. Part
of the farm is, I think, 1800 feet in the air. I was planning to build
a house there and move out of this house -- I had it all ready to put
it out for bid in 1971. But then, in 1972, we had the worst flood Corning
ever had, which wiped out 3,000 homes. It was a very damaging flood. The
whole process of repairing the damage to the buildings took up all the
construction labor, and nobody would bid on my house. It took ten years
for them to get enough work done for anybody to decide they were willing
to bid on the house and by then I didn’t want to build it any more.
The kids were grown up and had left home. But I still have the land. I’ve
sold some of the timber and they’re drilling for gas up around there
now so maybe I’ll get some money from that. This is beautiful country
here in Steuben County.
Do you have any newspaper clippings or anything from your playing days
that I could get copies of?
Yes, I think there’s one article that was written by a newspaper
guy down in Kansas City about my burn. A beautiful article about my father
and my mother getting me through that difficult time – I’d
love to have you use some of that.
also like to include my wife’s
obituary. Betty was a Phi Beta Kappa at the University of Nebraska
– she was the only girlfriend I ever had. She tried to get rid of
me by getting me dates with other members of her sorority house. I finally
said, “Don’t do that anymore.” It took me a long time
to get her to be really seriously interested in me. We only started to
go steady in our junior year. Back in ’37, my buddies had said,
“Hey, let’s go up to the Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota
and fish.” We were the four horsemen, Freddy Meier, Leroy Farmer,
Warren Day and me. They set up this trip and wanted me to come with them
so I said, “Sure, I’ll do it.” I didn’t know they
were going up to Betty’s family’s cabin in Cass Lake, Minnesota.
When I got in the car, and we were on the way to Minnesota, I asked, “Why
are we going to Cass Lake?” They said, “Our girlfriends are
up there and we want to stop and see them before we go fishing.”
When we got there, I found out Betty was there and she didn’t have
a boyfriend with her so she was stuck with me for two days. We swam and
we canoed and we took long walks and got very well acquainted and when
we got ready to leave I said to myself, “That’s the woman
I’m going to marry.” She was my only girlfriend and we were
married 61 years. She died six months ago. Click
here for a picture from that fishing trip.
Was that trip to Minnesota the first time you had met her?
No, we met in junior high school. Back in those days the girls would plan
a party and they’d say to their girlfriends, “Who do you want
me to invite to come with you?” Then they would set the dates up
and the parents would drive us to the party, then pick us up and take
us home. A friend of Betty’s, Gwenny Orr, invited Betty to come
and asked who she wanted to have as her partner and I was picked. So our
first official date was when we were 14 years old. I’m really proud
of Betty. She was on the County Mental Health Board, she co-founded a
local arts center here called 171 Cedar Street, and was the first Treasurer.
She was the Choir Director of our church here in town and had a junior
choir of 40 children that sang every Sunday. She was often told that you
couldn’t do that with children and she said, “Maybe so, but
they’re doing it every week!”
I met your son, Greg, after the game you attended last fall. Here are
two pictures - 1,
Were his sons with him?
The big boy is going to be a freshman at Nebraska this year. His name
is Nicholas. I’m very fortunate: I have four wonderful children
and nine grandchildren – I love them all!
Forrest, thank you for sharing your Husker memories.
below are more links about Forrest Behm and the 1941 Rose Bowl team. If
you would like to send Forrest a comment about this interview or suggest
another link please send it to this
Bowl Program (All 24
pages), 60 year reunion questionaire 1,
4, 60 year
25 year reunion 1,
teammate Fred Meier interview.