Anatomy of an Era: Ahman Green, Part 1
Excerpted from Chapter 98, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
It was so fun going against (our offense and) Tommie. Us, on defense, going against them guys… when we went against them what happened? It made both of us better. Because we felt like if we could stop our offense we could stop anybody; they felt like if they could move the ball on us then they could move the ball on anybody. So that was our toughest opponent in ’95: our offense.
- Mike Minter, NU Rover, 1992-96, Legends Radio Show
Everybody’s got a number. Take patent #1,378,382, for example, filed by Omaha-born Allen C. Scott (1882-1964) on November 7th, 1918. Owner of a tent & awning company and a major supplier for the U.S. military during World Wars I and II, his notion of a packed parachute caught air and saved countless aviator’s lives rather than coming in hot, augering down, and buying the farm.
Another Omahan bearing an infamous number was none other than Ahman Green, his being the revered Husker #30. Snatched from the trophy case and dusted off a dozen years after the 1983 Heisman romp of Mike Rozier, the freshman took on the digit’s lofty expectations and joined a high-flying tits machine straight off a national championship victory. Who could have predicted he’d be pressed into heavy service so soon, with Heisman-hopeful Lawrence Phillips’ domestic dogfight putting him in the doghouse and placing Nebraska Football squarely in the sights of a sneering, seething, petulant nation of sports-lovers and haters alike.
Pushing the envelope in parallel with the Strategic Air Command flyboys at nearby Offutt Air Force Base (named for World War I pilot and Omaha native 1st Lt. Jarvis Offutt), Ahman turned on the afterburners and quickly earned his wings as Nebraska’s top gun in the Cornhusker backfield for the next three seasons. Let’s hear his take on the Big Red 1 of those years and the events in full motion from that great buildup process.
Notable quote #1:
“Family, love, everything. And I say ‘respect.’ Because you ain’t got to love every guy, but as long as you know what a guy’s purpose is on the team, as long as you respect every player and every person on the team, you’ll go far. And that’s what Coach Osborne made us realize: Everyone was important.”
Scholarship recruit, I-Back, Omaha, Nebraska (Central)
Where are they now? De Pere, Wisconsin, Coach/Mentor
Question: Hey Ahman, I appreciate your making some time for me. So starting off, was your freshman year on campus 95?
AG: Yeah, August of ’95.
Q: Do you recall your first days on campus? Anything stand out to you?
AG: I was just excited to be in college, playing college football. I earned a scholarship so it was a lot off my parents, the responsibility of not having to pay for school. That was one of my goals.
And then I was at a top-flight organization. And Nebraska at the time was just coming off of beating Miami in the Orange Bowl the few months before, and now I was part of the program. My thing was, hopefully I could just help out any way to keep the ball rolling.
Q: Now, you arrived a little early and spent most of the summer down there in Lincoln, didn’t you?
AG: Yeah, I went down there pretty much 4 times per week to work out with the team. Once you signed your scholarship and summer hit after your senior year, that used to be the earliest you could do it when you graduated (though now you can do it earlier). But I used to drive down in the evenings to work out and lift weights with the team.
Q: You were obviously very successful in high school first at Omaha North and then at Central, but then you got to spend some time around the guys who just came off that national championship. Did anything stick out about that group?
AG: It was just fun being down there finally, to be a part of it. I had been down to a lot of games as a junior in high school and went down there a few times my senior year for unofficial visits to games. And I took my official visit later that year as well, but just being there, now, I was already a Husker then.
I really didn’t know much of the playbook, but when we were out there running plays 7 on 7 they would kind of just tell me what to run and I’d go run it. I was basically on my own, but it was great to finally be out there and be part of the Nebraska program.
Q: Did the intensity stand out at all?
AG: Yeah, but for me it wasn’t much different from what it was in high school. I graduated from Omaha Central and we trained with pretty high standards. We were proud of the way we played football on the field and proud of the way we conditioned in the offseason, so it kind of got me ready for being in Lincoln and working out with the guys. So I didn’t feel out of sorts or, ‘Dang, I’m out of shape,’ because I was used to it my high school years, my senior year being a captain of the team and leading workouts and stuff like that.
So now going down there, it was just exciting to be with them guys that I heard a whole bunch about and saw on TV. And my senior year when I took my visit down there, I could call Tommie Frazier and Lawrence Phillips and Clinton Childs and Jason & Christian and Jeff Ogard -all those guys- I could call them my teammates.
Q: When did you officially decide to commit? Was it after the national championship game or before?
AG: It was after, actually. I was one of the last guys to commit that year.
It was a week or so after they had beaten Miami. The story with that is: I was on the fence between Nebraska and Arizona at the time. If you remember, the Arizona Wildcats were in the top 10 and the defense was ranked right behind Nebraska at that time, the “Desert Swarm,” and I played linebacker in high school and I played running back. I was looking to go as a running back, but really, for me, I was a ‘football player.’ I told Coach Osborne and Coach Dick Tomey, who was the head coach at Arizona, ‘I’ll play anywhere I feel comfortable.’ And both coaches were open to that.
Fast forward to the national championship game: Miami and Nebraska. I’m watching the game over at a friend’s house, and then halftime of the game my mom calls me and says, “Your dad is okay, but he had a minor heart attack. Meet me at the hospital.” When I got there my mom and my brothers and sister were all basically sitting in the waiting room and my dad is okay, recovering. So we watch the rest of the game in the hospital lobby, basically -and that was kind of a deciding factor, a big point in my decision, making it obvious to me in my decision, to stay home– ‘You never know what’s going to happen. And if something does happen, you know, I’m right down the road in Lincoln, which is only about 50 miles away.’
Q: Wow. You’re not in your living room, but a hospital waiting room amid your dad’s heart scare and the Huskers finally getting over the bowl hump for the first national championship in your lifetime…
AG: Yeah, it was just a small, hospital lobby TV. An old tube TV back in ’95.
Q: Notre Dame was after you very heavily, too, weren’t they?
AG: Yeah, I took my visit there and got totally turned off on my visit.
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AG: That’s another funny story.
Q: After you’d committed, I swear that I recall hearing of Lou Holtz actually crying when you decided to go to school at Nebraska. (laughs)
AG: Well, I’ll tell you the story behind my Notre Dame visit: Nebraska was my last visit. Arizona was first, then Notre Dame, then Michigan. I was supposed to go to Penn State, but for some reason they wanted me to make a verbal commitment to the school to go there. (And by the time it came for my visit to come about, I knew what the visits were all about: you got there to the school and you kind of test drive it to see if you like it or not, and come home and think about it and make a decision. So I was like, ‘I can’t tell the recruiter, “I’m gonna come there” when I hadn’t even seen the product.’ How I’m gonna fit into their offense, if I was going to fit into the team or whatever? So I basically didn’t take a visit to Penn State for that reason.)
So I took my Notre Dame visit, and I was excited just like any of the colleges to go to, because it was one of the big schools I grew up watching. I grew up in Los Angeles, so I grew up watching a lot of the USC-Notre Dame games on TV and I thought I’d be excited about that. But I get there and get off the plane and it’s about the same weather in South Bend as Nebraska had at the time: a little snow on the ground and cold, so nothing I’m not accustomed to.
Then I get fluffed around among the football players as hosts. I started off with a running back and I ended up with a defensive or offensive lineman and had a good time, but by the second day you just got basically sick of the whole “Knute Rockne/Touchdown Jesus/the whole Notre Dame mystique,” I guess, because they talked about it every five seconds. It wasn’t like they kind of laid it on you nice and slow, they laid it on thick! And I think they did that because they were recruiting me.
I already knew -I’m a football nut- so they didn’t have to sit there and tell me about Touchdown Jesus and Knute Rockne and Lou Holtz and the tradition. I knew about the tradition, I didn’t need Notre Dame for Dummies. (laughs) I didn’t need that because I was a sports fanatic and still am today. But in my head I flashed forward and thought, ‘Oh God, I’m gonna be hearing about this for the next four years?! If I can’t do this for three days, I’m not gonna do it for four years!’
And then, the day before I left I heard a real good rumor going around. All the guys that had been there with me: Tim Ritter, Jimmy Friday -pretty much all of the ’95 USA Today recruiting class was there, it was the biggest recruiting class they’d had there- all of a sudden there was this rumor going around that Lou Holtz was going to retire in a year. (And he did in 1996. He retired from Notre Dame.) When I heard that, I was, ‘I’m coming here for him. I’d come here for Lou Holtz just like I’d go to Nebraska for Coach Osborne or I’d go to Arizona for Dick Tomey. I’m going there for the head coach because I like what he does, and if he’s not going to be here then that’s a big part of my deciding factor.’
Q: Sure, why get caught up in all that turmoil your sophomore year?
AG: Right, I hear that. We all heard it on my visit there. Some guys actually verbally committed the next day and I was like, ‘Look, man, I’ve got two more visits to take, and right now it ain’t going to be Notre Dame.’
Q: (laughs) Now, through this book’s interview process I’m trying to reveal the culture there a Nebraska at that time. In the process of all your visits, could you expound on any differences in cultures at the various schools? Was there anything unique about the vibe at Nebraska?
AG: Well, coming out of high school at that time when there was no cell phones or text messaging, no Facebook, no Twitter. There I was, just ESPN and a few of their high school shows every now and then a blip on a cable channel now and then. There wasn’t much media coverage on high school sports, just more on college and pro sports. (And one big thing that has changed a little since then: for Husker fans on Husker Saturday the streets of Omaha and Lincoln are quiet, because everybody’s at the big game in the stadium or else they’re at home watching the game.)
So, winding our conversation back to that night my dad had his heart attack: that night of the game when I drove to the hospital, I was -with traffic- a good ten minutes away, but there was no traffic on the streets to be seen, because everybody’s at home watching the national title game. So it took me less than five minutes to get to the hospital! (laughs) That’s something that I think that’s changed over time, because we haven’t won a championship since 1997. It was a staple where Saturdays and early January we were playing for national title games. There are still some true-to-heart Husker fans, but there are also some who fell off, now.
The culture back then was, “Come Saturday and you’re not watching a Husker game -if you’re from Nebraska and not watching the game?- people would think you were crazy.”
Q: (laughs) Exactly! Now, you talked of recruiting and focusing on the head guy… I suppose it was all about the leadership.
Q: So when it came to Coach Osborne, what was it about his leadership that impressed you?
AG: For me, just his being a straight shooter, “Don’t try to sugarcoat things for kids just to get them to come to your school.” I’m a strength coach for some kids right now up in Green Bay at a place called House of Speed, and what I learned as a player through the years was, the coaches I responded to quicker were the coaches who didn’t sugarcoat things.
And that’s what Coach Osborne did, he didn’t sugarcoat anything. He shot you straight forward on the good and the bad of doing something and not doing something. And when we’d do something we’d find out the hard way. He told you how it was, how it was going to be, then you saw how it is. You’d be in a game and you were, ‘This is exactly what Coach Osborne said. This is exactly what he was talking about. This is how this game is going because we prepared for this game. We’re ready, and it’s going the way we need it to go.’ He prepared us for almost anything.
When he was recruiting me he was straightforward. He said to my Mom and Dad, “If Ahman can focus on the playbook fast he can get in there and be playing. I’m not guaranteeing him a starting job as running back his freshman year, but I could see him playing a lot. He could be a great factor on this team.” That was something I needed to hear and I’m glad I heard it. He basically told me that if I didn’t start I’d still play. But I’ve got to work, I’ve got to hit the playbook and practice hard.
And I did all that. And sure enough, if you remember, my freshman year I played a lot. A lot of people don’t realize I was playing since game one my freshman year. I started after week six when we played Missouri, but I’d been playing since week one.
To be continued….
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Photo Credits : Unknown Original Sources/Updates Welcomed
Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.