Anatomy of an Era: Brian Nunns
Excerpted from Chapter 78, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 1 by Paul Koch
*A slight chronological departure from release of my book’s excerpts, this interview is posted today in memory of Brian Nunns and his recent passing. I loved this guy: for his wit, his spunk, his verve, his pluck…and his total and undeniably heartful embrace of the meat-head culture that comes along with being a good teammate and friend. He will surely be missed. GBR
…With a little help from ol’ Double Nickel (Jason Peter), I found Brian Nunns. Far from a bland and evasive personality, Brian was a Lincoln local who facilitated the Peter brothers’ transition to Nebraska and acted as a steadying, if not separatist, force among the two warring siblings at times. He was also a fall guy for much ribbing and pranksterism, too, even to his enjoyment.
Cultures and personalities and attitudes intermingling, ‘Nunnsy’ had an influence on the New Jersyites and, dare I say, they reciprocated in kind with their own unique effect on him, too. A walk-on lineman with the Husker spirit, his story echoes that of so many others not found in these pages. Here’s how our conversation went…
Notable quote #1:
“Every one of us were leaders, but you had to allow someone to be a motivator. I really, honestly, don’t think any of the guys were followers. There were quiet guys on the team and then there were really nasty, asshole football players, too. Everybody had their role and everybody came together, and that’s why we played so well.”
Walk-on, Offensive Tackle, Lincoln, Nebraska (Lincoln High)
Where are they now? Omaha, Nebraska, Gym Manager
Question: Nunnsy! How are you doing, man?
Brian Nunns: Hi, buddy.
Q: Burning the midnight oil, huh?
BN: Yeah, we started about 8 this morning and are just getting out of here.
Q: So what are you doing nowadays?
BN: I used to own some health clubs in Lincoln, but they just burned me the f*** out, Paul.
Q: I can only imagine.
BN: It was not high-end traffic, where you were always stressed out about keeping people joining. I was always training people, training athletes. I had a fieldhouse in one of my clubs, batting cages, boxing rings. I just gave up on it, literally. It was too much stress. Always stressed out, always working. And now I’m with the number one fitness company in the world right now: Lifetime Fitness, and just running the clubs here in New Jersey. I actually moved out here, spent a couple years of not working and hanging out with Christian and Damian (Peter), just relaxing a lot on the shore. Then I figured it was time to start working again, and that’s what I do. I run a health club.
Q: So you’re probably staying pretty fit yourself then, huh?
BN: Absolutely, buddy. Still the big jarheads we’ve always been. I’ll be honest with you, me and Christian, we still do the same routines. We still do our normal routine every day, you know. Every day. And we still go to the gym every day and still lift like we’re still doing it.
Q: A good way to keep yourself young, huh?
Q: People just look at you two and say, “You guys are nuts!”?
BN: Yeah, they do. They look at us like we’re a bunch of freaks.
Q: You’re not freaks, you’re just extra-special. (laughs)
BN: That’s it. We’re “extra-special.”(laughs)
Q: Well, I’m glad I finally got you on the line and that you’re making time for me. So you’re in Jersey?
BN: Dude, I love it out here. It’s beautiful. It has a really bad rep, but I’m telling you, it’s a really beautiful state.
Q: A lot of dark-haired, big brown-eyed, beautiful…
BN: Beautiful Italian women!
Q: (laughs) So, you’re from Lincoln originally, right?
BN: Absolutely. Lincoln, Nebraska. Lincoln High.
Q: I used to live a block away from Lincoln High when I was still going to school.
BN: That’s a melting pot of a school right there. Seriously. I’ve never seen a school where guys will have cowboy hats and cowboy boots, then you turn the corner and you’ve got the Bloods, right around the corner. (laughs) If you’d write a book about a school, that would be the one.
Q: Fast Times at Lincoln High?
BN: I’m telling you, you’ve got the gearheads that specialize in building their rust-buckets up and repainting them and putting a big motor in them and wearing the Iron Maiden t-shirts to the whole program for mentally retarded people there. So, literally, you had a couple hundred of them with a special part of the school where they did their own thing and had their own school schedules. You had everything there, it was crazy.
’95 Seniors (Neb. Sports Info)
Q: You remember that little bridge across the street by that parking lot with the little creek that ran by there?
Q: Me and four other guys from Utica, Howells, Loup City and West Point lived three houses down from the corner and we had this huge, mirrored picture window that overlooked that area. We used to have a heck of a time laughing at goofy high school kids, watching them do the dumbest things, and they couldn’t see us because the house’s window was mirrored. One time this chunky Lincoln High cheerleader got out of her car and full-on mooned us as she was getting her skirt and underbritches all straightened out before walking over to school! Man, if we would have had YouTube back then… It would have been a hit! (laughs) I didn’t have the heart to go outside on the front lawn and tell her what we’d just witnessed.
BN: (laughs) Remember that Coca-Cola building right across the street from there?
BN: Well, I bought that and and made it into a health club. It was huge.
Q: What year would that have been?
BN: It was ’99. That was my first year.
Q: There was a Goodrich Dairy right around the block from that, wasn’t there?
BN: Absolutely. Obviously, I never ate there. (laughs)
Q: I would have had 3.5 percent bodyfat had it not been for that Goodrich Dairy right across the street there, man. (laughs) I could have given Bryan Bailey a run for his money had it not been for those irresistible chocolate malteds.
BN: Where is that little freak nowadays?
Q: He’s still at USC. Pretty much getting burnt-out as usual. It happens to a lot of us strength coaches, right?
Q: So growing up in Lincoln, how did you end up walking-on?
BN: To be honest with you, my best sport was baseball. I was a pitcher and had a ton of opportunities. When you’re in school and you’re noted for being a Christian athlete, you’re involved with FCA and these different youth organizations. I was offered a baseball scholarship and almost chose baseball over football, but it was literally Coach Tenopir who stuck by his guns and said, “Listen, you’re a growing kid, and I can really see you have a big heart and a lot of opportunity.” Our coaches won it over with our parents, which made me want to stay there because of them. How can you go wrong with Coach Osborne and Coach Tenopir and Coach Young? With Coach Young going, “How do you like baseball, Brian?” in that unique voice of his. I actually had a lot of awards for being a pitcher and I really enoyed baseball a lot, and growing up in a town where you hear nothing but football, that’s what I decided to do. Originally I was going to try doing both sports for Nebraska, and Coach Tenopir wouldn’t let me. You can be 340 pounds one season and then the next be 260. It doesn’t work.
Q: He might have spared you the tragedy of working with Coach Sanders, anyway. (laughs)
BN: I couldn’t stand his son, Craig. I used to play him in high school and I used to rip on him. I used to make fun of him and his red hair. I called him Ronald McDonald or something. I used to rip on him and be a bully in high school.
Q: He went to Southeast, right?
BN: Yeah, I used to always get -when I was pitching they used to yell at me, “Look at the old man. He’s a juiceball on the mound!” I was like, I wanted to freak out and go over and head-butt these dorks -maybe that’s why I went with football because I was so pissed off all the time, they made fun of how big I was. (laughs)
Q: From what school did you almost accept a baseball scholarship?
BN: You know, I went everywhere. But literally the idea was, when I was going to college there were these different professional camps, and I went to Hastings for a pitching camp for Pittsburgh. So, literally, I fell in love with that area and thought I’d be able to make it for the Pirates. They had their little recruiting guy who’d always give us the baseball gloves and Easton Black Magic baseball bats, they’d give us all these gifts and try to butter us up, and he connected me to the college out there. And it literally took my mind away. I thought about baseball so much and it was what I loved, but it really came down to visiting other colleges for football, and I ended up looking at Colorado in Boulder, went to Kansas and Kansas State and other schools for football, but ultimately my parents were the main reason I stayed home. Coach Osborne was great. And to be honest with you I’m such a Momma’s boy, I didn’t want to leave her. (laughs)
Q: It takes a big man to admit he’s a momma’s boy, Brian.
BN: There’s nothing wrong with it.
Q: You know I left to work with the San Diego Chicken after I’d left Nebraska, right?
BN: Yeah, I remember that.
Q: Heck, I could have run into you in Nashville, which turned into the Triple A franchise for the Pirates after a while. Those guys were funny, a real bunch of nutbags.
BN: I loved baseball, but it’s just where you grow up in a town where you’re part of a Husker generation… it’s a way of life there. You lived and breathed football, and when football’s playing the whole state is for you. You grow up wanting to be a part of that, especially when the coaches are calling.
Q: So it’s the fall of ’91, your first year: what were your initial impressions?
BN: The very first day I checked in I walked into an elevator, right? And believe it or not that was the first day I met Christian. I walked into the elevator and he’s standing in the elevator. And we showed up two weeks before anyone else, right? And it’s like 110 degrees and here Christian is. He shows up weighing about 370 with a goatee down to his ass. (laughs) He looked like some big dirtbag. Remember how big that retard was? I showed up at like 260 pounds, a clean-cut kid, clean shaven and everything, and I think I had a tanktop on and the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, “Look at this big f****ing juiceball.” Here it was, the first day on campus and me and Christian were going at it. Some things never change.
Q: Some things never change. (laughs) So from that day forward it was the start of a beautiful friendship, eh?
BN: Yeah, everyone is always asking us, “How the Hell did you and Christian live together? You guys beat the piss out of each other every day. You guys are always running extra because you’re fighting?” It’s part of football! We’re not playing tennis, you know what I mean? That’s what made us good; 90% of our practices were harder than most of our games.
Q: I’ve heard that said over and over…
BN: Honestly, the way you guys trained us -and literally the goals that we had in mind- no one trained harder than we did. I mean, half of our team was back in a health club somewhere at 9 or 10 at night working out again because we were just that passionate about doing well.
Q: Exactly. 7 o’clock and we’d turn the lights off in the weightroom and yell, “Get out!” You guys and Brenden Stai would be cussing us out…
BN: That’s right. Do you remember Bryan Bailey would drive around looking for us at like Gold’s Gym and stuff, trying to get us in trouble? “Get out of the weightroom! Get out of there, you guys can’t be doing extra shit. You guys aren’t bodybuilding.” (laughs)
Q: “You’re overtraining!”
BN: ‘We know we’re overtraining, but we want to have big biceps for the TV!’ (laughs)
Q: The Pipeline, uh?
BN: Yup, we had to show it was time for the Pipeline, buddy.
Q: So for us strength coaches it was either trying to keep you guys from lifting too much or else it was keeping the defensive backs and those smaller guys from playing basketball so much…
BN: No shit. I don’t know how many times they would show up with a broken ankle or a sprained ankle, “We have a game next week, but we’re going to go play basketball.” Super-intelligent, man. (laughs) Do you think if we would have spent that much time studying we would have been doctors? We were jarheads. We were the meatheads, boy.
Q: And speaking of, the other day I thought of it -and this was before it was popular like it is now- but you got a tattoo of the Husker helmet, didn’t you?
BN: No, I didn’t. Everyone got the Husker helmet, but I didn’t want to be that guy. There were like 14 or 15 of us that went down there and we all got tattoos. Christian got the Peterbilt thing, Kevin Raemakers, Conneally, McBride, everyone else got the football helmet. Remember Terris Chorney? He was from like Saskatchewan, Canada. So all those guys went down there and got the football helmet with their football number, but when I was coming to college I remember having these newspaper articles of me deciding to walk-on to Nebraska and playing for Coach Osborne. They called me the Bald Bull, because we shaved our heads. Remember how we started that tradition? So the idea of it is, I stayed with it and I got a tattoo of this a football that says ‘Huskers’ on it with a minotaur bull popping it with his hands. I don’t know why I did it, a college mistake. It was stupid. And I’ll be one hundred percent honest with you, when we walked into this tattoo place we were still carrying a Jack Daniels bottle. And this guy giving us the tattoo started drinking it with us! Was that sanitary or what? (laughs) It was like Ralph’s Hungry Eye Tattoo or something like that.
Q: Was that just off of O Street?
BN: Yeah it was like 9th and O. Big Harley dudes everywhere.
Q: Across the street from Sidetracks, right?
BN: Yeah, those guys loved us.
Q: Man, that brings back a lot of memories. I forgot about that place.
BN: Yeah, Jared Tomich went, everyone went. I don’t remember, but I think it was just ‘cause we were drinking so much and they couldn’t finish the tattoos, so they made us leave. They made us come back again, and we’re like, “It f***in’ hurts!” And they’re, “You guys are just pussies.” (laughs)
Q: You guys were real trailblazers at the time. About a dozen years ahead of your time. (laughs) So, do you recall any first impressions of going onto the field as a Husker?
BN: You know, the biggest thing -as a lineman- I can say the thing I really remember the most is the Schulte Fieldhouse. Remember the linemen would always go down to the pit and do our one-on-ones? As linemen it’s one of those traditions. Don’t you remember how we used to beat the piss out of each other for an hour and a half before we’d come up and join the team? It would be literally offense against defensive line. We would have all-out fights. It would be live one-on-ones and I know they weren’t supposed to be doing it and Coach Osborne would get super-mad, but do you realize how much we did that down there? And I think our sack record was literally, we gave up one sack in like four or five years. Why do you think we were so good? Don’t you remember when McBride used to carry that paddle? It was like a fraternity paddle with two nails at the end of it.
Q: The Motivator!
BN: It was a motivator. He used to smack our ass with it and smack all the defensive linemen when they screwed up. And it had two nails in it and there’d be two nail marks when he hit you in the butt. And when we were freshman and Kenny Walker was still around -and you know he was deaf- but he would say something to coach and it was hilarious. Even though he was deaf he would still cuss out his ass, “F*** you, Coach McBride.” Coach McBride would be, “I can hear you! I know what you‘re saying!“ And he would smack us with that paddle. If only the NCAA knew what we were doing. It was great. It made us the guys we were.
Q: A bunch o’ tough SOB’s?
Q: Hand-to-hand combat every day, huh?
BN: That’s one thing as a lineman you don’t forget. Think about it: half of our practice was spent down there every day. The first hour and a half of practice was down there running plays, running plays, running plays, going live with those guys.
Even during our offseason we would go down there and do drills, jump ropes. Remember how we’d do our conditioning, and we’d do the ‘bull in the ring’ with like, ten guys? We’d be in street clothes and we’d go down there and do one-on-ones and we’d do like sumo wrestling against the defensive linemen. We’d be ripping each other’s clothes off. I remember one time they threw me and Larry Townsend in there against each other, and literally all the defensive linemen came in and they stripped me butt-naked. And I ended up fighting Larry Townsend buck-naked in there. (laughing) It was hilarious. That guy was a freak of nature. Even when he was a freshman, he’d put 315 on the bench press and throw it up like 25 times. We were like, “Who’s this old guy?” And they’d go, “He’s 18.” And we were, ”Holy cow, he’s huge!”
Q: Tell me about Coach Tenopir?
BN: Kenny Rogers. If you’d see him right now he’s identical to Kenny Rogers. (laughs) He was awesome. It was just repetition with us. You had meetings and it was the same thing.
Coach Tenopir, the first thing you’d walk into a meeting room and he’d look around and go, “Who’s got a can of chew?” You know? They’d all have a dip in their mouth and turn on the videos. Coach Young would be passed out with his comb-over and he’d look like a shark, you know, because his comb-over would be sticking straight up because his head was tipping over. Do you remember when we’d always do the coaching clinics and all the coaches from New Mexico and the Division One colleges would be calling our coaches asking, “How do you guys do this offense and how would you handle this?” And all I remember is Coach Young snoring. (laughs) Everyone just about pissed their pants. Coach Young was awesome. Honestly, when you look at someone and you want to know what they’re really like, I’m telling you, Paul, those guys together, there was no way and no how, no reason we weren’t such a good team. Coach Young was so smart, and you’d never get it when you looked at him, but the offense he designed was amazing. It was stuff no team could ever accomplish. I tell you, our run offense was from Coach Tenopir and our pass offense was from Coach Young. Our pass offense was amazing, and Lou Holtz and guys like that would look at it and say, “There’s no way we could beat you, because these rules you guys have created.“ There’s always these stories of these guys going to conferences together and they’d sit down at the bar and draw things out on bar napkins, and literally, the mindset behind the guys was that they were geniuses. And you really wouldn’t know that if you talked to them face to face. They were so intelligent and you’d respect them for what they were teaching you. We weren’t really like rocket scientists, except for Rob Zatechka, maybe. Think about it, we weren’t super-intelligent human beings. (laughs)
Q: And what, from your point of view, made the pass offense so spectacular? What nuances? What basic rules?
BN: Honestly, the thing that made us really connect was that any time you’re spending that much quality time, the blood, sweat and tears and everything -think about what we accomplished- we were supposed to be the worst football team in the history of the sport. They said the class of ’91, we were supposed to be the worst football team in the history of Nebraska football.
Q: Who said that?
BN: All the sportswriters. We had more Prop 48’s, more thugs and more convicts in our class that year. Coach Osborne was getting so much crap because we had so many screwups on the team, and then we ended up being some of the best teams that has ever played in college football history. How can you beat that? We had more Academic All–Americans and more athlete studs that came through that college, even though there were like 18 of us that finished college. Literally, 18 or 21 of us finished of all that came in that year and we all kept together and we wrote the book together. It’s something you can never forget, man. We came through the battle and we came back alive, you know?
Q: You ran the gauntlet and you came out sparkling. That’s part of the reason I’m talking to you, Brian. Everyone from the class of ’94 and ’95 achieved the pinnacle of the sport and took part in a sea change, in a culture, an atmosphere that no one was expecting, like you said.
BN: Well, they literally told us that we were supposed to be one of the worst classes in history. And we end up being the best class in the history of the sport.
Brian Nunns & Dave Ellis (Unknown/Uncredited)
Q: Abdul Muhammed showed up on campus with a bullet in his butt already, right?
BN: Yeah, I think he was a Blood. We had this running back from Washington. And don’t you remember we’d go down to Miami for the bowl game, they’d have caricatures of us in black and white in prison stripes and stuff.
Q: Those Miami guys were the convicts! (laughs)
BN: Oh, my god. It was me, Christian, Terry Connealy and like Pesterfield, we were speaking at a community center in Miami and suddenly literally everyone is like, “Down on the ground!” There was this gas station behind this community center where we were speaking to all these little kids about “staying in school and keep your grades high, and you can’t get sucked in. Stay off the streets and be an athlete.” The Sheriff’s Department asked us to come over to this place in Miami, and literally, the gas station, like fifty feet way, was getting held up.”Everyone down on the ground!” We were like, “Get us the hell out of here! Where the hell did you take us?!” A bunch of farm boys from Nebraska, you know? “Where are we? This is ridiculous!”
Q: And do you have a favorite game, Brian?
BN: You know, to be honest with you, there was one that really stood out in my mind and I always laugh about it and remember it, and it was the Michigan State game when we played Tony Banks, the quarterback. I remember Christian giving this speech and everyone was so pumped up. Christian took this huge ornament and bashed it on his head.
But that game was so special because it was so intense. And every game was so intense because every team was out to beat us. (And I remember when we played Oklahoma State, somehow they’d gotten some of our team’s posters, and when we arrived in Stillwater in the locker room they were laying in a pile in the middle of the floor and someone had urinated on them and stuff. We got so pissed off we were throwing their lockers around.) Look at Michigan State, though: it was Coach Devaney’s last game that he ever traveled. And it was a big deal to us because all of us guys who grew up hearing about the legend of Coach Devaney. So in honor of Coach Devaney we said, “We want you to stay in here for our pregame speech and hold hands while we say our pregame prayer.” So we wanted him to be part of that. So Christian gives his speech and just freaks the f*** out, Paul. He finds this huge Spartan thing and crushed it on his head. There’s blood everywhere, literally. We were freaking out so bad, we literally ripped the lockers out of their walls. Coach Devaney must have been like, “I am in a zoo with a bunch of apes right now!” So we get out there and we run onto the field with Deveney leading us, and they stop Christian. And I think we were like fighting amongst each other, because we were so fired up, punching each other. Coach Devaney was crying and it made all of us real emotional. Christian had to go back in the lockerroom because he had so much blood on him from his head. They made him clean himself up before he could come out, you know? That was such a special thing to have Bob Devaney be a part of that. And we just whipped their butts. Don’t you remember, like 76 to 13?
Q: Lawrence had a heck of a game that day, didn’t he?
BN: Every running back did! (Jay) Sims had three touchdowns, you know what I mean? You could have had someone like Matt Hoskinson -I think he was like a fullback in high school- he could have run for touchdowns. We were crushing these people so much. We were pumped and so into it, it was awesome.
Q: I think you guys annihilated Tony Banks, didn’t you?
BN: Oh my god, Donte Jones hit him so hard, his facemask was bent around the side of his helmet. It was awesome. Don’t you remember when we played Colorado, too? I mean, that whole year was amazing. They had that Van Vader -remember the WWF wrestler who used to play football at Colorado?- he was a noseguard for them at one time. He parked his limo in front of our bus’s driveway. They were trying to keep us from getting into the stadium so we coulddn’t have a pregame practice. T.O. was furious, you know? So we walked onto the field and, literally, were kind of short on our time and didn’t have a lot of warmup. And remember before the game, Colorado came out to the game through the stands, trying to psych us out? Don’t you remember we ended up killing those guys? We were so pissed off. Coach Osborne and Coach Tenopir were so pissed off, that literally was like “option to the left, option to the right.” Lawrence Phillips, literally, first play of the game went like 70 yards option to the left, touchdown. We crushed those guys. We were like, “Don’t ever piss us off!” That game started off with such hot momentum, it was awesome!
The O-Line Crew ’94 (Neb. Sports Info)
Q: Do you remember the first game you saw some action?
BN: To be honest with you, no idea. No idea.
Q: Any one particular play stand out at all?
BN: Think about this: as an offensive lineman, the only time I’d remember a play is if I’d scored a touchdown. You know we’d never get no credit for anything. We could run someone over 900 times and get 40 pancake awards. Remember how we used to do those? Everytime we’d flat-back someone -pick them up and slam them on their heads- Coach Tenopir would give us a pancake award.
Q: And what was a pancake award?
BN: Literally, you hit someone face-up and you man-handle them and you throw them on their back… and you don’t finish the play until the whistle blows. Literally. Every game, that was our competition: whoever had the most pancake awards wouldn’t have to do conditioning after practice as a reward.
Q: No gassers?
BN: No gassers. It was a big deal to be on top. You’d be like, ‘Hey, I got 48 pancakes this last game.’ The idea was, you know, it was a pride thing: “We’re offensive linemen, what kind of credit do we get? We don’t want any credit. We just want to win the game, go home, and make sure the quarterback’s safe.“ That’s all we ever cared about. If we ever touched the ball we probably would’ve gotten a boner and probably fumbled it, anyway. (laughs)
Q: And speaking of quartebacks, who stands out the most from that time?
BN: To be honest with you, I really didn’t like a lot of our quarterbacks just because I used to love Turner Gill. I just thought he was such a classy human being when he was working with our football program and the way he coached the guys. And even though he didn’t play with us he was such a well-rounded human being there, from the religious standpoint to the way he carried himself to his education and everything. He reminded me a lot of Brook Berringer.
Berringer had that same style -and God bless Brook- I still can’t believe that accident when he was killed right after our college season. That was definitely a tragedy. Brook was such a nice gentlemen and a good country kid. He really was. But to be honest with you, I liked Tommie and I thought he was a good dude and I thought he did a wonderful job, and the only thing I really didn’t like was Tommie’s arrogance toward children. He just didn’t like it. After a game instead of just being cool -and he’s a popular guy, being a quarterback- but go out there and take pictures with the little kids and don’t be rude to the little kids. That makes their whole life, you know? They may never play a sport. I didn’t always understand why Tommie acted that way.
To be honest with you, we had so many good quarterbacks, and had so many people try to be quarterback. We had so many quarterbacks hurt. We had Turman. Matt. The little Turmanator. He was like 5’ 4” and couldn’t even hardly see over us, but he did a hell of a job when we needed him, didn’t he? He was 100% a gamer. He could barely throw the ball fifty yards, but he stepped up his game and helped us win. He was awesome.
Q: Any favorite practice moments stand out to you?
BN: Really, probably, my ultimate favorite time of practice was live one-on-one goal line situations, every week. It was the end of practice, offense against defense on the goal line, live, whoever could hit the hardest. And everyone was fighting each other. And whoever scored. That’s the way it was. I’m telling you right here, that’s the reason -when we were down in the trenches, down inside the twenty yard line- that’s the reason we could kick everyone’s ass and run over them and score. That drill was so intense. We’d run live! Twenty-five plays, live! And you would hear harder hits than you’d ever heard: linemen cracking head-on into linebackers on the goal line, hitting harder than you’d ever seen in a game, Coach McBride coming up and yelling.
Do you remember Kansas came up to play Nebraska, that night game on ESPN? There’s one play that sticks out in my mind and does to this day: remember Toby Wright?- right before halftime they had this draw play of some sort and Toby Wright hit this fullback so hard he knocked him out. And then he sat down on this guy’s back and pointed to the camera, and gave the two-gun salute to the camera, “Gotcha!” The guy was out cold. I remember that like it was yesterday. It was such a huge hit. All of us guys, whenever we’re talking we always laugh about certain moments like that.
And to be honest with you, you really don’t remember a lot of moments about you, personally, when you’re talking about something like that. Of course you remember the big games, the national championship games and all the hoopla and all the stars, but the games that really weren’t that important, where you could relax and really play your heart out in the football game, those games you really remember the most because they were truly hearltfelt games. It wasn’t about winning, it wasn’t about losing; it was just the sport of just being men out there trying to win. Do you know what I mean? I remember more games like that where it was a grind and we were barely winning, and it was like you had your ass on the line. I remember those games much more that the national championiship games. Remember those Kansas games? We’d go down there, it was like negative fifty below. You guys were wiping Vaseline all over us, we’re too strong and too tough-kinda guys that we don’t even put on thermal underwear, no socks or nothing. You guys are like wiping Vaseline on us to stay warm so we don’t die. (laughs) “We don’t need no f******* coats, Paul! Just throw us out on the field so we can kick these guy’s asses!” I remember those games. (laughs)
Q: Any memorable off-field occurrences?
BN: God, those are things you can’t put in a book. (laughs) You know, the one thing that always brought a smile to me -remember how we had that whole thing about respect at the training table?- it was George Sullivan walking into the training table and smacking people in the backs of the head. (laughs) We used to call him ‘dick-fingers’ because his hands were so huge and his fingers looked like little polish sausages. (laughs) Those fat hands. And he’d be like, “Don’t you guys be making fun of me,” and smacking you in the back of the head. He was such an awesome dude.
Q: I used to love siting there in the training table, watching and waiting for him to come into the room, and then count how many people had caps on their heads while at the dinner table. It was a target-rich environment. You’ve never seen so many people grabbing the caps from their heads and throwing them to the floor as soon as George was spotted. It was hilarious!
BN: He’d smack you like you were some ugly little red-headed kid. He would smack the crap out of you. He’d be like, “Don’t you ever disrespect us in our house.” Remember, we always used to make fun of Keith Zimmer? We said he always looked like Beavis of Beavis & Butthead? We used to laugh about that stuff.
Q: You were an offensive guard, right?
BN: I was both guard and tackle.
Q: So you were an offensive lineman but here you are rooming with Christian, a D-Lineman. How did that come about?
BN: To be honest with you, it’s a weird relationship. Like I said, we used to beat the piss out of each other at practice and then we’d go home. It’s still one of those friendships, still to this day. It’s the reason I moved out here to Jersey and I still hang out with him. He has two girls, and he just had a boy. He needs the testosterone in that house, it’s nothing but pink Barbies. He has changed so much. You’d be like, “What happened to you? You’re a coward now.” (laughs) It’s hilarious.
Q: Christian’s been ‘domesticated’?
BN: He’s grown up more than anybody, I’ll bet. But he’s still a retard. About as smart as a tic-tac, you know? (laughs) You can quote me on that! I love the guy to death. He’s my best friend in the whole world.
Q: Coach Osborne: anything in particular stand out about him and his ways?
BN: Do you have four hours? That guy? Honestly, can you ever tell me a coach that treated his players like his kids? That guy would take us into his house no matter what. And his wife, Nancy, they’re such beautiful people. Good, religious people. I have never met a coach with more extensive knowledge. You could run one play and he could tell you exactly, every position, every call you’d have to make. He had more knowledge than 90% of any coaches ever had.
Q: It occurred to me that most coaches these days have their laminated play sheets with them on the sideline…
BN: And it was all in his head, Paul! He’s one of the most intelligent men in the world, I’m telling you. Think about it: there’s twenty-two guys on the field, there’s probably a variance of fifteen to thirty different audibles and calls you’d make every time there was a play, and he could go out there and correct every single position. That guy was so intelligent. He would spend half of his day every day watching film and correcting things, and that’s the reason why he’s The Doctor. He’s Doctor Tom Osborne, the most intelligent man who ever walked the field.
Q: I have feeling Coach could have been successful in anything he’d ever tried…
BN: He played quarterback in college, played in the NFL as a receiver, came in and expanded his knowledge with Coach Devaney. You put those two together? I doubt you’d ever get two better coaches together. There’s a big history there, isn’t it?
Q: Any other coaches? Special relationships?
BN: (Charlie) McBride is the best! Remember when we used to have the O-line and D-line parties every summer? Coach McBride would take his teeth out and start whistling. And our practices, we’d do the gurthings. Everyone would hock a loogie on a guy’s stomach and rub it in the guy’s face when it was his birthday. Everybody’d be throwing up and puking, “You’re disgusting!” Those defensive linemen are a different breed. Charlie bit Ramaekers one time so hard there was blood. It was awesome.
Q: And joining the team as a walk-on, does that equate to something special in your mind?
BN: It was different then. It wasn’t that you could just to that. It was the same thing as being a full-scholarship player. The idea was, if you came to that college you either stepped up or you weren’t playing there. Think about it: 100 people came into that school and 18 or 20 of us made it through that. Everyone had their role. When Coach Osborne wrote his book about us, every player had their role, their position. My role as an offensive lineman was to keep being motivated and be in the weightroom. And I guarantee you, if me and Christian didn’t work out every night I wouldn’t have been who I was. We all made each other step up our game, and there were different things we all did to help each other. The idea was that it wasn’t like a normal person could walk off the street and make it on the team. It was such a highly recruited school where they had to have all these videotapes of you and everything to just be accepted as a walk-on.
Q: So, from your time there, what have you taken or gained most from that experience?
BN: To be honest with you, it’s dedication. Dedication. I’ve never put my heart into something so hard until I learned what it took to be successful. Think about what we did: we didn’t miss a practice or a day of school. You remember how hard Coach Osborne made it on us? They had academic advisors checking into us for school, they had mandatory study halls. We couldn’t mess up anywhere. Remember they had the point system if you were late for class or meetings? You didn’t have any room for mess-ups, you had to have your stuff in order or you weren’t to going to be at that college and be a part of that program.
Q: Did you ever find yourself in front of the Unity Council?
BN: Nope. Never was. I wasn’t a troublemaker. I wasn’t that bad of an apple. I never had to do it.
Q: And you roomed with Christian Peter? You must have been impenetrable! (laughs)
BN: Well, I was the good guy out of the group. I lived with a bunch of horny devils and I was the peacekeeper, what can I say? I was the stabilizing force when Christian and Jason… when they were beating the piss out of each other as big brother and little brother. Then Christian moves away and Damian moves in and I was like, ‘Does it ever stop? (laughs) Geez, am I gonna get their daughter or someone else down the road? You guys have to stop from coming to Nebraska. You’re killing me!’
Q: What was it about Christian? So many people talk about his leadership. Was there something special about the guy? Or am I just making things up here?
BN: He was a motivator. There was a role everyone had. When you get to that phase where there’s leaders and there’s followers, I don’t think any of us were followers. Every one of us were leaders, but you had to allow someone to be a motivator. Christian was really good at yelling and psyching us up and coming out like a crazy man, who just took us to the next level. He gave great pre-game speeches. He was the idiot who always slammed his head against a locker. Or he’d be the one to come up with some crazy WWF saying that would make us laugh and get us in the mood to play a football game.
Then you had people like Aaron Graham, like they were spiritual and very intelligent football players. So everyone had their role, you know? I really, honestly, don’t think any of the guys were followers. There were quiet guys on the team and then there were really nasty, asshole football players, too. Everybody had their role and everybody came together, and that’s why we played so well.
Q: I was going to say that it would be like too many cooks in the kitchen, when it comes to leaders…
BN: We all had that special bond and everyone had certain roles. And when certain people spoke, you shut up and you listened and you gave each other respect. And it worked. Coach Osborne set it up correctly.
Q: ‘Unity, Belief, Respect,’ right?
BN: Absolutely. I still believe that.
Brian Nunns, far right (Unknown source)
Q: So let me ask you, is there anyone behind the scenes who never quite got their due for the amount of influence they had on the team? Anyone come to mind more than others?
BN: Bryan Bailey. I love that guy. We would go down to the Mushroom Gardens under East Stadium. Most people don’t even know that’s there. The guy had so much knowledge and training and the idea that he wanted us to be so successful, along with injury prevention. That guy would go spend half of his day going to the library looking up things to help us be better, you know. He’d try extra training methods and extra things to do, whatever, and he would spend an extra hour stretching us just so we’d be better. That guy really put his heart into his position as a strength coach, and the shit that guy would make us do? He would get Christian and us guys together and make us do these crazy things, like making us go through all these obstacles over at the State Fairgrounds, or he’d make us do walking lunges all around Mushroom Gardens. Remember that?
Q: Bailey was always a lover of walking lunges…
BN: He would kill us! And you know what, he would always run like 46 miles every year for his birthday, or however old he was. Even though he was an ugly little red-headed f**k. He looked like a little Irishman. But I tell you what, he put so much love and so much care into us there’s no reason he shouldn’t get all the respect in the world. I miss the little f***er. He was a good dude.
Q: Well, is there anything we haven’t touched upon? Anything else that played a major role in helping you guys accomplish what you did?
BN: The biggest thing you have to remember -do you remember what we all agreed upon as a freshman class in ’91? When we had that Unity Council one of the things that we agreed on -being known as one of the worst classes in the history of the sport- none of us took vacations, none of us went home to our parents. So every Christmas, every Spring Break, we spent it working out there with you guys. We never missed a summer conditioning program, never missed anything. That was a big deal: Unity, Belief, Respect. We put that up on the bulletin boards, put that up on the wall, that we’d never miss the winter conditioning, summer conditioning. That in order to be the best we’d never take time off. We did that for five years. So where most guys were spending Christmas with their families and going back home to their families, we did extra conditioning because we wanted it.
Q: Pay the price & reap the reward, huh?
Q: Do you wear any of your hardware these days?
BN: I still wear my rings. I wear them today. Why wouldn’t you? It’s the best football ring you could ever wear, besides the Super Bowl ring.
Q: I’m sure strangers ask you about it.
BN: Absolutely. It’s all about the Big Red Fever, baby. I still use it. Go Big Red, babe! I love it.
Rah-rah guys. Brian was one of them. He still is. And who could blame him? He was living the dream, and a guy or three like him on a team can be downright infectious. No wonder the coaches left it up to the players to meet some team needs. Perpetuating the homegrown Nebraska spirit was one of those needs, and it couldn’t help but settle in on the uninitiated, out-of-state guys eventually, because love and passion is a hard thing to fake when you’re strapping on the pads day in and day out.
Brian mentioned a teamwide dedication to the cause: “..none of us took vacations, none of us went home to our parents.” In some ways similar to a military tour of combat, many a parent ‘lost’ familial access to their son due to their unending, self-imposed preparation for their ‘war games’ in Lincoln. You probably remember what it was like being a young man or woman, “If three workouts per week is good, then doubling up to six workouts per week ought to be twice as great, right?!” To be quite frank, as a member of the strength staff I recall the prospect of getting the kids to workout was rarely ever an issue. One of our concerns was actually preventing them from working out and training too much, if you can believe that. It is a far better thing to undertrain a body than to overtrain it, because doing so places the physical faculties in a weakened, recovery-deficit state of being. We had to constantly remind our charges that it was not merely the workout bouts that were key, but that the corresponding rest and recovery periods were just as important, if not more so. There was a constant push and pull struggle with many of the linemen, and the smaller skill players were always being asked to cut down on the recreational basketball games, because all the running had the potential to limit gains in muscle during the crucial offseason period.
Then there was the ‘Unity, Belief, Respect’ mantra once more: “That was a big deal… We put that up on the bulletin boards, put that up on the wall.” You didn’t necessarily have to be buddy-buddy with a fellow teammate, but you sure as heck better show him some respect for his dedication, his talents, his opinion, his work habits, his share of the peer leadership.
Thirdly, Brian brought up the concept of roles, leadership and the motivator distinction. I had never thought of it in those respects, but he’s right. Very right. He couldn’t have been more correct. To be honest with you, I’d been trying -quite frustratingly I might add- to think of a way to accurately convey the unique scenario of that era’s group dynamic, but in doing so it always seemed to come off as some conjured, unrealistic-sounding utopia where everyone was almost clone-like in their unity of purpose. Brian revealed that everyone was a leader, but in their own very personal way. It was the term ‘motivator’ that brought it into focus, “Every one of us were leaders, but you had to allow someone to be a motivator. Christian was really good at yelling and psyching us up and coming out like a crazy man who just took us to the next level.” Let’s be honest, a young Christian Peter at that time had experienced a few run-ins with the law and with fellow students, making him in some ways an example of how not to behave in public. But his position as “The Motivator” aside from ‘leadership’ in the broadest sense of the word? That, I can rationalize and wholeheartedly agree to, as it properly defines that situation. (Look for our conversation with Christian coming up soon.)
Notable quote #2:
Brian Nunns on Tom Osborne: “Think about it: there’s twenty-two guys on the field, there’s probably a variance of fifteen to thirty different audibles and calls you’d make every time there was a play, and he could go out there and correct every single position. That guy was so intelligent. He would spend half of his day every day watching film and correcting things, and that’s the reason why he’s The Doctor. He’s Doctor Tom Osborne, the most intelligent man who ever walked the field.”
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