Anatomy of an Era: Bruce Moore, Part 2
Excerpted from Chapter 57, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 1 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Bruce Moore, Part 2
Q: Do you recall significant organizational changes from your freshman to your senior year?
BM: I think winning the national championship was always there in our mind, because the Big 8 championship was always something that we expected to be in the running for every year. You know, you had three seasons every year: you had the 3 or 4 nonconference games, then you had the Big 8 season, and then you had the bowl game. And if you won the Big 8 then you knew you were going to be in the running for a national title.
When I was growing up that was always something you expected Nebraska to have a shot at it, and I think that bigger expectation of really taking this to the next level began when Coach Osborne created the Unity Council. I think things changed dynamically on the team at that point. I mentioned there was the senior pecking order based on your experience and how much confidence you had and a lot of things. That was there, definitely, when you went into McBride’s office and things: the seniors got the front seat, the juniors got the next seat, and all the way to the freshman getting the back of his room. It was one of those things where every year you just expected to move up.
I remember getting my Blackshirt the same year with Ramaekers and Terry Connealy and we were all sitting in the front row, so you kind of had that old order. I always remember the days of Ray Valladao, Kent Wells, Mike Murray and those guys, where you almost had a little fear of the upperclassmen. But with the Unity Council? By the time we got to our senior year, and with Tommie along as a freshman and Will Shields playing a little bit as a freshman, we went through a transition. I really felt like our senior year everybody was kind of on the same level at that point. Then again, I was a senior that year so maybe my perception was off, but rather than seniors looking down I think it was more of everybody looking on the same level as guys, now. I think it really helped to solidify a lot of things. When guys sat down to eat it was more guys in a group rather than the clique there used to be. And I think the way it was previously kind of kept guys from trusting each other on the field as much, too. It was nothing real overt that would come out, but every little thing kind of stacked up as you go through the process.
But guys were handling our discipline and stuff more than the coaches, who drove us in practice. You had guys that were standing up, John Parrella and those guys really driving the practice tempo. If guys wouldn’t play hard you kind of took care of that in the old fashioned way: in practice. You had less coaches and more driving people to do it, and it started being more and more player-driven.
Q: Do you think the coaches appreciated that, the disciplining being out of their hands? They were then able to focus more on coaching, teaching, encouraging and less on disciplining the meatheads?
BM: I would think so. One of the best things I learned about that situation is that you can give a lot of speeches that will affect the first five or ten minutes of the ballgame, but after those first two series you don’t remember anything that was said in the locker room and you have to actually play. So if you’re not self-motivated to go out there and take care of business? It doesn’t matter how great of a pregame speech a coach can throw out there, all that’s gonna help you for is probably the first two or three plays. After that a team’s got to play on its own merits.
So when a team takes ownership of themselves and they’re self-motivated -that practiced habit of confidence, of taking over things- I think it really carries over into games. That confidence level of knowing, ‘I can handle it. I can take care of things.’ You’re not really relying on the coaches so much to take care of stuff, because they obviously don’t play the game for you. They’re on the sidelines giving you the plays, but you still have to handle the situation out there on the field.
Q: Tell me little more about the Unity Council.
BM: They chose representatives and they went through that every year: one guy for each position or something like that, four or five offensive and defensive guys. And they sat with Osborne and there were disciplinary actions. I remember before the Orange Bowl game my senior year when Lawrence Phillips kind of first started having a few issues here and there, missing practices and such. I remember he sat out the first half of the Orange Bowl. (Coach Osborne) sat down with us and asked us what our thoughts were, what we thought we should do in that situation, because he’d skipped a couple practices and had been slowly working into Calvin Jones’ place that year. And when Calvin Jones came back versus Colorado that end of the year, I’m sure that frustrated Lawrence. And stability-wise and maturity-wise, I’m sure that had something to do with Lawrence at that point, and it was something that would come into play again in later years.
Available on Amazon.com
Q: You usually hung around for the summer workouts. Do you recall anything special about the summer before your senior year, that year you guys put together in ’93?
BM: You know, it’s one of those things where it all starts in the spring. I remember you people on the strength staff and the coaches. After you finish your bowl game, how you’re going to play next fall starts with the offseason conditioning. And one thing I recall, a major change there, was the focus on training how to run properly, the bag work and running technique, becoming more efficient with your running style. You have a lot of guys come in and they’re big and physical and strong, but if they’re not in track or a sprinter, most of the time nobody ever taught you how to run. Especially someone from a small school, where if you could run they’d let you do it because you had the ability to do it, but otherwise nobody really taught you, you know? And I know that my 40 time and my agility time, I never went through more gains than that year when we went through that process. But I think it all goes back to Coach Osborne and the staff saying, “We need to get faster and increase our team speed,” and they really dived in with that. I don’t know who developed that -whether it was Randy Gobel and all that stuff that spring- we did a lot of Olympic weight training and stuff. And I remember Boyd came up with that circuit.
Q: The Metabolic Power Circuit?
BM: Yeah, that really started my senior year and they did that for a couple years. I hated that thing.
Plan the work; Work the plan
Q: You became very intimate with the puke buckets?
BM: Yeah, you just made sure you didn’t eat or drink anything before you came in. And it took you twenty minutes to recover after it was over. You go through my education there and look at the way we did weight training, and you really get to understand the metabolic threshold.
They made little changes all the way through. And it wasn’t just one specific area. I think it was a commitment, and I think it was starting right away after that Citrus Bowl. We had a number of top draft picks that year with Bruce Pickens and Kenny Walker and all those guys that were drafted in the first and second round and stuff. That was a very talented group of guys, and to lose like we did those last couple games of the year (granted, we did lose our quarterback), but the Unity Council came after that and there was a different emphasis in how Coach Osborne approached the team.
Q: Change in what manner? A changed way of pursuing objectives?
BM: Like I said, just the little things, where we were not doing the same routine. Coach Osborne was a very habitual human being, with the particular routines, and he still maintained a lot of that. I mean, I could be away from practice and then come back two years later and know what we were going to do next in practice again, you know: “We’re gonna do kicking drills, we’re gonna do this, and then this is what we’re gonna do next.”
Q: As a player did that drive you a little crazy? Did you wish every now and then to visit the unfamiliar, or did you prefer not deviating from the norm?
BM: I know everybody has their different likes, but me personally? I think change is good. Because it gives you a different perspective, it shakes things up a little. Doing it differently from a weight training principle, for example, you have to mix it up every once in a while or otherwise your body gets flat. So I really think that process really kind of pumped a lot of life into people.
Then also, like I said, the recruiting they brought in really started to develop and pay off, and the change in the schemes and bringing in more speed and that kind of stuff really started to develop, and we saw the benefits of that. And if guys could see that and trust that and put the results on the table, it really helps to move forward.
Q: Any favorite or memorable play stand out to you?
BM: Well, I scored as a defensive lineman. And I think any defensive lineman dreams of touching a football in a game and getting to score. (laughs) I intercepted a screen pass against Arizona State my junior year and took it back.
But getting that first Blackshirt, too. I remember when Coach Osborne, when I met him and was able to get my scholarship, too: you signing your scholarship papers after beginning as a walk-on is a huge thing. There are a ton of things you go through to get there, and playing as a Blackshirt and going through that process and being a part of that group of guys, the camaraderie of those guys… It’s always good to see those people, you know? It’s always nice to get back every once in a while and know those relationships are there, those are the big lessons I got from it.
Everybody would love to have the national championships and the rings, you know, but I would never trade the process or even the loss that we took to Florida State in that championship game, because it taught me that you can’t leave something on the field, you can’t make mistakes, you have to make sure you go as hard as you can to finish. And we made enough mistakes in that Orange Bowl to lose us the game. No matter what anybody wants to say about the officials, we had a lot of opportunities to take care of some things here and there, and enough things compounded that gave Florida State a big enough window to pull it out.
Q: Which brings me to this: is there any particular game stands out to you more than the others?
BM: I would say that one. It’s not my favorite one because of how it ended: we felt like we were in pretty much control for most of the game, and then that last two or three minutes of that game where we went down, we went up, and we had that chance with the field goal at the end? It was just an emotional rollercoaster. You just weren’t sure quite how to handle it. You knew the coaches were proud of you, you knew you gave everything you had during the game, and you knew that on the field we played pound for pound as good or better than them for the most part, but we just made a few more mistakes down the stretch and it costed us.
But from a personal standpoint, how it affects my life? I think it really shaped a lot of things, that you have to make sure you do it on the field. You can’t point at officials, you can’t do all those kinds of things, because none of that stuff you have any control over.
Q: Anything else about that Florida State game stand out to you, about the preparation, the mindset going in?
BM: Yeah, I think that was our turning point. I really do. I think that was the game that proved to everybody on the national stage that we had arrived. So many years we played it was 22-0 with Miami, the Georgia Tech loss, and we got in those big games and we didn’t compete very well.
I remember my first bowl game, the Citrus Bowl, and Georgia Tech was there. I was a redshirt and it was my first experience, so there were so many distractions, but I just remember feeling real disappointed the whole game.
But it was my sophomore year, we were just in awe when we saw Miami play that year. That was that ’92 Miami team and we lost 22 to nothing, and they were so fast, with their defense and their coverage units. You stood there on the sideline and thought, ‘My gosh, they are fast!’ They were just relentless. And I think we kind of said, “That’s where we need to be.”
And you look at that Florida State game: we went through that process. And you heard all the hype about Charlie Ward, and I think a lot of it was that lack of respect that people still had for us not winning a bowl game, yada, yada, yada. And you remember that little twist they had right at the end of the season there? Where Notre Dame was going to be who we were going to play because they beat Florida State, and they looked like they were going to play us? And I remember practicing -some practices before all that finished up- and I remember preparing for Jerome Bettis because he was still on the Notre Dame team at that time. And then they go and lose to Boston College a week or two later and that just totally changed the whole perspective of going down to Florida again and playing a Florida team. I think that really threw us for a twist, mentally, because here we were finally going down to Florida and playing a bowl game against a team from the Midwest, a different team, somebody more of our style, kind of a smash-mouth kind of a thing.
BM: And then we go back and face that same old nemesis we’d been seeing for years, again.
Q: I hear you, Bruce. Do you have any memorable practice moments?
BM: Well, we were watching the Husker Century program on TV the other night and they had a clip of McBride and this noseguard, I forget his name -he had made it up to second string behind Englebert and just had this big old bucket head (laughs)- well, I saw this guy and remember how he was running one time, and Coach McBride said, “Boogs, if you get any slower your heart is gonna stop.” And I think the biggest thing was his personality, Charlie McBride’s personality. He had so many one-liners, that tinge of sarcasm he used all the time, you know?
Another one was, “I don’t think that guy is smart enough to put his hands down if he fell.” (laughs) And another one was, “You’re running around like you’re smashing grapes,” when you weren’t really getting any place on the line: “You’re running around like you’re Jack the Bear.” I don’t know how many times people heard that one. ‘Whoever the heck this Jack guy is, I don’t know, but you knew that wasn’t a guy you wanted to be near.’ (laughs)
The time the linebackers kind of rebelled on Coach Steele and wore shirts to a meeting where they said, “My name is Ed, too.” (laughs) So those little things that happened in camp that you really didn’t take too much stock in at the time, but it was those little things that stand out when you reminisce about the place and what made it special. And you talk about those little interactions when you meet up with the guys, too. It’s not so much the games. It’s not like the guys will say, “Hey, do you remember when we lost to Florida State by two and we lost national title?,” you know? (laughs)
Q: Any memorable off-field stuff? I remember you wore a baseball cap now and then. Did George Sullivan ever catch you with a cap on at the training table and give you a slap upside the back of the head?
BM: Oh, I don’t know how many times I got slapped. You learned after a couple of years and getting slapped. (laughs) Jerry Weber and those guys, I remember hanging out with them over at the training room at the other side. You had your favorites. Certain rituals some guys would go through and have to get taped by the same guy every day. Doak, he started taping a lot of our hands, the defensive lines’. He would lace the fingers and a lot of guys went through that process.
From left, Christian Peter, Trainer Doak Ostergard and Jason Peter (Unknown/Uncredited)
And then a bunch of us -I think it started with John Parrella that year- John Parrella, Terry Connealy, myself, and Kevin Ramaekers used to go to Dick Olson. It was the Straight Edge Barber Shop downtown, and everybody would get their hair cut by Dick. I remember the guys in the locker room, probably one of the stupidest things the guys had done -remember that year they shaved their heads?- I don’t remember who it was, maybe it was Ernie Beler, I think he used to be the ‘haircut guy’ for a lot of the black guys and would shave their heads in the lockers there. It seemed there was always somebody getting their hair cut. Well, they shaved their heads and they nicked them. And I remember Kevin and those guys, Christian Peter, just sitting there in the chair with all the nicks on their head and bleeding down their heads. You’d just look at them and shake your head and go, ‘Something isn’t right about some of these guys.’ (laughs) I never shaved my head. I wasn’t gonna go that far. I said, “I’ll look stupid: a tall, skinny guy with a bald head is not gonna be impressive at all.” (laughs)
Q: You always had a pretty high and tight one, didn’t you? A buzzcut?
BM: I always had a tight buzzcut when I played, because I didn’t want to deal with hair in my helmet. And that’s why I talked about Dick Olson, he always gave me the flat top, that military-style, Marine-style haircut.
Q: So is there anyone behind the scenes that most fans wouldn’t know about? Anyone special who played a major role in the process?
BM: My goodness, there so many people when you think about all the little things people did. I remember Bryan Bailey. He was kind of a sadist at the time. He would always take guys and take a special interest in people and try to motivate them to train, so he’d grab you and, “Hey, let’s go work out today.” And he’d train you and just kick your ass. So he hung out with guys and did some of those things from a training standpoint. He went out of his way to do a lot of stuff.
And also with Doak, I always felt bad about how he was treated when all that went down in the transition there, but I remember one summer I was having trouble gaining weight and he got me a bunch of Sustacal to try to gain some weight.
Q: That was before Dave Ellis came on, I believe?
BM: We started working with a lady from Omaha, but she was more focused on Lance Lundberg and trying to keep him from hitting 300, you know? (laughs) I just remember I got put on a 6,000-calorie diet my junior year in spring ball and I ate 6,000 calories for a month and gained only 5 pounds. I was like, ‘That isn’t right,’ you know? Lundberg just looked at a hamburger and gained fifteen pounds, you know? And all I gain is five pounds? Geez!
Q: (laughs) Well, anything we haven’t touched upon? Anything to sum things up?
BM: When it came to change, the biggest thing I remember was the change of the mentality from the schemes standpoint, where the coaches really stepped it up and went through that process of making solid changes, visible changes, rather than continuing to do what they’d been doing a long time. But I think that work ethic and ownership the players took on, you really had the sense that they were going to work harder. And the talent? Those guys that came in behind us -Terry Connealy and that group- those special people came along. And you just don’t get that very often.
Already having spoken to & about Tom Osborne and delving into what made him a unique personality, coach and leader, Bruce has piqued my interest about our upcoming conversation with Charlie McBride. You’ve no idea how filled I am with giddy excitement -as well as a juxtaposed sense of anxious dread- because Charlie could scare lightning back into a thundercloud. Then again, he could also be as warm and fuzzy as fur on a bunny’s backside when he wanted. To summarize Coach McBride’s perceptive abilities, Bruce mentioned that, “He always had a good sense of when people were at their edge…was good at realizing when you needed to have a diversion of some kind, make sure you knew that he was still human, that he still cared about you as a person.” That last part made all the difference in the world to the kids. And then to hear how Rush Ends coach Tony Samuel was almost the polar opposite of Charlie, I find it very telling how you just can’t pigeon-hole too heavily with stereotypes, but that we should keep an open mind as we go through this process.
As far as pushing physical limits in the weightroom, the Metabolic Power Circuit -a uniquely challenging lifting routine- was devised to spur the body’s natural increase of the testosterone hormone, enabling muscle growth and its key offshoot: power. Youngsters are often fond of pushing the envelope, testing the limits of their athleticism, competing to discover how they measure up to and against their peers, and this twice weekly routine gave them all they could handle. Hellish organized labor is what it was, but its effect was pure heaven, as they weekly came face to face with the heights of their willpower, strength, pain and endurance. The thanks go to Boyd Epley, Mike Arthur and Bryan Bailey -and Penn State University researcher William J. Kraemer and. Funny thing was, Penn State at the time had primarily a roomful of fixed movement weight machines -the kind you might allow unsupervised adolescents to lift with- while Nebraska made plentiful use of free weight barbells, dumbbells, and the explosive, ground-based Olympic lifts. To sum it up, here’s the math: sweat + pain + nausea + rest = muscle. And muscle x motivation = victory.
The last subject worth highlighting was Bruce’s mention of the mental toil of knowing that almost every year they had to go down to sweaty, sticky, steamy, stinky Miami to play a Florida-based team in the Big 8 Champion-designated Orange Bowl. Man, just hearing the words ‘Orange Bowl’ brings on a rush of memories at once triumphant and distasteful, exuberant and wincing. Can you imagine how these student-athletes were so looking forward to playing a like-kind team down there for once -Notre Dame, perhaps- only to watch the Golden Domers rust out come season’s end? And then who were they saddled with? Florida State once again, a repeat of the previous year’s contest, “I think that really threw us for a twist, mentally.” You can say that again.
Notable quote #2:
Bruce Moore on the bonding taking place off the field: “When guys sat down to eat it was more guys in a group rather than the clique there used to be. And I think the way it was previously kind of kept guys from trusting each other on the field as much, too. It was nothing real overt that would come out, but every little thing kind of stacked up as you go through the process.”
Copyright @ 2013 Thermopylae Press. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credits : Unknown Original Sources/Updates Welcomed