Anatomy of an Era: David Alderman, Part 2

Categories: Football No Place
David Alderman
David Alderman

Excerpted from Chapter 59, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch

Anatomy of an Era: David Alderman, Part 2


Q: Who would you find yourself going up against in practice?

DA: Well, I remember going up against (Brendan) Holbein, Brett Popplewell, some of those guys.

Q: Any special memories or events stick out to you from those practices?

DA: My favorite practice story really wasn’t me, but it’s my favorite practice story of all time: It was spring ball -and I don’t remember the year- but it was a Saturday scrimmage during spring ball and nobody was in the stands, so the offense was on one sideline and the defense was on one sideline, and my buddy Biff Roberts is playing rover and Clinton Childs is playing I-back on the other side. And I forget if it was an option or a sweep, but both Biff and Clinton had about ten or twelve yards in between them and they came at each other just as fast as they can. And they just knocked helmets right at the line of scrimmage and BOOM! Just a loud pop, and you just heard both sidelines go, “WHOAHHHH…!!” They just hit and got sideways and sprawled straight out!

So Clinton just kind of jumps up and kind of brushed off his shoulder pads and jogs back to the huddle there… and Biff is just laying on the ground. And the whole defensive sideline gathers together in one spot and leans over him and just kind of thinks to itself, “Okay, what’s he going to do? What’s going to happen here? Is he alright?” (pause) And he just kind of gets to his knees slowly, then he kind of stands up slowly and looks around and sees that there are probably fifty-some people there surrounding him by about five yards… and then he just looks at everybody with these gigantic eyes and he yells out, “Take ’em OUT, babyyyyyyyy!” at the top of his lungs. And then he starts flexing at the crowd. Everybody just goes into an uproar, heads flying back, and everybody’s just laughing as loud as they can. That was the funniest thing I’ve seen, practice or gamewise or whatever. I’ll never forget that.


Coaches and running backs
Front) Fullbacks Clinton Childs, Jeff Makovicka & Chris Norris. Back) Frank Solich, D. Schmadeke & Chad Stanley


I remember three stories and they’re all about Biff. One thing he did, maybe against a Makovicka, he tried to arm-tackle some fullback and he did something to his finger, ripped a tendon on his finger, and he’s like, “I think I broke my finger.” And Billy Legate or Dennis Bailey looks at it and goes, “Yeah, you did.” (Like the player knew what he was talking about, right?) (laughs)

Another one was when Biff hit Clinton again -and it was a draw play up the middle- and he hit Clinton Childs on a draw play up the middle and hit him as hard as he could. And I remember him just kind of jogging around looking like he’s lost. And we’re onto the next play and I’m yelling the coverage at him and trying to get him somewhere, and he’s just kind of talking to himself and in La-La Land. And after the next play’s over with I go over to him and he goes, “I’m yelling for a backup to take me out…”  And the whole time he was in a real low, quiet voice going, “Rover… Rover… Rover….” (trailing off, barely audible) He said he could see blue sky out of one eye and green grass out of another. (laughs)

Q: And after all that they still entrust him to carry a gun? (laughs)

DA: Yeah, and after the one practice where he hurt his finger -it was a bowl practice- they had the press conference with Coach Osborne afterwards and are going over the injury report and they go, “Did anyone get hurt?” And Coach Osbone goes, “Oh yeah, I don’t know his name, everyone just calls him Biff.” (laughs) “I don’t know what his real name is, it’s just Biff. Everyone just calls him Biff.“ Mike Roberts is his real name, but “It’s just Biff. C’mon, everyone just knows him as Biff.” And that’s one thing I really admired about Osborne, how he had one hundred-twenty or more guys on the roster and he knew everyone by name. Even though I joke at that one instance there, he did know everyone by name and that always impressed me…

Autograph Day ’94

Q: Did you ever end up winning a scholarship?

DA: No, never did. I think if I could have ended up playing to my potential -and I’d never played defensive back in my life before. I was an outside linebacker and the first time I was playing defensive back I was second string in spring ball- I think I could have, but it just didn’t work out, didn’t pan out. But I do believe if my legs would have stayed in one piece I would have.

And one more thing: going back, one thing I had on my pro’s list when it came to Nebraska, one of the things that always impressed me was they were always number one on the list of Academic All-Americans. So that was a thing I really wanted to be a part of, become an Academic All-American. But you had to have more playing time than I had to do that. (laughs) I did make it to the All-Big 12 Academic Team my senior year, but that was the only year. I didn’t have enough playing time, not enough of an impact player to be considered an Academic All-American. That was my ultimate personal goal there.

Q: What was it again, electrical engineering? Being a football player and having that major… being that disciplined, that must have been a pretty tough row to hoe?

DA: I thought so. Basically, as soon as I would leave -basically you go to your classes, you’ve got film, you’ve got practice, you’ve got lifting, training table- and basically went back home and I got to study from about seven, seven-thirty ‘til about one in the morning. So basically, I only got one night for each class that I had to get my homework done, so Monday night was this class, and Tuesday night was for that class, and so on.

Q: So the whole ‘pampered-athlete’ concept didn’t quite mesh with your reality, huh?

DA: Maybe there were some, but anybody who comes to me talking that nonsense? I’d say, ‘Okay, if you’re up to it you can do a semester of my life and tell me how easy it is… (laughs) and walk on, too.’ I did have a couple academic scholarships, but not enough to pay for anything. So going back home during the summer I had to try and make enough money to pay for the next year’s tuition.

Q: What did you do for summer jobs?

DA: Well, the first summer I was working at McDonalds as one of the front register-type people, then the next three years I did construction. And I got to learn a lot. I use a lot of that knowledge myself, being a homeowner now, doing things around the home myself. That’s something to develop those skills, and I save myself quite a bit of money doing things around the house. And my last semester I kind of took it off, doing an internship at Cessna. Going into my senior year looking for a job, that really helped.

Q: What was your last game?

DA: Last game was the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech and Druckenmiller. That was basically the year Virginia Tech was just putting people on notice, but that was the beginning for them, their coming-out party that year.

Q: You kind of spoiled that party.

DA: Yeah, they’ve had a lot of success since then, but they have a good coach and staff and it was their first time really stepping out. I remember Tomich and Wistrom. Here Tomich is an All-American, and after the game I remember him saying how hard it was to get Druckenmiller down, because he was like 6’ 6” 260. But they got him down several times. (laughs)

Q: Do you remember the first game you ever played in?

DA: The first game, I want to say it would have been the last two minutes or minute and a half of a game, which brings me back to one of my biggest disappointments with Coach Darlington: He was very concerned with stats. Very, very concerned. He would have them on his wall every single week and have everything highlighted as to where we were at. So he was very, very lax to put people in, the reserve defensive backs were always the last people to see the field any game.

And I understand a little bit as a coach myself, now, when you have a team down and they’re in the position where they have to throw the ball all the time, because it only takes one play and it’s seven points, right? But I remember as a player that was very frustrating at times, because all these linebackers and defensive linemen were going in in the middle of the third quarter or something like that, and then we’d have to sit around and wait until there’s like ninety seconds left in the game before we’d get in.

Q: And since he was up in the press box you couldn’t just crowd around him on the field as a helpful reminder to give you some playing time, right?

DA: Right! (laughs) I remember towards my senior year the assistants would come over and say, “Okay guys, start getting warmed up.” And by that point I was like, ‘Really? Do I have to?’(laughs) But anyway, my first game probably would have been a pre-conference game. But they all seem the same when I look back, so I can’t really remember.

But I’d get on some punt return teams and would back up Barron Miles. He’s one of my favorite players of all time. He took me under his wing and taught me a lot of stuff and was always very supportive and encouraging. I’m a big fan of Barron Miles.

Q: What sticks out most from what he taught you?

DA: Well, the number one thing he just kept trying to do was keep giving me the ability to forget the past play. I’m a perfectionist-type of guy, and he’d keep coming over and put his arm around me and tell me, “Yeah, you’ve got what it takes. You have the tools and the talent, just believe in yourself and trust your instincts.“ That was the biggest thing he did for me. Always very supportive. That was the thing that really amazed me: the Nebraska upperclassmen, in my mind, didn’t view the younger people as a threat, but actually acted as coaches. Barron definitely wanted to teach me stuff and I definitely did the same thing my senior year when I saw Ralph Brown and Mike Brown, when they came on.


Available on


When I saw the footwork and the balance and everything else Ralph had, I told myself then and there during those two-a-days -even though coach said he expected me to be a starter, I knew my leg’s not right there- so I took him under my wing and tried to do the same thing and pass it on. When Osborne had his retirement party, Ralph introduced me to his Dad as “the guy who taught him everything he knew.” (laughs) I’m sure he learned a lot since then, but that’s one of those things that always stuck with me, when he did that.

In fact, there were a lot of teammates on that team who called me “Coach” -probably in a derogatory way- (laughs) but they called me “Coach.” I always tried to go around and help everybody, because the mental side of the game was easier. I understood where everybody was supposed to be and supposed to do, and a lot of the times we’d have our tests these guys would come up and ask questions. (laughs)

Q: What tests would these be?

DA: There was a weekly Defensive Backs test that we had to take. Darlington always handed them out on Friday after practice and we had to turn them in for the game.

Q: Did you work on them together or was it supposed to be done individually?

DA: It was supposed to be individually. (laughs)

Q: So do you have a favorite game?

DA: Oh yeah, the funnest game was the Pacific game because we got to play almost three quarters. I remember Darren Schmadeke, he was the Defensive Player of the Game. That was really cool. So the Pacific game stands out, and the one that stands out the most to me was the one against Iowa State. Troy Davis was in -the Heisman-type of guy- but by the time I got in he was out, and they ran a pitch to whoever the running back was. And I was playing our cover-nine, playing in the flats, and my first responsibility was the run. So as soon as I saw him motioning my way and saw the pitch I just shot off like a rocket and tackled him at like the one or half-yard line, so I came that close to getting a safety. I just remember the whole crowd going, “Whoaaaaa!” (laughs)

And they did the same thing when they replayed it again on the big screens, so I figured I must have gotten a good hit on him. It was one of those hits, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with it -but if you hit a guy just right, you don’t even feel it. You don’t even feel the hit, feel the resistance… you’re just on the ground, that’s it. That’s what this one was like. I remember just running as fast as I could and then being on the ground. It was the last play of the series so I didn’t see the replay because I was just running off the field. And then I remember getting home and everyone was all, “Was that really you?!” So I heard it not only from the crowd but from everybody I was friends with after the game, too, so that was really cool.

Q: Any memorable off-field occasions worth noting?

DA: Honestly, I can’t think of anything that was that -I could be misremembering something- but nothing comes to mind. There were some memorable things I don’t laugh too much at, like when me, Jon Vedral and Biff and Blahak -and Turman, too, maybe- we got lost in downtown Miami when all the transit had stopped. We had gone out and we were, “Alright, it’s time to get back for curfew.” And all the trains we’d taken there were stopped, were shut down. I don’t know how far we walked or ran, it was several miles until we finally found a bus.

And Vedral had twisted his ankle that day in practice and he couldn’t hardly even walk, so we had to carry him. Somebody ran ahead and flagged down this bus while two other people carried him like the three or six blocks in a row while the other ones held the bus. That could have ended up being a nightmare had we not been able to get back to the hotel until way early in the morning, I tell you.


The old Orange Bowl and environs


Q: The streets of Miami would have held the Bloods, the Crips and the Corns that night?

DA: I don’t know who all had been down there, but we are all in a place we shouldn’t have been, that’s for sure. We stood out like white people in downtown Miami. (laughs) I guess I can chuckle about it now, but none of us were laughing at the time.

Q: So what would you say about the general atmosphere when you got there? Thinking back on it, was there anything unique, special, different about the program and the environment at Memorial Stadium?

DA: One of the things that stood out to me my freshman year, here I am just a walk-on and nobody knows who I am and could probably care less, and here’s Lance Lundberg -who’s a captain and a big name at the time- and I remember just talking to him about stuff and he mentioned how everybody treats everybody with respect, because nobody knows what everybody’s backgrounds are. This may sound negative, but you could end up getting the wrong person mad at you and end up in a world of hurt, right? (laughs) But just the added level of respect that was among all abilities and all classes, I thought that was something that stood out to me.

Let’s see, what else? Another thing that I really enjoyed was just Osborne usually once a week -when he had his platform to speak to the team- he didn’t use all that time to talk about football. Once a week there was usually some life lesson he’d try to give us. Whether it was about investments or agents or other stuff, he always used at least part of one meeting a week to address something outside of football. That’s something I always really appreciated about him.

Q: Do any one of those stand out to you in particular?

DA: There’s three I can speak of. One was just being smart with your money. He’d talk about the difference of, “Would you rather have X amount of money in your pocket or would you rather have a penny or whatever put away earning X amount of interest for the rest of your life-type thing?” And, of course, that penny put away earning interest for the rest of your life was worth ten to a hundred times more than the cash in your pocket. So that was kind of one of these things, those life lessons. When he was talking about agents? He wasn’t a really big fan of agents. To this day I can’t fathom why anybody would get an agent, because there’s really not much they can negotiate. It’s basically through the draft and so many things are set in stone, and the best thing to do is get a lawyer. So that’s what he espoused if you were going to be drafted, “Just get yourself a lawyer,” so they can understand all the legal stuff and tell you about that stuff. Basically all they’re there to do is try to take your money, right?

To be continued tomorrow….


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Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.