Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/LOVE & PROVIDENCE
Excerpted from Chapter 104, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/LOVE & PROVIDENCE
WHY the Great 60 & 3 Success was achieved:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels… and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Now that we’ve concluded our time together with the exposition of ‘How‘ it all came about, we arrive at our final stopping off point, revealing how the Cornhusker success all boiled down to the one great ‘Why.’
To recap: we know that talent, that motivation, that coaching skills and recruiting prowess, that unity of focus, use of technology, development of physical capabilities and magnificent displays of effort & technique advanced those Husker teams far, far above the sphere they occupied and inexorably greater than their defeated foes. But without one last, crucial ingredient in this soulful stew of stratospheric success, the great 60 & 3 era would not have transpired in the way it did. What was this elusive component, a morsel so richly desired but rarely possessed in its bountiful fullness? J.I. Packer once wrote of it best by stating, “The measure of love is how much it gives…”
Yes, my good friend, despite blood, sweat & tears, cursing, groaning, spitting, screaming, punching, sprinting, heaving, kicking, goading & exasperating efforts, without love –true, pure love- the great teams of that 60 & 3 era would have accomplished little, added up to little, meant little.
Accept this statement as fact, because the notion, the credo that cemented efforts from each season‘s initial kickoff into the warm autumn air all the way to the last, consummating shot of the official’s national championship game cap-gun was a simple, yet rich and heavily laden, little four-letter word: love. Bear with me as I expound…
It was a love for their leaders, a reciprocation of their tender and oftentimes even rough & ugly affections, the concern of a coach and his men for their boys’ future & present good, of the student-athletes’ willingness to subjugate their youthful aspirations and well-being below a head coach’s lifetime reputation as a man of integrity, for the football staff’s caring more for the young men and about them than what they could derive from them.
In noting the linchpin to that great 60 & 3 era as being one little word -love- I’m telling you that it was about young men giving back to those coaches, their cohorts, staff members, family, friends, fans and a state. The assembled phalanx of young men in scarlet N’s simply gave their all with what little they had available to give: their unrelenting, uncompromising, victorious efforts.
Like the tale of the poor little drummer boy standing and gazing, penniless, at a babe in a hay-filled manger, it was their figurative ‘Pa-rum-pum-pum-pum!’, their pounding out a feast of blocks and tackles and sprints for the eyes and ears through the instrument they knew best, namely, the symphonic overtures of their physical bodies on athletic display. Working as one, they pounded foes silly and stupid, paying tribute and playing fortissimo to every game’s final coda.
One often hears the tale of the ‘tough coach’, the authority figure caricatured as the taskmaster, the slave-driver, the henchman up in a tower, the sadist with a whistle, the fanatical, near-psychotic boor on a bullhorn, the obsessive egomaniac who excels at chewing young mens’ bodies up and spitting them out on a heap, as if the healthy few remainders of a fall camp’s death march had earned them a privilege to co-exist on an emasculated and down-trodden squad.
But at Nebraska? At Nebraska it was different. Very different. You see, time and again throughout our journey we heard much of coaches Tom Osborne, of Charlie McBride, of Milt Tenopir -in particular- telling their young initiates how much they loved them. And they meant it, too. They lived it: Truly, purely, honestly, openly, sacrificially, hopefully, aspiringly. That’s what finally hit upon me after wrestling with this project. The crux of the matter was this: not one of the players ever made mention to me of a reply that they, too, told the coaches that they loved them in return.
Why do you think the Nebraska boys never said, “I love you, too, Coach” in reply? Maybe it’s a hard thing for a kid to utter, especially to another man not their father. Perhaps it’s the result of a youthful and merely superficial understanding of the term, the confusing of romantic love or a shallow affinity in contrast to a deepness and richness of affection the likes of which they may have feared to tread at such a young age. Kids can be funny like that, skirting around the edges of deeply held emotions like love. Real love. Maybe ‘love’ was a word rarely bandied about in their home environments, a weighty term indicating extreme benevolence when they had little and few possessions to impart in reciprocation.
But they did. They did love these men in reciprocal manner. Heavily and heartily, I might add. It was an honorable love, a respecting love, a humble love, a sacrificial love, a benevolent, giving love. But if they did not –or could not- speak it, how was it then shown? How did the youngsters in this great saga tell these men – the coaches and staff- they loved them in their most profound, most eloquent language possible?
It was by and through their actions, their preparations, their practice, and their play. “Of course! That was it!“, I said to myself. Former trainer Doak Ostergard in Chapter 20 had a most proper understanding of it when drawing the distinction between fear and love when entering a burning building to save a loved one: “Nobody’s gonna have to ask you or tell you…you’re not gonna just go through the motions, you’re gonna search and seek like no other. That’s the difference between fear and love..”
Search and seek, he said. That sounds about right. The young Cornhusker Footballers searched for and sought out, day in and day out, within themselves, among themselves, and outside of themselves for a way upon which to fully conjure up the ultimate performance: their greatest bodily sacrifice (a vague and veiled representation of the God-man from Nazareth on a hill two millennia previous at the hands of proletariat Roman legion and a cynical, relativist Jewish politician).
Short of death, in giving their all they laid a gift at their mentors’ feet every training day, every practice day, every game day. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel always and, if necessary, use words.” Vocal utterances aside, they screamed it aloud both by and through their toil, in working through the pain, the injury, the discomfort and fatigue of an offseasons’ training and game day battles.
Only love -pure, unadulterated love- can inspire such devotion, such sacrifice, such diligence, such earnestness, such zeal, such prolonged exertions throughout the full course of a year, no matter families abroad, no matter girlfriends and term papers, course loads and workouts, heat and cold and humidity, in snow, ice, threat of twisters, hail, pelting rain, and fierce, relentless gusts of the flat Nebraska prairie’s winds. The elements held no sway for them, as did most other foes natural and human. That’s the power of love: it endures above all else.
To wit, we now have a more profound understanding of that undercurrent of admiration, of filial adherence towards their leaders, of a heavy & hearty love lived out full-bore, as revealed here in their own words…words that are deep, profound, and abiding. Notice the word ‘love’ is often bandied about:
Coach Osborne actually called a team meeting and he came up all teary-eyed and said, “The media is calling us ‘The Miami of the Midwest’.” And it hurt him so bad that they were thinking, that people considered us at the time -like Miami- convicts and all, you know? We didn’t want to be associated with anything like that. I remember his eyes tearing up. I remember my eyes tearing up. I just wanted to go out and wreck somebody now, because of the way he felt. – Doug Colman
(With) Milt (Tenopir)… there’s just something extra. God, the kids loved the heck out of him. He’s like me, he doesn’t care about all the other crap. The players: that’s why you do this. – Charlie McBride
Troy Branch & Mark “Zeke” Cisco
(Charlie) would hug them around the neck, pray with them before the game, cry with them when they’d graduated. This guy loved his players and they loved him. There was a respect there. – Chad Stanley
What stood out was their incredible love for Tom Osborne. They really, really cared for him. There were times before the team prayer where some guys would have something special to say about him, why they were playing for him. They just cared about Coach. They would do anything for him. It was amazing how these incredibly tough guys talked about how much they cared about Tom. – Jack Stark
…it started from Tom. He loved those players. Those were his kids and he would do anything for them. And in turn, those players would do anything for Tom… because he cared about each one, whether it be the ones who were in trouble or the ones that weren’t. He would try to be there for that person… I thought that really meant something, about making a difference for just that one. It says something about him… because he cared about them as people and not necessarily as football players, but as a friend. He genuinely cared about each player. – Mary Lyn Wininger
You had so much respect for (Osborne) that you didn’t want to let the man down, you just did not want to disappoint him in any way… that was something that we just knew, that they loved us. They told us that, “We love you guys. We want the best for you.” You just don’t hear that from a lot of coaches… – Aaron Davis
For the most part, you wanted to win it for the coaches, for the hard work they put in. Especially Coach Osborne, you wanted to win for him. You wanted to win for yourself, but you wanted to win it for him. – Kenny Wilhite
(Charlie McBride) loved his players in a tough way, because on the field he would get in their face and yell at them, then five seconds later he was over it and had his arm around their neck, just loving them. They’d run through fire for him.
– Curt Thompson
…you’d think everybody had the same college experience as I had: you loved your head coach, you loved your position coach. It was such a great experience. – Terry Connealy
…to this day I love (Coach McBride). A really hard-nosed, straightforward coach. I just really looked up to him. I don’t think he knew it at the time, but I really latched onto him. Although we may have bumped heads a couple of times, I really saw him as a great male figure at the time. – Kareem Moss
When I think of Coach McBride -outside looking in- you could just see how much his players loved him and the bond they had. It wasn’t said, but you could just tell. You just felt they were so close. They respected him like he was their father. – Darin Erstad
But he loves all his guys, for sure, he’s got a heart. Love Coach Tenopir… When you were a senior he treated you like more of a friend than anything… He would ride me pretty good… and he wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t care. – Joel Wilks
(Charlie McBride) means the world to me, not just as a coach but as a human being. He really was the father-figure-type for a kid who was a couple thousand miles away from home. – Jason Peter
… (Tom) could read right off the bat, you could see that he could read a person’s values and their mind. And if they accepted him, they were 100% his. It was like they were his kids, his sons. – George Sullivan
…he’d love you like a dad loves a son. You always got that feeling, you knew that (Charlie) cared about you. – Larry Townsend
I’d like to say I earned the right to say I love them- and they care about me and we trust each other to this day… it was solidified as I was coming into my manhood at Nebraska. – Toby Wright
But I love the guy, he wore his heart on his sleeve. I love the guy and I couldn’t say anything bad about Charlie McBride…
– Trumane Bell
..those guys you talked to loved playing for that guy and they’d do anything for (Charlie)… – Bryan Carpenter
…you just didn’t want to let (Coach Osborne) down. You just didn’t want to let the guy down, and I think that’s why everyone always gave their best… It wasn’t always all about the stars and the Tommie Fraziers and Ahman (Green). He truly knew and cared about every single one of the players on that roster from top to bottom, and I thought that was really unique. – Eric Stokes
I always loved Charlie McBride. That was one guy who could get me fired up before every game… We’d leave that locker room literally crying, ready to kill for each other. – John Reece
(Coach Osborne) who we all loved and adored… – Aaron Graham
…those players loved Charlie and would go through a brick wall for him. And those players, Grant and Jared and Christian and Jason, they knew that Charlie loved ’em. – Clayton Carlin
…there was an honest-to-God love between the coaches and the players, and when you can foster that across a team it’s gonna be nearly impossible to defeat. And we had that all through the 90’s when I was there. I loved the guys I played with, on both sides of the ball. – Rob Zatechka
Yes, Love powered this machine.
Going on a little further, one must trace even the term ‘love’, the Greek ‘agape’ -meaning a wholly unselfish love- to its root, its precursor, its progenitor, namely the one to whom leader and Head Coach Tom Osborne appeared quite mindful of in his speech, his demeanor, his prayers, his daily living: an altogether Holy, set apart Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer, the one and only God of our universe. Ultimately, God’s glory, good pleasure and full measure of satisfaction were the aim and object of many a young and older man’s undying and underlying intentions in that 60 & 3 era, because in the trinity of the Godhead was -and still is- a full and complete and perfect unity. A wonderful visual metaphor of the holy three-in-one’s spiritual harmony and unity was lived out bodily in that span of time by the Nebraska Football family. And now you, too, have been a witness to what even a scant portion of like-minded unity is capable of accomplishing via this chronicle of those years.
Knowing this, I hope it drives you think more deeply and intently of the concept of God’s love, and perhaps even look into Jesus Christ’s example: to study it, to mimic it, to share it, but most of all to believe in Him and his saving work on behalf of so many losers falling short of His holy standard. (I count myself as one of those losers among this number.)
As we draw to a close, I feel compelled to share something very personal with you: In the opening salvo of this grand discovery David Seizys said something that I purposefully suppressed. And quite deeply so, I might add…but much like trying to compress an air-filled ball underwater for a prolonged spell, after very long it must eventually breach the surface, its pressure erupting with a splash and a surface-churning boil.
Well, such was the case with David’s faith –mine, too- and the living out of it. Perhaps the time we shared on the Nebraska landscape was meant as a type, a foretelling, a foreshadow of the radiance of such Heavenly unity, of like-minded purpose, of communal striving for something bigger, better, purer, more beautiful than one can earthly imagine. If that’s the case, then David nailed the concept of divine providence right on the head when he said, “(The coaching staff) were doing the work of God, and I know that had something to do with it. There’s a whole lot of people out there that don’t want to hear that or disclaim that but I don’t know how you can, because Coach Osborne had his priorities that were the high standard of God first, family second, and for us it was school third and football fourth. He lived it. It wasn’t just lip service.”
Doing the work of God, eh? It sounds a little far-reaching, don’t you think? A bit presumptuous? Over-spiritualized even? Maybe so.
But then again, maybe not. Theologian Michael Horton, a treasured brother, educator and thinker, recently penned in his voluminous tome of systematic theology, “In every gift, God is ultimately the giver; yet tenderly he hides his blinding majesty and otherwise terrifying sovereignty behind the creaturely means that are familiar to us …the providence of God concurs with all second causes and especially with the human will;…God does not simply operate on the world, causing its history and human actions, but in the world and within its manifold creatures.” (emphasis mine) (Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, 2011, Zondervan)
This project -this extensive unearthing- was a glance back in history with a good number of those ‘manifold creatures’ who served as instruments of a living, loving God, and I feel blessed to be able to count them as friends, acquaintances, allies and team members. I’d like to believe that God used them for His ultimate glory; not as ordinary vessels of clay, but precious, artful, precision instruments by which He revealed His perfection and purity, His creativity and sovereignty. He fashioned them for his own unique purpose as football players, a fine display of craftsmanship if there ever was one.
They are most beautiful people, and they all have my everlasting affinity, respect and gratitude for what they accomplished in that era as well as the splaying of their souls bare and sharing their heartfelt recollections these many days hence. I say this not only because they gave me hope and held my spirits high during a rough patch in my own life, but by exhibiting in these recent days -through their time and the words they so freely shared with me- that the unity, belief and respect of the 60 & 3 era still lives on, in and through them. May that mantra of brotherhood never leave them nor expire, for it, too, can serve as a legacy and a lesson for future Nebraska Cornhuskers and their many ardent supporters.
As we end, I would like to thank you for jumping into the truck with me and traveling down all the gravel roads and city streets and telephone lines on this journey. The thought that there might be other Nebraska Football devotees out there to enjoy the fruits of this work served to embolden, inspire, and encourage me throughout the entire process. I hope you’ve consumed its pages and were entertained by the stories, the insights and the lives they’ve shared, because their story is our story. Because their lives were made for the living. Ours too.
Never forget that. Oftentimes our seemingly smallish existence can in later years surprise us by producing a larger payoff when viewed from the aspect of history’s rearview mirror, our talents and inclinations and attitudes rippling out and touching others’ lives- sometimes doing so in measures more profound than we might even dream. So remember to always live boldly, to stay the right and high path, to embrace and nurture both persons and the process. And to at all times persevere; even those occasions in life when all hope seems futile and lost. It is in times such as these that perseverance, belief and a fighting spirit the likes of the Great 60 & 3 Era were made for.
Which begs a question: what is your life’s great purpose? Only you know the answer, because a shimmer of greatness lies in us all. I truly believe this. It’s contingent upon you not to conceal it, but to reveal it. So go on. Get out there. Find it. Think big. Find your motivation, your Nth degree of dedication and devotion. Set your goal. Set it big. Don’t set it for you alone to accomplish, either. Make it larger and more grandiose than something only you could complete alone. Then, with a little effort, Go! Grab a friend or two and achieve it.
In ending I leave you with this, a word picture that sums up my memory of that special time in history better than any ever could:
In a moment’s sacred silence after 1995’s triumphal back-to-back national championship victory over the University of Florida Gators, Coach Tom Osborne slowly rose up from the bended knee of the team’s post-game prayer. Fully savoring the scene, his eyes take in the horde of young men and assorted surrounding staffers in the stuffed confines of the Tempe, Arizona locker room. Sensing in advance the One Great Scorer’s marking of history, he spoke these words to those proud and victorious Brothers of the Big Red:
“Let me just have a word with you guys…
I’m really proud of your effort and proud of what you’ve done.
I think a lot of it was simply because you cared about each other and you worked hard…
And a lot of you probably right now don’t quite know what you did, you know?
But in a few years you will, because very, very few teams ever did something like this.
We’re really proud of you…a great accomplishment. It’ll sink in someday.
You’ll remember this… and I’ll certainly remember you.”
We’ll most certainly remember you too, Tom. Thank you for the football and the memories, for the lessons, the laughs, and the leadership. But most of all, thank you for the love.
Thank you all for the love: every last, single one of you who played a part in that magnificent era. Because in the final summation it’s so unavoidably true: There was no place like Nebraska.
All my best. GBR, Paul Koch
Copyright @ 2013 Thermopylae Press. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Credits : Unknown Original Sources/Updates Welcomed
Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.
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