Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/TRADITION & LEGACY
Excerpted from Chapter 104, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/TRADITION & LEGACY
Part and parcel to the fan base, there was also the proud tradition of past Husker players and their personal & team accomplishments to measure up to. No one dared disappoint the ghosts of Huskers gone by… from I.M. Hipp and Jarvis Redwine to Mike Rozier, Roger Craig & Tom Rathman, from Johnny Rodgers to Irving Fryar, from David Humm to Vince Ferragamo to Turner Gill, from Larry Jacobson & Rich Glover to recently departed Kenny Walker, from Trainwreck Novak to Dave Rimington & Dean Steinkuhler to former teammate Will Shields, from Jumbo Steihm and Bob Devaney to Mike Corgan, John Melton & Cletus Fischer, et al. Victorious spoils from season’s past burst from the trophy cases along the hallway stretching from the Hewitt study hall/training tables to the weightroom, shouting a declaration to every student-athlete that if they, too, upheld their mantle of Husker pride that they, also, might play a part in writing the history that followed.
Driving the point home one final time, there were the final twenty yards of whitewashed tunnel from the South Stadium Locker Room leading to the field, where every season’s accomplishments since God-knows-when was displayed score by score on a large, red, 3 foot by 4 foot plastic placard in bold white letters. Unspoken, everyone in that day’s coterie knew the proceeding hours’ final tally would be there for future generations to take notice of and perhaps live up to. Before exiting this historical gauntlet and its big, red double-doors you elevated a hand to the revered old ‘Husker Horseshoe’, as did decades of others gathering for the coming battle in the primes of their lives. Subtle or not, these components served as reminders that this tradition in which they were now so deeply and richly immersed was not easily gained nor ever to be loosely held. Building a legacy meant you always went for all the marbles. And you left it out there on the field in their honor. It was part of their DNA, their mental make-up, their code…
…with the tradition being what it was, you didn’t want to be that team that didn’t win 9 games a year …walking underneath the old horseshoe there, and seeing the big, red signs that had every season and every bowl game (inscribed on them) -obviously it started before Coach Osborne and it was Devaney, even- and Coach Osborne built it even more and we wanted to keep it rolling.
– Adam Treu
There was something much bigger than each individual who played on that team. And it’s about the program, about the tradition, about everything it stands for. No one person makes the place, it’s a combination of everyone who’d been there and contributed to making it what it is today…
– Christian Peter
The tradition there at Nebraska, that’s what it’s built on. That’s what makes the Big Red go, just doing it for the people who came before you, playing your best because they played that way.
– Chris Dishman
Words from the Great Motivator himself testified to the blessings of tradition…
…it isn’t always the coaches themselves that motivate. It’s what’s happened in the past… great tradition draws those kind of things out. – Charlie McBride
Not the victory but the action…
…the biggest thing that I took away from Nebraska is the tradition, how big tradition is …And with that tradition we want to go out there and give them four quarters of smash-mouth football. Win or lose, we want our head to be bloodied but unbowed …You should never hold your head down at Nebraska. In that pregame prayer there’s the line, “..if we shall lose, let us stand by the road and watch the winners as they go by.” If you lose, you lose with your head up. Because if you’ve lost, you should know that you’ve given it everything you could and they beat you …When you lose you want to throw up. That should hold true for any Nebraska team. – Michael Booker
The memory of recently departed brethren also played a part…
Kenny (Walker) left many impressions on me, mostly black and blue bruises. (laughs) Here’s a guy that had an interpreter with him so that he could understand what was going on and had to get his defensive calls by hand signals and all that, and it really had an impression on me. Here this guy is deaf, is a fantastic football player, and nobody works harder. If anybody could make an excuse it would have been Kenny, and I never heard him make an excuse. It really was pretty inspirational to see a guy that had that handicap be such a great teammate, a great player. – Terry Connealy
It was just how the guys in front of you practiced. You did not want to let them down… – Cory Schlesinger
There were also the personal interactions with Huskers past…
… what I really respected about the people of Nebraska was, they never forget their heroes and their stars. – Sonya Varnell
…sometimes we had players that would come back, and one of the guys that helped me out tremendously was Brian Washington… during those years I would see him working out. He would go out and have a great time, and then the next morning would be up before anybody and he would bust his tail. – Lorenzo Brinkley
(Tony Davis) would come and talk to guys off-the-record, without Osborne even knowing it, or anybody knowing, I think. But he would show up at the dorms, or the parties and point a few things out and say, “This is it boy, you’re in the big show now. You could do this, this and this. You can go out and do this, this and that. You can go out with the girls and get into the booze and the drugs. But don’t do it. You’re in the big show now. You can have the greatest time in your life, just play the game and have fun.” …he was one of those guys who would just show up out of the blue… And then there was that big guy who played down in Kansas City, who would just show up unannounced… Neil Smith. One other guy who had a huge impact in my life, a linebacker, he was related to Tyler Zahn, he played for the Broncos… Marc Munford. Munford was the spine behind us when we were there… He would come up and give us a pep talk. He was a great guy, too…
– Lance Gray
Johnny the Jet, in particular, made an impression…
…it was the confidence we developed and the tradition that we had to sustain before we even won the national championship. All the years before us were a major component in us being successful. I want to give credit to all the guys who came before us, even as far back as those ‘70 and ‘71 teams who won those championships. They were my role models at Nebraska because they had accomplished a feat that nobody else had done. I remember having quite few conversations with Johnny Rodgers and there was a time when I was there and he was working on a degree, too. He was my mentor. We’d sit down quite a few times and talk about past, present and future endeavors. That, and just wanting to be the team to be the first to win the national championship with Coach Osborne. – Kareem Moss
I’m in the study hall, and Johnny Rodgers is signing us into the study hall and I didn’t even know who the guy was, to be quite frank. And then after walking the halls and seeing trophies and finally finding out that this guy was so and so, I was like, ‘My God.’ I mean, those type of things are all around you and it’s overwhelming. That was it. – John Livingston
Then there were the memories of past Husker’s mannerisms & their exploits to mimic…
Watching TV, I used to love to watch the way Steve Taylor walked from the huddle. When they’d break from the huddle Steve Taylor would take his time to walk to the line of scrimmage to call a play. And I liked Turner Gill, who was from Fort Worth. And Irving Fryar and Roger Craig were the guys I watched. I used to always do the high knee action from watching him. Quite a few guys come out of Nebraska I used to look up to. And then closer in my age bracket, when I got older, Dana Brinson was a guy I would watch and say, ‘Yeah, I can go up there and do what he’s doing.’
– Corey Dixon
…among the offensive line that year we had -as a group- we’d collectively decided (it was kind of a corny deal) that we were going to pull our socks up… Yeah, both when we were in practice and in games. And what that symbolized was kind of the old-school uniform, old-school mentality. And that was how we worked and that was how we played. – Aaron Graham
…you loved the way (Coach Solich) would show the old tapes of Rozier and Rathman, we battled for every inch on the football field, you did not go out of bounds unless it was right before the half or a time-saving situation. – Chad Stanley
Not only serving as a sporting legacy, but an academic one as well…
And the whole process of going through college, there can actually be a ‘student-athlete.’ I was actually First Team Academic All-American my senior year. I remember as a freshman thinking, ‘Those guys who accomplished that were really cool.’ – Matt Shaw
A simple, block letter of the alphabet held incredible power…
The awe and honor of donning the helmet’s scarlet block N, of pulling that jersey over your shoulder pads for the first time…to see my name on that locker and when you first get that jersey, it was kind of overwhelming, you know? And as a kid it was pretty big to see Nebraska play Oklahoma. And so you know about Nebraska Football, then to actually have that jersey with your name on it, and you’re kind of part of that tradition? That was one of the greatest feelings in the world. And it never dies, I still bleed Husker red. – Trumane Bell
The biggest thing that stuck out to me was just going into the locker room and getting your helmet, with the red N on it. You start thinking: it comes with so much tradition and so many good players that played here and it was just an absolute honor at that time, and I wasn’t the only one in awe at that moment. There were a couple of the freshman, there was Abdul Muhammad just sitting there on the locker room bench and staring at it, and he couldn’t believe it, it was such an honor… – Troy Dumas
I’ll never forget, I was sitting on the field one day and we were just stretching out and I’m just watching everybody in the rows and everybody wearing N’s on their helmets, and it just hit me, ‘I’m in college.’ That’s when it hit me. And you know the N? The N is infamous. To actually sit there and know that you were sitting among a bunch of guys here and you were part of this, ‘This is Nebraska and you are in college.’ It just hit me like a ton of bricks, ‘Wow! This is real cool!’ – Riley Washington
And the sense of timeless brotherhood that came with it…
…when I was with the Raiders Tom Rathman and Jamie Williams were still on the squad. When I walked (into the Raider locker room) I was just amazed, because here Rathman walks in and goes, “Hey Husker, how are you doing?” I’m like, ‘It’s Tom Rathman!’ And Jamie Williams was the same way. Knowing me and knowing they signed a guy from Nebraska, it was kind of cool… But what great guys, him and Jamie. Great guys, man. Typical Nebraska guys.
– John Reece
You know (the former player) went through the same stuff I did. You don’t ‘know him’ know him, but you‘ve warmed-up on the same grass outside old Buck Beltzer field on the practice grass, walked along the same pathway to the training room and lifted the same weights. – Matt Turman
At times the word ‘tradition’ may seem tired, trite, warmed-over and overly sentimental, but the generations of young men who fought their battles on the same Memorial Stadium rectangle since 1923 had acted on this stage, a never-ending theatre by which their efforts would be judged. It was a double-edged sword, serving as both a hope from days past as well as a present & future challenge. It’s one thing to make history, but it’s quite another to be mindful of such a thing while you make it. These young men had this thought in mind, that life was made for the living and that victories were for the taking. The Nebraska tradition was an incentive, a compulsion, a spurring on to great feats. Tradition, legacy, lore, heritage, whatever you want to call it, it held a grip and served as a powerful energy. Only a fool would diminish its importance as a driving force of Nebraska Football.
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Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.
Summary Chapter to be continued…..