Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/UNITY COUNCIL & TEAM BONDING

Categories: Football No Place

Excerpted from Chapter 104, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch

Continued….

 

Anatomy of an Era: Final Chapter/UNITY COUNCIL & TEAM BONDING

UNITY COUNCIL/TEAM BONDING

Drawing on the community-minded and rugged, undying individual spirit of the Nebraska scholarship and walk-on players, what at first began as small position-based cliques among the linebackers, the offensive line and the defensive linemen soon grew into brother-like bonds that knew no status, position, creed, nor race. Hatched as the brainchild of Norfolk’s hellion turned high-minded Hellenist Kevin Ramaekers, the cadre of Tom Osborne, Dr. Jack Stark and Boyd Epley unleashed a quorum that served as a forum of free-flowing communication up and down the organizational chain with lightning-fast efficiency and thundering results. The resultant bonds threw out familiar understandings of the traditional ‘team’ concept and firmly fused the Huskers into deeper, lasting, familial relationships and a sense of transcendent oneness. Sure, there were still a smattering of personal annoyances and short-lived spats, but the Unity Council’s brotherly bonds cemented greater understanding of, mutual dedication to, and uninhibited collaboration among them all. Such was this mortar’s strength that the wall held firm when tested by forces both internal and external. They needed every bit of unity during those 1994 and 1995 seasons, in particular:

As a prelude, Boyd Epley first set the tone…

I told them, ‘This is a national championship ring, and I have a plan to get each of you one of these. But we’re gonna have to make some changes, and the changes are gonna have to come today.’ Then I proceeded to tell them what the plan was. It had to do with 3 steps. I told them that every team that I know of, regardless of the sport, was made up of three groups:

The ‘Want to be’… the ‘Have to be’, and …I said to them, ‘The third group that a team has’, and for lack of a better term, I called them, ‘Jerks.’ ‘Now,’ I said, ‘the first step’ …the first step was to ‘eliminate the jerks.’…And then I said, ‘I want you to stand if you’re committed.’  (It was all about getting them to commit to doing all of this, right?) So 200 guys stood up. And I got chills running down my spine, because these guys were jacked up- and it was a very motivating moment. I said, ‘Alright, now we’re one team…’     – Boyd Epley

 

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A crucial step was initiated…

Kevin Ramaekers… he was from Nebraska. And we got to talking and I said, ‘We really need some unity here. You guys need to care about each other, and we need some leaders here who have to care about everybody else.’ And he went to Coach Osborne and said, ”Hey, we need to listen to this project that Dr. Stark is talking about. We need something dealing with unity, Coach.”   – Jack Stark

This leadership group experienced some rough beginnings…

…the guys on the council really started to take it seriously …Jack Stark was at the forefront of that and just really put the presence of the players in there, and after a while the resentment was gone and they understood what we were trying to do. We were trying to clean house and go in the right direction.   – David Seizys

I just remember (earlier on) when meal time came around all the white guys would sit in one area and the black guys would sit in another. Except for us linebackers. It didn’t matter if we were white or black or whatever, we were all banding together, you know? …I was one of the guys who was on the Council at the beginning. They implemented that at that time, which was a pretty good deal. At least for me, as a linebacker, we had a pretty tight-knit group. We felt like we were all suffering together because of the coach at the time, who was Kevin Steele. (laughs) He really kind of banded us all together, but I just remember how we were a tight-knit group and looking out for each other.            – Mike Anderson

 

Kevin Raemakers & Brenden Stai
Kevin Raemakers & Brenden Stai

 

But it slowly began to take shape…

…our coaches did a really great job of breaking down any barriers or any real or perceived differences within our team structure. When we got together as a team it was just that: a team. We were all Nebraska. We were trying to get the N on our helmet and representing the state. That was something that really stands out and was really powerful about what we did, and why we were able to operate so well as a team and not a lot of individuals… – Ed Stewart

There were still multiple cliques that went around, but we could all get together and get along, that was the thing. It was an exclusive club to the football players, but we spent a lot of time together and definitely had each other’s back wherever you were… It’s not a cakewalk, it was a constant struggle, physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever you want to call it. You don’t spend that kind of time with your brothers and not become bonded for a long time.

– Jon Pederson

…they decided to start the Unity Council, and… one thing that did (and I didn’t realize this until years later) is that there is so much power in getting some of these issues out in the open and kicking ‘em out and throwing them out in the open and talking about it. And then? Then you just throw it in the trash and be done with it. There’s something so powerful about that. That helped the team progress …that Unity Council had a lot more to do with the team coming together than some guys might like to admit, because talking about problems is not a big forte for 95% of the community. But doing that as a football team? I think it made leaps and bounds as far as progress… That stuff didn’t leave the room, and that’s why it made it a little easier for guys to talk about it, because it wasn’t going to end up somewhere else… you get all these guys from different states and different walks of life and races and socio-economics and every different kind of variable you can think about, and just throw them together in a room and see what happens. Something’s going to happen, you know? (laughs) I think just having that Unity council there to hash things out- and even if the guys left the Unity Council mad- at least they got it off their chest and were able to move on from there… I don’t think I ever brought one thing up, but I certainly paid attention to what people were saying. It got quite interesting… – Gerald Armstrong

 

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Dr. Jack Stark

 

It was a bold, brave move to place such control in young men’s hands…

…coaches have to have a lot of faith in the team, trusting players to take care of it. And the coaching staff there, the continuity of that staff, I think it helped to have that kind of stability to put something like that together. – Chris Norris

People thought that Tom was just outdated and it was time to move on. And he made a decision and created the Unity Council at the time, kind of a governing board. I think that two players from each position group were voted on. I think they had to be juniors or seniors, upperclassmen. They were kind of the governing board. Tom wasn’t, quote unquote, the ‘bad guy’ anymore… And he told us from the start, “It’s gonna be your team. I‘m gonna come to you guys when there’s tough decisions to be made. And we’ll make them together.“ …what I miss about it is the camaraderie. That year, in particular, we did everything together. We had a cookout at different guys’ houses every weekend. We didn’t have any cliques. We hung out together, we studied together, we went to movies together. We did everything together as a team. It was special. And I think that’s what the young guys picked up on from us and carried that over in the back to back championship years.

– John Reece

I think things changed dynamically on the team at that point …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… When guys sat down to eat it was more guys in a group rather than the clique there used to be.        – Bruce Moore

 

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Troy Branch & Mark “Zeke” Cisco

 

The weekly gatherings provided the players a true voice, an opportunity to vent and commiserate…

…for some reason it seems at that time that I thought I had a whole lot to say. (laughs) It was good, because we did have a void in the communications between the players and coaches. I think it was the start of the change because the players started to feel a lot more ownership… I just think that we befriended each other, we genuinely cared for each other… The whole team has to be accountable as individuals, but they also have to feel ownership together, too. – Lorenzo Brinkley

…they would come up with suggestions and they could go to Tom and say, “We think we need to do this and that.” So there were positives to the players having ownership and it developed more and more, because the Unity Council were our leaders. And it kept you from having to put out a bunch of fires with intra-team squabbling.                 – George Darlington

“Okay, you complained, now here’s your opportunity. Well, now we’re giving you a voice.” And I really think that created a sense of trust, maybe, between players and coaches, a sense of ownership and a little bit of trust. – Mark Cisco

 

Fan Day '93
Fan Day ’93

 

Which led to less back-stabbing and more back-patting encouragements…

…every game, everybody was encouraging everybody. The second, third, fourth teamers were encouraging the first teamers. They’d want to get ahead so they could go in there and play. And the first teamers? They’d encourage the heck out of the younger guys playing. So there was great team chemistry.   – Curt Thompson

I used to hate Byron (Bennett) when I competed with him. I almost hated him, because he’s kind of a chirpy guy. Then his senior year and my junior year I kind of realized, ‘Alright, it’s this guy’s job.’ And then I got to know him better and I just loved the guy. – Tom Seiler

Whenever we were in the huddle and really needed a big play, really needed to come together and get something done, Aaron Graham would always lean over and reach down and grab us by our shins, our calves, the front of our legs, and all of a sudden it became a big deal where we always called it the ‘calf grab.’    – Joel Wilks

(The ‘Calf  Grab’) was between all of us. That was when we got down in the huddle, as a way of reaching over to your buddy. For me it was Brenden Stai and Joel Wilks, grabbing their calf and they’d grab mine, essentially saying, ‘I’m right here for you, buddy. I’m right next to you. We’re together.’ …‘I’m right there with you and we’re going to get the first down or score a touchdown.’ – Aaron Graham

 

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… even if you look at our Championship rings that they had, it said, “Unity, Belief, Respect.” So, unity was #1, you’ve got to believe in each other, and you’ve got to respect each other to be one cohesive unit. And we totally were. Absolutely were. Never did you see or hear guys fighting in the huddle.   – Kevin Ramaekers

The friendships also led to some back-slapping good times…

…(we) ran around with Kevin Ramaekers a lot. He was friends with my older brother, so he kind of took us under his wing. Kevin was our fearless leader and we were all kind of his little minions. (laughs) And Zach’s older brother, Eric, we were just basically punching bags for that crew, which was a lot of fun to get to hang out with those guys. There was a lot of torment and hazing going on there, but it was never hurtful or anything, just good-spirited stuff… – Jon Pederson

…the D-line barbeques that we’d have, and obviously with Grant being my roommate or Christian -those were the two people that I lived with- and every day was kind of memorable, so to speak. We always had a good time, we always laughed. (Brian) Nunnsy was there, too. Just the ribbing that goes on, those were the fun times.              – Jason Peter

Jacques (Allen) was always a guy who was full of jokes and never took anything too seriously. I’m sure he did bring a smile to Coach Osborne. And Coach Darlington, he loved Jacques. He loved Jacques.  – Eric Stokes

…Clinton Childs, he used to call me “The Australian Nigga.” (laughs) That was the biggest level of acceptance, where they accepted you for what you did on the field, by bestowing a nickname on you, and the small things ended up meaning something to you… That nickname, it was the ultimate level of acceptance and funny to look back on… they were so welcoming to me. In a time there were so many racial troubles going on, to experience something like that, there was nothing to do with the color of your skin, the people were just really open and lovely.   – Brett Popplewell

 

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Carb-Loading with fellow Blackshirts on a Summer Evening

 

…we were pretty humble, because most of us just thought of ourselves as scrubs… we were walk-ons that weren’t touted at all in high school and didn’t have egos and those other things. That was the cool part about it, and somehow the coaches got all these guys from all across the United States together at one time and we lose three games in 5 years. That’s a rarity. It wasn’t until I got into the NFL that I realized even more that the camaraderie of it was not really apparent at other schools… it was just “Team” with us. Even when we celebrated after doing something, the first thing our defense would do -when we made a play- you would turn around for the next guy to celebrate with. You didn’t celebrate yourself or show yourself off in the middle of the field in that sense, “Look at what I just did,” you looked for the guy who was playing next to you. That just comes from years and years of Coach McBride’s speeches, “You don’t play for yourself. You play for the man next to you.” …Bryan (Pruitt) and I would play on Saturdays and then we’d go pheasant hunting all day Sunday, and that’s how we would get our bumps and bruises worked out, by walking fields all day on Sunday. We’d play a game Saturday night and the next morning before the sun came up we’d be in Johnson County or we’d go out to Hastings. We’d go all over and go pheasant hunting. We did that all season long.   – Jared Tomich

Christian and Jason (Peter) had nicknames for everybody… There was never a dull day. We always had our characters, the guys who would stand out and make some noise or play pranks. It was always amusing… Christian was one of the biggest pranksters. He was always messing with somebody, I used to get a big kick out of watching him.                  – Jason Scott Jenkins

…our freshman class was so tight. We used to walk together everywhere. Not drive. Walk. I mean, we would walk miles together. We were tight, man. That’s what differentiated our class… I can remember this: there would be 25 to 26 deep at times, us guys walking around everywhere, we were close…    – Jacques Allen

 

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Kareem Moss (Top Row, 3rd from left)

 

The Council’s mere existence acted as a stark reminder that life as a student-athlete is full of choices, as well as consequences…

I wasn’t a saint by any means, but I wasn’t going to do anything that crazy to have to go in front of the Unity Council.  – Kenny Wilhite

…when there is an element of self-governance with the athletes managing themselves, setting some rules for the team, doling out punishment for those who step over the line, quite often they’re harder on themselves than the coaches would have been for the same infractions. – Dave Ellis

…one thing we developed was, it really came from a lot of guidance and counseling from Coach Osborne and some other coaches, but it was, “You guys have to take on this as a team.” And it’s one thing to sit there as a coach and say, “Hey, you’ve got to understand: if you do this, that you make sure you understand there’s consequences for every action, good or bad. And so, we don’t want to sit up here and act as the police. If something happens within this team, you have to figure out a way to deal with it.”               -Brenden Stai

 

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Solidifying a deep respect among the cabal…

…as a team, if you don’t know each other you’re not going to win. Family: you’ve got to have that family connection… Family, love, everything. And I say respect. Because you ain’t got to love every guy, but as long as you know what a guy’s purpose is on the team …as long as you respect every player and every person on the team, you’ll go far. And that’s what Coach Osborne made us realize. Everyone was important. Every player, no matter if that player just played one snap or if that player was Tommie or me…    – Ahman Green

…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. – David Alderman

 

Lorenzo Brinkley crew
Melvin McPhaul, Corey Dixon, Leslie Dennis, Aaron Davis, Riley Washington, Kareem Moss, Trumane Bell, Lorenzo Brinkley & Eric Anderson

 

The culture evolved to a more streamlined and inviting pecking order between the upperclassmen and newcomers…

…there was probably a little discouragement not being able to play my freshman year. But I hit the weight room hard and got an opportunity to meet some of the guys who were playing and developed some friendships and relationships with those guys… I was very fortunate that the D-linemen were a pretty close-knit group of guys, and a lot of those guys really took me under their wing: Kevin Ramaekers, Terry Connealy, John Parrella…    – Christian Peter

Brook (Berringer) was really nice to me from the get-go. The long-snappers, Aaron Graham and Adam Treu, they were really friendly right out of the gate. And the holders, Jon Vedral and Matt Turman, they were really good, too. I think Brook held a little bit in practice, too, I think there was a bond there. The other kickers weren’t happy with me, that I came over and was competing with them for playing time. There was a little bridge to cross there, but we ironed it out. – Darin Erstad

 

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’95 Seniors

 

Which created the culture of inclusion necessary for success…

…there was just an evolution, and by the time we were seniors I think we had less stars. You think about my senior year: you had Trev Alberts, but there weren’t superstars. And that team? They were ‘lunch pail.’ They came to work hard every day… if you truly want a ‘team’ that team has to believe in something bigger than itself. When you do that it’s easier to sacrifice, to make those personal sacrifices to allow the entire team to be better, not just you personally. – Troy Branch

And a greater sense of empathy for and understanding of their peers…

The family that I had at home was one thing, but to be a part of the family-within-a-family at Nebraska, to be a part of the same creed, those things are priceless… When Coach (McBride) took away (Kevin) Ramaekers’ Blackshirt we all stood in pain, because he lost his Blackshirt. When he took it away it was like he took all of ours’ away because of that bond, that brotherhood.

– Toby Wright

 

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Kenny Wilhite, Gerald Irons & Lorenzo Brinkley

 

…it forced guys to see things from other viewpoints. It helped bring the team together… So all of a sudden team rules and regulations, punishment for breaking those rules, a lot of that ended up being decided by the Unity Council… All of a sudden there’s a huge emphasis that everybody is beholden to everybody else on the team, and when that happened, I think it really did a great job of bringing everybody together.”I’m out here and everything I do, I’m doing it for the guy who’s lining up next to me. When I’m on offense, everything I do is trying to make it easier for the guys on the defense, because he’s out there trying to watch my back, as well.” All of a sudden, I think that really changed things in terms of common goals, having sort of a common attitude among guys on the team.

– Rob Zatechka

…the Connealy’s and all those guys, they stuck together to the Nth degree… The togetherness of those teams was remarkable. There was not hatred or big squabblings, even from the lowest, meek guy to the biggest loudmouth. If they thought something was happening they settled it themselves. It was a togetherness that was really developed. – George Sullivan

…a bunch of us walk-ons hung out together a lot, in addition to a bunch of scholarship guys, too. We had a common bond that way.    – Ryan Held

 

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The Last Big 8 Trophy: Jay Foreman, Dave Ellis, Christian Peter, Jared Tomich & Mike Rucker

 

It created a self-accountability that fostered intra-team discipline and focus…

…the football program, they had that point system and the Unity Council and all that. So the football program was already policing themselves to a degree. And if you got so many points you would not get to play or you would have to sit out a quarter. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t... – Sonya Varnell

…there was positive accountability… there’s accountability for you doing everything right: doing it the right way and doing it 110% percent in a positive way where people want to be a part of it versus feeling obligated, rather than a negative approach… being around that group on a day-to-day basis, just the confidence that you felt around that organization, everybody was part of the team. Even as managers we were treated as part of the team by the coaches and the strength guys, and that sent a message… the family atmosphere, the unity that was there. Remember the t-shirts we had printed up, the ‘Unity, Belief, Respect’ t-shirts and handing them out? You can build that culture…

– Brandon Hamer

…the Unity Council really did bring the team together. All of a sudden you have not only the coaches who were leading the team and then you’ve got the players monitoring themselves and assessing penalties. There’s nothing more motivational than when your peers are telling you you’re screwing up and you better straighten out, right? That means a lot more coming from your peers than the coaches, which is what you’d expect. When it comes from your own classmates and the guys you’re playing with, I think that that was probably a real turning point in bringing the team together and building unity. Certainly, you pull that many guys together, 23 or so guys, not everybody is going to get along, but there was a mutual respect and a sense that we’re all there for the same goal, and “Here’s what we’ve got to do to achieve it.” – Terry Connealy

 

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Mark Cisco #45 and the ’93 Defensive Back Group hamming it up

 

…you do not want to let down your peers. You’re more like, “If your coach yells at you you’re going to blow them off, but if you have a council of your peers go, “Why did you not make it to class on time? Why are you not doing this? Why are you not doing that?” That’s a little bit harder than having a coach or a counselor say that. When you’ve got guys out there that you’re playing with, fighting with every day out there on the field, when they say, ”You need to be accountable, because we need you out there.“ Even outside the classroom, that really drove the team together …and Lawrence Philips, he was a great guy to block for. Even in practice, he would give you that confidence and tell you ‘good job’ when you made a good play, in practice even. He and I were so in touch with each other. He knew what I was going to do. He had the confidence, “I know what Cory’s going to do here.“ He knew I was gonna do my job. The trust.           – Cory Schlesinger

To watch those guys conduct that meeting -and there were a couple guys that were brought in that had skipped a class or whatever case it may have been- they had to stand up in front of the Unity Council. And I remember feeling somewhat uncomfortable for those guys. It wasn’t that they got yelled at, but they got a stern, respectful talking to, that, “This is not the way to conduct yourself if you are going to be a Nebraska Football player.”….it was peer led and there was a lot of leadership, and I was really impressed by the way those guys conducted the meeting and how seriously they took it. And I think that’s because they embraced the Unity Council and felt as if they were going to have a say, that they were going to be respected by the coaches and the staff. They took ownership of it and they made the most of it. And as a result of that spirit and pride and respect, Nebraska Football was reborn. – Bill Doleman

There was better leadership, guys were more committed. Guys quit going out and drinking Wednesday and Thursday nights. I think when I was a young player some of the older kids I knew were out downtown, they weren’t as committed as they needed to be. They weren’t as committed in bowl games. -Trev Alberts

 

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A time for reflection

 

A unity of purpose and thought was hatched…

…the trend was for unity. You just said “Unity.” That last season I was there, that was the new term: Unity. It stopped being the Nebraska guys, the big guys, the little guys. That stopped, and we started socializing with each other. Everybody was hanging out and everybody was having fun. Call it diversity or whatever…   – Lance Gray

…there was a tremendous team chemistry that had been developed in the mid-1990’s. There was a chemistry between the players and the coaches, and there was chemistry between the teammates, and it didn’t have to just be the offensive line and didn’t just have to be different societal backgrounds: east coast, west coast, Midwest. I think there was a genuine love and respect among those players and coaches from those teams that had been fostered intentionally, that worked. – Bill Doleman

I don’t think there were any real cliques as far as one group over another. I think we all bonded as a team, and I’m trying to remember if there was a set offensive bus and a defensive bus. If I remember right, I think we kind of all just mixed it up.                      – Aaron Penland

It just seemed like for the most part everybody was on the same page as far as what we wanted to accomplish and how we were going to get it done. It was just like everybody found something in common with everybody. It didn’t really matter what kind of lifestyle you came from or what state you came from, but you had that common bond going in as freshman at this prestigious powerhouse. But on top of that we just found a lot of ways to get along with each other. – Troy Dumas

 

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Brady Caskey, Bryan Pruitt, ESPN’s Lee Corso & Steve Volin

 

It was most telling during the summer months…

I could see in the summertime guys were just working hard, you had more guys stay in Lincoln in the summer and go to summer school and working out in the stadium, and not too many guys were going home. And if you’d spend that whole summer together, you learned a lot about each other, you were hanging out in the same places, you were working out, going to school, having the same jobs together. The unity was built there. If you had guys going home over the summer and then come back in the fall its gonna take awhile to build that unity back up. And we did it all the time and got to the point where we could tell what a teammate was going to do at a certain point because we were so in tune with each other because of the time spent together. We could read off of each other instead of having to talk it out, and that was a big thing for us. Getting to know each other on a personal basis, as well, makes you more willing to fight for him …it was more of just being with the guys. We’d have an intramural basketball team, kicking it at home or the intramural league in basketball, just hanging out at a guy’s place having some barbeque and relaxing, just hanging out with the guys and getting to know each other. At times we’d go hang out at Amigo’s… it was the family atmosphere that set us apart. We were a big family.  – Trumane Bell

 

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Pipeline ’94 The Dominators: Zach Wiegert, Brenden Stai, Aaron Graham, Joel Wilks & Rob Zatechka

 

…We had built that trust because we had been together all summer and it was something we’d talked about… We were going to do what it took. – Calvin Jones

…there was no one individual that stood above the team. And if you did, there were other athletes that were as good as you and they let you know that you weren’t ‘the man’, you know? (laughs)…the group of players that we had was so tight. The coaches that we had were so tight. There was respect amongst everybody, there was really no person that was trying to be bigger than the system. And everything from -this is just crazy- everything from the coaching staff to the administration to the trainers to the academic staff with Leblanc and Zimmer to the weight staff, there was really no one trying to show anyone up or think that they were the end all, say all. And it just fostered great communication, great commitment, a great work ethic that created a synergy. …everyone got along. Everyone got along really well. When practice ended and we’d go back to the locker room and get showered up, we still hung out and played cards, BS’d forever …You have nothing but fondness. They become a family, they became a brother. You know what that person’s feeling, what gets ‘em going, what makes ‘em depressed, you become their best friend, their brother. – Aaron Taylor

 

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Darin Erstad, Brook Berringer & Matt Turman pre-National Championship

 

Which led to an unbreakable covenant during the toughest of times…

It’s about work ethic, about loyalty, about how to treat people, about overcoming adversity, about being a good partner, good teamwork… my senior year I was diagnosed with a kidney condition. And I didn’t even know if I was even going to play, but I just remember the linebackers, the guys, coming up into the hospital that day to see me. It just really drove that point home about togetherness, being your brother’s keeper, the whole team unity aspect of it...  – Ed Stewart

If I were to go back to one thing, it was just that bond, that chemistry of playing with the guys those years. I don’t know if it was by chance or what, but we had a lot of similar guys with a lot of motivation and lot of passion about it. And we just had a tight group and were such good friends, and to me that was the key for me. And that’s what I miss the most, too, just the love of the guys and being around them, all the guys. What I remember most was the good times with those guys and just putting everything on the line for them.   – Joel Wilks

…it’s one thing if you’re a unified group of people and others from the outside are shooting arrows at you: you’ll still be fine…   – Tony Veland

Particularly during the injury-filled 1994 season for the Nebraska quarterbacks…

I think my senior class was just a real tight unit, the tightness of everybody. We had a few hurdles to get through throughout the season: we had a quarterback with bloodclot problems, we had another one with a pneumo-thorax, playing our third string quarterback against a top 10 team on their field and had two plays and we still beat them. We really had to have that ultimate unity to get that accomplished. If we had many guys doing their own thing we couldn’t have gotten through that stretch undefeated… that was a special group of guys. We went through a lot of injuries that would have made a lot of teams fold… – Matt Shaw

 

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A gathering for prayer

 

It bent but refused to break during 1995’s media firestorm, the ultimate test of this newfound unity…

I think the Lawrence Phillips deal kind of brought us together, too, as a team. I guess that was ‘95, and that was trying for everybody and the spotlight was on us. I think we just kind of looked after each other and it was ‘us against the world’-mentality, a little bit for a while there. Everyone wanted to see us lose and not succeed. And that was fun, because it seemed whoever we plugged in there, it went well… We were a team. That’s the beauty of it. – Phil Ellis

Osborne said, “Guys, I’m kicking (Lawrence Phillips) off the team. He’s gonna have to get this counselling. If you want him off the team he’s off the team for good.” And this is why I admire the man so much, because he took a lot of heat for the deal.”If you want him off the team, he’s off the team. If you want him back on the team, I need some rules and regulations that you want out of him on top of what I’m gonna make him do, and this is what I’m going make him do: X,Y,Z.” And he ended up saying, “If he misses anything I require him to do, he’s done. Let me know what you decide.” He left and we sat there and talked about it with Jack Stark in the room… ultimately, Osborne’s going to be responsible, because he’s the head coach, but he was willing to take the heat and be the front man for what the group decided.  – Aaron Taylor

 

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Turman/Phillips/Schlesinger: An unbeatable combination

 

Aside from surviving that trial, things still weren’t total sunshine…

…everybody really cared about one another and wanted to win. I think the desire to win brought us together. I would say the guys did hang out a lot together, but I didn’t hang out as much. I usually wanted to be in charge of my own actions. If somebody wanted to act stupid I didn’t want to be in the newspaper with them. For the most part I tried to stay out of trouble. – Michael Booker

…everybody, for the most part -and I mean nothing bad, because we knew Tommie was kind of on a different level- but everybody in our recruiting class kind of clicked.             – Matt Vrzal

…me and Lawrence Phillips, we got into a lot of confrontations. Me and Lawrence got into it about three or four times. A lot of people don’t know that. You would think two guys from California would get along, but we really didn’t get along at all.                         – Michael Booker

…they call timeout, and Coach is just ripping me to pieces. So at halftime I’m sitting there -and I remember leaning over to Mike Minter- I told him, I said, ‘After the season, you know, I’m going to kick your ass. We’re gonna deal with this after the season. But I’m not going to mess with you now, don’t worry about it.’ We made it official that we were going to have it out after the season. And this was like the third game of the year… – Toby Wright

I’m not a huge fan of Tommie Frazier… He didn’t treat the guys like they needed to be treated… wouldn’t give you the time of day. – Bryan Pruitt

I got in there Friday and walked over to the walk bridge across the train tracks in Roanoke and walked into this tavern and it was Tommie… when I played with Tommie I don’t think that him and I ever exchanged more than three sentences with each other, but it was like seeing an old buddy. – Bill Humphrey

 

Tommie Frazier
The Bugeater Express

 

But in the end, it all came together and placed everyone on the same path…

I don’t know if it was my timing and Nebraska was spot on, but it just seemed like everybody was marching toward the same goal, whether it was Tommie Frazier as the starting quarterback or Brook Berringer as the starting quarterback in Tommie’s absence, all the way down to Darren Schmadeke and his brother Damon. (laughs) I mean, Darren Schmadeke and Damon Schmadeke were on the same page as Tommie Frazier.     – Mark Gilman

(Nebraska’s recruiting pitch:) “You have to give up that ego that you have and buy into this. And if you do, look what happens.” I mean, 13 and 0. I went to the White House and got to shake Bill Clinton’s hand. I got to be with Coach Osborne. – John Livingston

Then there were the off-field tussles and their resultant bonds, compliments of a local gang and a few professional wrestlers who didn’t know a Husker from a Wildcat…

… (we) get together to this day and that incident will always come up in some shape or fashion. It was pretty significant. The coaches probably wouldn’t count that sort of thing, but we bonded and gelled from that day on. We had our closest relationships since then.    – Troy Dumas

I remember that like it was yesterday. Do you remember that group that called themselves ‘The Lincolnites’? A lot were originally from Mississippi and Alabama and moved to Lincoln and were always mad at the football players, because they said that we always took the women from them… I got a phone call and someone was like, “Jacques, these dudes are following us back to the dorms.” So I go around and starting knocking on doors and said, ‘Hey, get downstairs. The Lincolnites are following such and such back to the dorms!’ So we get downstairs and it was crazy… That was our defining moment for our freshman class. It brought us really close. – Jacques Allen

 

Clayton Carlin
Clayton Carlin (far left)

 

… they had to deal with those knuckleheads, and I’d heard stories of guys in previous classes having to deal with the Lincolnites the first week and getting into fights …I remember when that happened our freshman year. They followed one of our buddies from the team home and after knocking on the doors and getting all of our teammates -about 15 or twenty of us out in the parking lot- and before they knew it they were surrounded, “Well, you know, you messed up now. Okay?” And you might say right or wrong? To this day I say we were right, now. To this day. Because right there we let them know, “Listen man, we don’t want no problems. But if you’re going to bring them to our door we’re going to take care of it.”   – Riley Washington

Even international scuffles brought them together…

I think the offense and defense started to get a little bit closer, too. And we had an incident over there in Tokyo where the team became one, fighting against some wrestlers…   – Corey Dixon

And then we get in the fight with the wrestlers in the bloody stairwell the night after the game…  – Brett Popplewell

…getting off the elevator at the hotel I see David White getting pummeled by these two big ol’ guys. So John Parrella, before the elevator closed, just punched one of the guys in the nose. We’d won the Big 8 the year before and he had his ring on and just lacerated the guy’s face. What started it all was one of the linebackers from Kansas State was talking trash to these guys. So as he’s getting off the elevator he says something to David, who just happens to be on the elevator with the guy, and he gets stuck on the elevator. And these guys think they’re together, so these guys just start pounding on him. As it turns out, we ended up meeting them downstairs at the bottom floor of this place and all hell broke loose. Elbows were flying. It was crazy.   – John Reece

 


Available on Amazon.com

 

Whether it was Tuesday night Unity Council meetings, movie night before the game, house parties, training table cut-up sessions, video game contests, mud-slinging in the training room, or scuffles made of young bravado & flowing testosterone in elevators, stairwells and parking lots, they eventually coalesced from individualists into one unified heartbeat of a singular entity. The Unity Council-induced metamorphosis was easier for some than others, but the battleship was fully turned and there was no looking back. It was a rope consisting of many strands, and with a little momentum in their wake, the newborn unity shifted thoughts and actions.

 

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.

 

Summary Chapter to be continued…..

 

 

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