Anatomy of an Era: Jon Pedersen, Part 3
Excerpted from Chapter 90, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Jon Pedersen, Part 3
Q: Any other coaches stand out to you as special or unique?
JP: Well, Charlie McBride… come on. He was the biggest character of them all. Him and his fake teeth, the guy was a real comedian. But he was very serious. Ron Brown, he was a really nice guy, always very positive, a lot of good things to say. And Coach Kevin Steele, it was one thing to take an ass-chewing, but this guy was really berating. He was like a nasty 14-year-old girl. Remember he went to the Panthers and one of his players kicked his ass on the sidelines?
Q: That was linebacker Kevin Greene. I think the term ‘schadenfreude’ comes to mind when that moment is spoken of, because a lot of guys felt some sense of satisfaction when that went down, as if to say, “Yeah, you finally got what was coming to you, buddy.” (laughs)
JP: Yeah, he was just that way. He definitely wasn’t part of the guys who had been there a long time, like Milt and Dan and McBride and Brown and Tony Samuel. Tony Samuel, he was a great guy. A lot of fun. Again, another positive guy. All the coaches there were very positive, very supportive. Then you took a guy like Coach Steele. Bottom line, he was just a pr#!ck.
Q: Do you think maybe Coach Osborne hired him onto the staff because he brought a nastiness, or because maybe he was just really good down in the Florida area when it came to recruiting?
JP: I don’t know. I’m just thinking there was a certain incident where he would jump down guys like Troy Branch’s throat in a half-pads practice and Troy would go, “Well, screw this” and then he’d go all out and dive for a ball in practice. And that’s how people got hurt, you know? He didn’t have any people skills. Maybe he was a great linebackers coach, but his people skills needed to be improved upon immensely.
Q: Let me ask you, was there anyone behind the scenes who really made a big difference in the success of the whole organization?
JP: Well, that’s very inclusive, because you had all the video guys: Bryan Carpenter and Brian ‘Moose’ Mohnsen, the great job they did. They’d get the opposing team’s films. And the equipment guys. The next guys who probably get the most credit would probably be the weight room staff. But the whole thing was a great production, all the coaches and players, the total support the coaches and players would get behind the scenes from all the support people. So to try to narrow it down? Geez. I know Boyd Epley and his crew got a lot of kudos for creating all these monster guys -and you were part of that- one of Boyd’s minions there. (laughs) But just think of the training table people there.
It was like a big business. And whose job was it to oversee all that? Was it Coach Osborne’s or was it the athletic director’s? Who kept all of that going? Just think of what it took for the team to travel to the bowl game. Remember how you guys would load up semis of the weight room? And flying people everywhere? So how can you narrow it down? That’s a pretty expansive question, there. I would say the lunch ladies, because they kept us fed. (laughs)
Q: Was there a German lunch lady? Remember her?
JP: I can remember her. Funny that you said that. I’m just saying the whole crew. And then when nutritionist Dave Ellis came in, that guy was a professional. It’s hard to say who kept that Big Red Machine going. I know Coach Osborne did a lot: he was the head coach and Bob Devaney was the athletic director when I was there. He did the socializing and the late lunches with cocktails…
Q: He had the trainers bring ice up to his office, but it wasn’t to nurse an injury. (laughs)
JP: Yeah! And like I said, we were all friends. 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.
Q: Do you have a favorite game that stands out to you?
JP: Even though I didn’t play, I’d have to say it was that national championship game in Miami when we beat Miami. Come on, it was like all that work and I got to see my buddies -guys I started with- win a national championship. I would have loved to have been on the field in pads, but I still felt a part of that, you know? Like I said, I got to see the other side of the fence and see how the coaches worked. What little bit I had to help with, I played a part in it. It was extremely organized.
Q: What did you do during that game?
JP: Myself and Mike Grant, we’d sit up in the endzone and whatever the offensive formation was, we would quickly jot down every play and what the other team’s defensive line was doing. And those cards would go down to Coach Osborne, and that’s what he would base his offense on. If we messed those up he knew immediately that we’d messed up. The ‘dadgumits’ didn’t just stop with the players on the field. He was a really smart guy, you know.
Q: You’d hear a ‘dadgumit’ for messing the cards up with incorrect information, huh?
JP: He knew everybody’s job better than they knew it. It wasn’t like you were going to sneak anything by that guy. I’m sure if he’d hear me say that he would say I’m giving him too much credit, but he did.
Q: I’m convinced the guy’s a genius, Jon. Whether it would have been coaching football or bio-mechanical engineering or leading a moon-landing, I’m convinced he would have been successful.
JP: Yeah, he knew exactly what was going on in all facets of the game at all times.
Q: And to finish up here, what do you think are the most important lessons you’ve taken from that time there? What are you most thankful for?
JP: Obviously, the camaraderie and the lifelong friendships you had there. 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. Granted, we get older now and grow apart, but we still get together and talk to each other and maintain friendships. A lot of people don’t understand it, but I could not talk to Zach Wiegert for three years and then see him tomorrow and we’d pickup on the conversation where we left it off three years prior. I guess it’s that trust. You build that trust that stays with you forever.
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And then secondly, I constantly remember those little lessons Coach Osborne was telling us when I was nineteen and was, “What the hell is he talking about?” Now that I’m in the work force, the Border Patrol, and a father, I get it now. I’m sure everybody had a different experience, but that was mine. And his message never changed, that was the thing. The way those players were, the level of dedication every year to win that national championship? One blocked field goal and we would have been national champions three years running. Had that guy not been able to jump nine feet in the air and deflect that kick, we would have won the national championship.
Q: Do you mean the Florida State game in the final seconds on that kick by Byron Bennett? Someone deflected the ball?!
JP: Yeah, they touched the ball. Watch the film. They deflected it. Go on YouTube now and watch it. Watch how high that guy jumps. He deflects the ball and it goes wide. It was a good kick.
Q: I was always under the impression that Byron shanked it. You’re telling me something different? I don’t believe it.
JP: No! Watch. ’Cause I remember. I was on the sideline and was standing there. This guy jumps up and touches the ball.
Q: Wow, I’ve never heard that one before.
JP: I’m telling you man, I was there. I was on the sidelines and saw it in vivo. He was like Superman.
Q: I’m gonna have to get back to you on that one. So tell me exactly what you’re doing with the U.S. Border Patrol?
JP: Right now I’m a supervising Border Patrol agent at the El Cajon station. I’ve been doing that since I graduated college in May of ’95. I got into the Border Patrol in October of ‘95 and that was like an extension of college, going through the Academy. I’ve been in the canine program since 1998, so I’m a Canine Handler/Instructor/Supervisor.
Q: I have a good friend who is in that same line of work and is a former Navy SEAL, and he has nothing but good things to say about you. He always shakes his head and goes, “That’s a big guy. A big guy.” (laughs)
JP: That’s the thing about being a former football player: You get out of football and you keep eating like you’re playing. I have to teach myself to eat more celery sticks…
Stop the presses! We might have the makings of a new conspiracy theory. Could it be true? Is Byron Bennett forever freed from possible indictment and a life of self-exile due to a herculean feat on behalf of a Seminole defender? Remember that part in the opening chapter where I wrote of the defender ‘taking to a stratospheric air’? Maybe my description was more truth than hyperbole, after all. I’ve seen the video and still can’t decide what actually took place, to be quite honest with you. Log on sometime and judge for yourself.
Jon touched on a number of things here. First and foremost was his: “So being a student was a full-time job. Football was a full-time job… It was pretty tough, you really had to want to be there.” In the course of this meandering search for truth and revelation from those who lived the experience in the flesh, (in vivo, as Jon would say) maybe you, too, have come to a greater appreciation for the young men on the Nebraska Football squads. Let’s face it: the Nebraska Football sojourn is not for the weak of mind nor heart, much less every other muscle and bone. The turbulent game of football has its epiphanies, its ecstasies, its rapture, its exaltations. On the flip side, it also births its share of heartache, heartbreak, heart burn, and heart-searching. Such was its grip on so many young Nebraska boys in that day. Unlike Homer’s Ulysses, it was like a siren song with no mast to tie upon nor enough wax to stop-up ears for safe passage.” Fate be damned,” they bellowed at its beautiful, haunting call, “..I’m headed for Lincoln.”
Then there was his disclosure about the prevalence of competition, driving even the guys on top of the heap to never relinquish their position despite heavy bodily cost: “…everybody was a tough guy, there was no wimping out.... Kevin Ramaekers, he was a tough guy. I don’t even think that guy ever had a pain threshold. John Parrella, too. There was David White… That guy was just a killer. That guy used to play with bones sticking out of his body and covered in so much blood the referees would make him come off the field. He would have finger bones sticking out of the skin and would tape up and go back in. He was a tough em-effer!” As memory serves, there were tough em-effers in just about every direction one looked. Even on the coaching staff. The thing is, there was very little posing, haughty talk, braggadocio, windbags or blowhards. Instead, during that 60 & 3 era it was almost quite the opposite, with a youthful stoicism, a self-assuredness, a modesty, and even meekness ruling the day. It was an odd party to be privy to, to be quite honest, for one could sense all energies and efforts were continuously being conserved for graver pursuits, for the fields of play, for the work of the coming day. All the while, something was building, growing, metamorphosing ever so quietly in that off-season pressure-cooker of Memorial Stadium. And when that pressure was eventually released, that monster was birthed, finally bursting forth on a fall Saturday, the boys then -and only then- spoke with great volume.
Notable quote #2:
Jon Pedersen on the coaching side of the fence: “Those guys put in a shitload of hours. The amount of hours those guys did and the amount of film and preparation that goes into every game, all sorts of things. Those guys would go all day on Sunday, there was no stop.”
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Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.