Anatomy of an Era: Mike Anderson, Part 3
Excerpted from Chapter 88, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 2 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Mike Anderson, Part 3
Q: Obviously you were around when there was the ‘Unity, Belief, Respect’ mindset being pushed. Was that an outgrowth of the Unity Council or was that a separate thing?
MA: I don’t remember off the top of my head how all that came about. I remember we had those ‘Unity, Belief, Respect’ shirts and everything, but I can’t tell you how it all came about.
Q: Was there any semblance of racial tension when you first got there? Do you recall?
MA: You know, I don’t remember there being any. I just remember 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? But it did seem like that was the case.
In fact, the unfortunate thing -you probably heard about it- but right before the national championship game, what happened there with Lundberg…
Q: Was that when a defensive back, Leslie Dennis maybe, gave him a sucker-punch in the eye?
Former Husker linebackers Mike Anderson and Doug Colman
MA: Yeah, what happened was, he came up to him in the locker room and tapped him on the shoulder, and Lumpy turned around and he jacked him. Lundberg fell back in his locker and broke a bone in his face. And I remember at that time there was a little bit of a black and a white issue at that time, and some guys were trying to make it that way. But not everybody, though. So that was kind of an unfortunate situation right before the biggest game of your career, you know?
Q: I heard some of you Unity Council guys sat down and put that to rest, squelched that issue rather quickly?
MA: I can’t remember if it was the Unity Council or if it was just the coaches who sent him home. They sent him home. It was kind of sad to see him back on the team the next year. I thought they would have just booted the guy off the team, because that was pretty uncalled for.
Q: What happened there? You guys were in half-pads and Lumpy ended up running him over in the practice? Was that the deal?
MA: It was no-pads and Lumpy was pulling around and Leslie was cornerback, and he was just blocking the cornerback and he hit him and knocked him down. And it wasn’t like he was full-speed or anything, just a typical lineman going out and hitting somebody and giving ’em that extra push, and that’s what happened. Linemen were always famous for that, they’d give you that extra push all the time. (laughs)
Q: As far as practices, does anybody or any other event stand out from your experience?
MA: Well, guys like Cory Schlesinger, having to go against him all the time. When I was a redshirt Jake Young was the center coming out on me all the time. And back then, we had a lot of good linemen: Zach Wiegert, Brenden Stai and all those guys, there’s a lot of guys for me, as a linebacker.
And the other thing: Steele, what he would do in practice, he would grab O-linemen and be doing ISO drills with them carrying the ball. So you’d be hitting them O-linemen like a fullback where they’re running full speed. So we got to be pretty intimate with a lot of those linemen. And us linebackers, we were always the ones sitting in the training room with the ice on our shoulders from hitting them all the time.
Q: Was there one guy you just hated going up against?
MA: Yeah, I hated to go against Schlesinger, because that guy could hit hard. As far as the linemen go, I can’t say that there was one that stuck out over the other.
Q: Any other thoughts about what contributed to the changes around there, culminating in your great senior year? Anything, no matter how seemingly small?
MA: You know, I think the biggest thing that really helped us change during that time frame was on defense when we switched to the 4-3. It used to be primarily our passing defense and then we started stopping guys running and passing, so it was kind of the whole transition with the defense and getting some faster guys in there. That was what really helped us, because the 5-2 defense was a little easy to play against. That was the biggest thing to help our defense there. But there are a lot of stories from those days.
Q: What story stands out the most?
MA: We talked earlier about one of the things that motivated me. I remember my freshman year, I think it was our first or second day of full pads. My roommate at the time was Lance Lundberg and we’re living in the dorms, and I remember waking up one morning during two-a-days and looking around and Lance is gone… and I look at the clock and practice is starting in 5 minutes! (laughs) I was in Abel Hall and had to get to practice and be in full pads in 5 minutes. I hauled to the stadium, got my pads on, ran out onto the field, and I was on the field like ten minutes after. Coach Steele, after practice made me stick around and do the up-down every five yards for like a hundred yards. And I remember, Troy Branch sat there and watched me do it the whole time. I thought, ‘Hey, this guy’s pretty cool,’ and then I saw he was just sitting there laughing at me. But later him and I became pretty good friends. I learned my lesson right away: I wasn’t going to be late for a practice after that.
Q: So Lumpy went without you and just left you sleeping there?
MA: Yeah, he left me. I learned a little bit about his friendship at the time, too. (laughs)
Kevin Raemakers, Bobby Bowden & Lance Lundberg
Q: Was there anyone behind the scenes who played a big role in the whole thing coming together, who contributed to a large degree?
MA: Without a doubt it was Bryan Bailey. He was the guy who was working with you. That guy? When you worked out with that guy you felt like you were gonna die -but he’d just keep pushing you and pushing you and pushing you. He was the guy you really felt like he cared about you, not only getting in shape and all that, but as a person. I really felt if it wasn’t for him -and Boyd got all the credit- but Bryan Bailey was the one who did the majority of the work.
Q: I have to ask you more about Kevin Steele…
MA: …You know, the one thing I do remember, he was the one that old Kevin Greene was choking. I remember watching that NFL game and I was getting phone calls from a whole bunch of guys at the time, “Hey, did you see that?” Because that was something everybody wanted to do, but we didn’t have the guts to do it. (laughs)
It would be funny, we’d be sitting in these linebacker meetings -and you screwed up in practice so he’d chew your ass in practice, and when you go to films the next day he would look at you like “Why did you do this?!” again, when he already chewed your ass once. So you’d get your ass chewed out twice every time. So our goal, as we got older, we’d try to start talking about other things like life and ask him all sorts of off-topic stuff. We’d get into these “life-days” once in a while and he’d be teaching us how to tie ties and what shoes to wear with what suit and start talking about all these different things. (laughs) Our goal was always to do that with him every time we had a crappy practice the day before so we wouldn’t get chewed out again.
Q: (laughing) That’s beautiful. Any other coaches stick out to you as someone special or unique?
MA: Every coach there was special and unique in their own way. Steele, though? Basically, he was a good coach. I’m not going to take anything away from him, he was a good coach. His methods were a little odd, but it really helped us as linebackers to become a pretty close-knit group. Every time I run into guys I played with, we all kind of went through the same thing so we all have that bond.
Q: I’ve run this past Coach Osborne once, but wonder if the fact that you played with and/or next to Kenny Walker, do you think that had an effect on the team in future years, the attitude they took towards the game?
MA: Yeah, Kenny was a heck of an athlete. He was probably one of the best athletes we had on the team and he was a fun guy to be around. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story, but Charlie McBride would chew his ass. And Kenny? One time… Kenny spoke really muffled like “Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh..” and then Kenny said, “..f#*% you.” It was crystal clear! The only time in my life I’d heard Kenny say something that crystal clear! And McBride turned around and said, “What did you say!?” And Kenny just said, “Duh-duh-duh-duh” and walked away. (laughs) He was a fun guy, plus he was such a great athlete. He was amazing.
Q: Do you think that his excelling at his position despite being deaf inspired anyone else?
MA: I would think it did. It was pretty cool to see a guy be as good as he was, and if you didn’t know he was deaf you wouldn’t think it. I was always amazed when I called our plays in the huddle. (As the linebacker, you were always the one calling the plays) And when I was calling plays in the huddle he would read my lips. I remember thinking it was amazing that he could read my lips, you know?
Q: Interesting. And if I recall, was there ever a really cold game one of those days when your lips didn’t even feel like moving?
MA: Oh yeah, we had quite a few of those days, actually. The game that really sticks out in my mind was that way. It was at Colorado in ’91, a night game. I think the temperature was minus 5 degrees at kickoff. I’ve never been so cold in my entire life. I remember coming to the stadium -and you get there like two hours before the game- and the student section was packed. They were all drinking beer and drunk, and man, they were crazy. There’s no way I’d be sitting out there. (laughs)
Q: I have to say, I’m still taken aback that you weren’t a native Nebraskan. And branching off of that fact, was it ever conveyed to you via your teammates how special Nebraska’s tradition was in any special way?
MA: You know, I would say probably ‘not really.’ I had only lived in Nebraska for three years, and it probably wasn’t until I was even out of college that I truly realized and appreciated the whole experience I went through. Because during that time you’re working hard and fighting through the whole thing, but you didn’t really realize how special it really was at that time, until after I was out of college. Then I probably appreciated it more than when I was going through it, because when you’re going through it it was a lot of work; all the different struggles of being in college and all of that, living day-to-day. So it wasn’t ‘til I got out until I fully appreciated it.
Obviously I enjoyed the whole experience -I loved it- loved being there and playing. And the biggest thing I missed was the camaraderie of being with all the guys. I remember trying out with the Jets there, and during the whole experience you felt like a number. But when you’re at Nebraska you’re part of a team and you feel like you’re part of something special.
It was different, because at Nebraska you always knew you were going to win. You never doubted you were going to win. Even if you played the number one team and you were ranked twentieth in the nation, you still felt like you were going to beat them because of the way Coach Osborne convinced us how well we were prepared. He never talked about winning, but he talked about how “we’re going to work hard, we’re going to be the most prepared team.” So we went into a game with the confidence knowing you’re more prepared than they are and “we’re better coached and we’re going to beat them.” Then you go on to the next level and you really don’t have that same camaraderie and don’t have the same confidence that we had at Nebraska.
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Q: What is the biggest lesson from that whole experience?
MA: For me, it’s not the outcome that you want, but it’s the process to get there. For me, in the car business, obviously your goal is to sell cars, but selling cars is the culmination of the other things. If you do everything else well, the car sales will come. I was telling this to Coach Osborne: when he said, “We’re going to prepare the best and we’re going to block and tackle better than anyone else,” when it came time to play the game you just won more games because of that. That’s kind of the main thing I took away from my experience there.
Q: So just focus on the process and not merely the result, because the results will come?
MA: Yeah, that’s right.
The plot thickens. Holy cow, there’s one for the history books: the Linebacker Mutiny of ’93! Who would have believed? Who would have known about the inner, positional strife among the linebackers and their coach? I knew there was some tension during that time, but not to this great a degree. In hindsight, if I were to give a title to this particular chapter it would have been: Averting the Mutiny of ’93. There had to have been some serious distaste in the senior ‘backers’ mouths to have considered such an act, which no doubt would have sent a shockwave through the team and disrupted the building process toward greater unity of purpose, of brotherhood, of effort and sacrifice. It’s been said by others (off record) that Coach Steele was a character of some concern, but I wonder if it was all a part of the man’s plan -and perhaps the Head Coach and his Defensive Coordinator’s plan, too- to bring a bit of Kevin Steele’s nastiness and nihilism to the corps. Knowing the mix of personalities on the staff along with Tom and Charlie’s sense of the missing pieces, Coach Steele’s hiring may have been equal measure of coaching ability, recruiting charm, and his brusque personality. Remember, with enough heat and pressure over a long enough span of time even a lump of granite becomes a diamond.
Once again, there was Mike’s mention of negative motivation playing a part through the years, “..nobody wanted to be a part of that team that broke the 9-game win streak and the bowl game, so a lot of it was motivated by tradition and not being the team that screwed it up.” Tradition cuts both ways, it seems. On the one hand the high school recruits (as well as walk-ons) were seeking to latch onto a program with solid credentials, passing the test of time in longevity and success, with coaching staffs and schemes remaining stable and fixed to match their talents. But conversely, they were then tasked with upholding and continuing this same tradition that drew them in, each season building upon another and raising the stakes. That must have been a heck of a lot of pressure.
Then what caught my ear was Mike’s being so caught up in the harried frenzy of those college days that he truly did not have or did not take an opportunity to take a step back and take it all in, more fully appreciating the experience, smelling the roses here and there. If you’re in a bad marriage – or prison, let’s say- I’m sure 4 or 5 years can seem like a lifetime, but for these guys the day was dusk by the time they took a breather from the hectic, on-the-go lifestyle of a college student-athlete, “..when you’re going through it it was a lot of work. And all the different struggles of being in college and all of that, living day-to-day.” You know the saying: “Time flies when you’re having fun.” Or something to that effect.
Notable quotes #2:
Mike Anderson on the Nebraska Football mindset: “..at Nebraska you always knew you were going to win. You never doubted you were going to win. Even if you played the number one team and you were ranked twentieth in the nation, you still felt like you were going to beat them because of the way Coach Osborne convinced us how well we were prepared.”
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Author assumes no responsibility for interviewee errors or misstatements of fact.