Anatomy of an Era: Terry Connealy, Part 3
Excerpted from Chapter 51, No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vol. 1 by Paul Koch
Anatomy of an Era: Terry Connealy, Part 3
Q: Any memorable off-field occasions worth sharing?
TC: (laughs) The ‘worth sharing‘ is the tough part there. All kinds of great off-field memories. Gosh, you didn’t just spend your days on the practice field. These were the guys you lived with and did things with.
Some of my favorite times were in summer school, because you’d get up and go to class for three or four hours and you were usually living with a bunch of guys in the summer. You’d go work out together in the summer. It was just a lot of fun because you got to spend so much time together and you only had like three hours of class. You got to work out and run together.
A lot of the camaraderie and work ethic and everything were formed after my junior year when we lost the Orange Bowl to Florida State: that next summer was so wonderful. That’s when it all came together, at the end of every practice we’d put the 1:16 back up on the clock, and we were that close. You sucked it up and you went harder than you thought you could go, and it’s things like that that you remember. You don’t really realize how far you can push yourself until you do it. You remember thinking, ‘Gosh, I don’t know if I can do it.’ But you survive, and you find out you can push yourself a lot harder than you think you can.
Just the summer workouts, it was great. We made a lot of improvement between my junior and senior year that summer. It was just fun to see the determination and work ethic that everybody brought to it. It’s easy to say, in hindsight, that we knew we weren’t going to lose the next year. It hurt too much that we weren’t going to let it happen again.
Q: Any practice stories worth recalling?
TC: Oh boy, there’s a lot that come to mind. I’m trying to think of an appropriate one (laughs) where somebody doesn’t get in trouble. I don’t want to throw anybody under the bus.
Q: I ask that question and usually get a lot of nervous giggles, Terry. Even 15 years later they still don’t want to call out their teammates…
TC: (laughs) Some of the funniest ones –well, not necessarily funniest– I remember when the offensive line and the defensive line, at that time the O-line would be over in the pit. We’d be over in the Schulte Fieldhouse and then at the end of team work, once or twice a week we’d all get together and do live one-on-ones -run blocking or pass blocking- and they used to get intense. About once a week or so there would just be a knock-down, drag-out fight between the O-line and the D-line, and Charlie and Milt certainly wouldn’t jump in to break it up. They let you work things out on your own.
And you look back? Those were some of my best friends and here you’d be trying to knock their block off. There was some funny stuff used to happen, it was just so intense. It was a lot of fun.
Q: That’s where the true combat capabilities were being forged, so to speak?
TC: Yeah, you better bring it 100% because the other guy was going to. You were playing for pride. You didn’t want to be the guy who lost the most battles consistently, because you’d hear about it. (laughs)
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Q: And speaking of pride, what would you say you are most proud of from your time there as a student-athlete?
TC: You know, probably the thing I’m most proud of was that I had the opportunity to be on Coach Osborne’s first National Championship team. Growing up in the ’70’s and ’80’s, we were so close several times where we lost one ballgame throughout the year and it cost us the national title and you go for two and we don’t make it. We’d just been so close, and it was very rewarding to be on Coach Osborne’s first National Championship team. It probably didn’t mean nearly as much to Coach Osborne as it did to the rest of us because that’s the kind of guy he is, but the rest of us felt like we helped get the monkey off his back a little bit.
Q: Did it?
TC: I think so. Gosh, it’s really kind of crazy how we were so close. So close. So close for two decades and then all of a sudden in the ’93 season we were within a 1:16, and then from that point on Nebraska had a 3 or 4 year run that is gonna be hard to ever match. You go undefeated in ’94, you go undefeated in ’95, you skip a year in ’96 and go undefeated in ’97. All of a sudden you just kind of turn into a juggernaut.
Q: I’m trying to get into the nuts and bolts behind that juggernaut…
TC: It didn’t just happen. To me it didn’t change dramatically to make it happen: it was tweaks here and there along the way. Because certainly in the 1982 and ’83 seasons when we lost to Penn State and Miami, we were good enough to win the national championship. We were a bad call against Penn State from winning two straight titles, that’s the honest truth. If those two plays happened differently in the early ’80’s Coach Osborne’s got 5 national championships.
So they didn’t have to make dramatic changes. I think it was just a culmination and tweaking, refining things: the Unity Council bringing the team tighter together to really work towards unified goals. But nothing was really that badly broken that all of a sudden things just got fixed and we start winning national titles. We’d been pretty good the whole time.
Q: Was there anyone behind the scenes who never go their due for what they did for the program? Can you single anybody out?
TC: Paul, there were so many people behind the scenes there who worked so selflessly.
Think about it. Think about the team that you worked with. Think about yourself, think about Bryan Bailey, think about Mike Arthur. I could have had a class and needed to meet one of you guys at 5 every morning to get my workout in and someone would have been, “Absolutely. I’ll meet you there.” There were so many selfless people that had your best interests in mind.
Think of Dennis Leblanc, Keith Zimmer. Those guys worked harder than anybody, do whatever it takes. If you weren’t successful as a Nebraska football player it certainly wasn’t because people were not willing to help you, because the support staff was just unbelievable. And I think that’s probably a pretty rare occurrence. I know it is. Because the brief time I was at camp in the NFL? 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. But it was amazing how many guys you sat down with from big time conferences and big time programs that had a crummy college experience and couldn’t wait to get out of there.
And gosh, the training staff: Doak and Jerry Weber and Sully. Whatever fit into your schedule, they were there to help you. There were just so many people willing to step up to the plate to make you successful. And I’m sure I missed some people. That’s not my intention, because you look back and, you know, the older you get the more you appreciate it. At the time, like I said, you thought that was the status quo, that everybody had that support staff and that team behind us. And then you find out that’s pretty special. At the time I’m sure I took that for granted. Or I’d be thinking, ‘Geez, what a pain in the ass Paul Koch is for making me get on the treadmill,’ but that wasn’t the case.
Q: Or do an extra set of Hang Cleans because it wasn’t technically perfect?
TC: Exactly! (laughs) But you look back and it’s pretty amazing how we were all pulling in the same direction for the same goal by pulling different levers, but certainly it all helped push us in the right direction.
(Courtesy Omaha World-Herald)
Q: I’ve got to ask: do you remember the slogans, “Unity, Belief, Respect”, “We Refuse to Lose” & “Unfinished Business”? Did the mottos ever mean much to you?
TC: Yeah, it did. Some more than others. The one that I think captured the team’s mentality and determination was the year, “We Refuse to Lose.“ I can just kind of remember that that was the mantra there, where you’re going into a tough spot and you just felt like failure was not an option. You just did whatever it took to not to lose, but to win. I think that really took on a life of its own, especially that next year with “Unfinished Business.” To me those two were really kind of tied together and almost went into one, because, unfortunately, we had some unfinished business. But we took care of it.
Q: Well, if you ask me, that ’94 Florida State game, we didn’t get beat. We may have lost, but we didn’t get beat…
TC: We beat them everywhere but the scoreboard. And that happens. You could have pouted about it and sulked and the like and it wouldn’t have made any difference, or you just could have decided you could have done better next year. We fortunately had a bunch of guys that did the latter and got back there.
The guys that I feel badly for is that bunch of seniors in 1993, because they deserved to have the national title. We deserved to have the national title that year, but it just didn’t work out. That kind of goes back to an earlier question about setting goals for the national championship. Well, that was kind of out of our control. We played good enough to win in, but we didn’t.
Q: What have you gained most from your experience at Nebraska? How do you think that made you a better man?
TC: You know, the whole experience? You always hear the old clichés about athletics and how it carries over to life after athletics? But to me, Paul, it’s really not a cliché. All the things we’ve talked about the last hour as far as leadership, not taking shortcuts, working hard, being able to handle adversity. Because obviously, in football not everything goes your way, and what are you gonna do when that happens?
And as corny as that sounds, it’s the same with life after football. Life’s not fair: you’ve got adversity, you’ve got to work hard, things aren’t going to fall in your lap. Just the determination and the work ethic that my whole experience taught me there.
You find that if you have those characteristics and you do them and you work hard at it, that generally things turn out okay. And it doesn’t happen by accident. To me it’s really something that I was fortunate enough to be plugged into a program and a bunch of people who taught me that, and hopefully I’m carrying it on and doing it in my day to day life now. And it’s certainly helping me.
Q: Do you think having a guy like you in an organization, is there any rubbing off onto the others who haven’t had that previous experience?
TC: I certainly think there can be. I was very fortunate to join an organization that had a lot of those same characteristics. And I was fortunate enough to find that. But if you weren’t fortunate you’d think that would rub off, because if you do all those things your chances of being successful certainly increase. So yes, I think that would rub off on co-workers in the organization.
Q: Well, Terry, I appreciate the time you’ve given me here.
TC: Oh Paul, I enjoyed it. I haven’t relived the glory days or had to think about a lot of that stuff for a long time. It brings back a flood of really great memories. I enjoyed it.
Q: I’m always under the impression that you guys are bugged incessantly to sit down and relive the old days?
TC: Not so much. (laughs) Obviously, the older you get the less hair you have, and gray hair arrives and people don’t recognize you.
And you know, I’m more than fine with that, but I think I probably speak for a lot of guys you’ve spoken to, as well, a lot of guys have kind of sacred memories. Sometimes you don’t just want to share it with anybody else. If you share them with somebody else who wasn’t there and didn’t to through it, it’s just hard to understand.
Q: You’ve had to swallow some of the same dirt, the same grass, the mutual sweat to fully understand it?
TC: Yeah, you have to have a bar to measure it against, probably. I have more of these conversations when we get together with old teammates, and the guys that even came before us with Charlie and all that, swap stories.
Q: When it comes to Charlie, he was supposedly a great motivator. What was his key?
TC: You know, the thing that Coach McBride taught you from the second you sat in on his first meeting was that you had to play for each other and you had to play for the people around you that you loved: your teammates and your family. It was so true, and I can remember him giving his psyche-up speech, and he used to do it the night before the game. And I didn’t know if anybody could sleep, Paul, so he changed it and started to do it the morning before the game.
And it grew from just the defensive line to the whole defense, and then pretty much everybody was in there and he’s giving his psyche-up speech, and it was unbelievable. I don’t think there was any key to it, it was just so genuine. It was what he had preached his entire coaching career. He didn’t have to change anything. He just spoke from the heart. Man, I think back and I wish somebody had a tape recorder in there, because they were unbelievable. You felt like you could have walked out of that auditorium and ran through a wall.
Q: Sometimes in life a person needs a speech like that to start the day…
TC: You do. (laughs)
Listening to Terry makes me want to take on a brick wall somewhere just now. I wonder if anyone ever had the presence of mind to record some of Charlie McBride’s speeches? If so, I’d like to package ‘em up and sell them. We’d make a killing! I hope to talk with Charlie in the coming weeks. That is, if I can get the nerve up to do it, because you didn’t want to mess with ol’ Charlie, I tell you. He was one intimidating cat. Hopefully retirement has softened him up a little. That’s my hope.
I thought it was pretty neat how Terry tied in the sense of community, the fan support, and the genuine caring of the Nebraska and Green Bay Packer coaching staffs as they both achieved great things in those years. It makes me wonder why some staffs out there try other methods to attain the same goal, usually failing. And tying into the Unity, Belief, Respect theme of the early ’90’s around Memorial Stadium and vicinity, notice how that word came up once more: Respect. “I think the biggest similarity was just the way the coaches treated the players with respect, the caring.” As these boys matured into young men it seemed that rather than wishing to be merely liked or admired by their coaches and peers, they came to seek out respect more than anything. It was not easily or quickly given, as Terry spoke of the first few fearful years of Coach McBride’s tutelage: “Nothing is going to be given to you. You have to go out there and earn it. And earn it every day.”
It was also pleasing to hear of Terry’s honor and awe for Kenny Walker, “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. But Kenny was a guy that nobody outworked him. He was a pretty special guy.” Call me a nut out on a limb, but I think this interview pretty much solidifies the extent to which previous year’s upperclassmen affected these guys. It’s one thing to watch some All-American cruising along on talent alone during his swan song of a season, but it’s another to see him working, sweating, grinding, churning, striving for the brass ring each and every day, whether the stands are full with fans or not. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him, and in that I am his pupil.” Terry was, in that sense, an observant student in the buildup to the 60 & 3.
Finally, I believe it gave us an insight into the mindset of the yearning for excellence, of the refusal for complacency, of continuously reaching for grander accomplishments when Terry mentioned his most glaring memories of the time: “It seems like you almost remember the plays where you were unsuccessful more than the plays where you were successful, the plays when you got beat or did something wrong and it costed you. That sticks in my mind as much as the good plays…” One word we rarely hear the players use is that of regret, come to think of it. But in this case, I can see where in not wanting to disappoint one’s teammates or fail to bring honor to one’s family, you’d want to have the perfect, mistake-free, dominate-your-opponent game each time out.
Notable quote #2:
Terry Connealy on the process leading to the 60 & 3: “…the thing that Coach McBride taught you from the second you sat in on his first meeting was that you had to play for each other and you had to play for the people around you that you loved: your teammates and your family.”
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