Yours truly and 1,100 of my closest friends piled into the Holiday Inn Central in Omaha last month to witness the unveiling of the Husker recruiting class of 2009.
The doors (and cash bar) opened at 4:00-two hours before dinner was to have been served. The occasion gave Husker fans a chance to get together, wear red, talk Husker football and, of course, get wasted. As Husker fans entered the room, the giant video screens scattered about the ballroom showed highlights of the '09 Gator Bowl.
If you're a Husker football fan, it's like a night at the Oscars. Bo Pelini and his staff were there to sign autographs and to showcase the new recruits and walk-ons, most of whom had just signed with Nebraska earlier that day. Jerry Murtaugh, former Husker linebacker ('68-'70) was there, as were Jim Rose, former "Voice of the Huskers", and current Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas.
This line-up of Nebraska stars is the closest thing most Husker football fans will ever get to a Hollywood Academy Award atmosphere.
Perhaps Bo and his staff were trying to send a message that night: the first group of recruits to be highlighted was the new batch of Husker walk-ons. Bo's message? Walk-ons are and will continue to be an integral part of the Husker football program.
There were several players shown in the recruiting film who stood out from the pack. Some of these recruits are destined to have a big impact on the future success of the Husker football program-maybe even as early as this fall.
Perhaps no one on offense (besides QB sensation, Cody Green) stood out more than running back Rex "T-Rex" Burkhead from Plano, Texas. He has the speed, acceleration, change of direction and moves of an Eric Crouch. Husker fans are going to love watching him play. And then there's Cody Green who, with the departure of Patrick Witt, may get some playing time this fall. On defense, linebackers Chris Williams from Abilene, Texas and Eric Martin from Moreno Valley, California look as though they will fit perfectly into Bo Pelini's attack defense.
It's difficult for a layman to tell much of anything by watching 3 or 4 plays of each recruit. The videos we were shown were of questionable quality-some of the footage was taken at night-and all we have to identify some of the players is a little yellow arrow. I'm sorry, but it's next to impossible to tell much. John Q. Fan doesn't know if the guy the star right tackle just drove three feet into the ground is 6'8" or 5'8". So I won't comment on those players I couldn't see.
DRINKING THE KOOL-AID
I've also learned not to go too ga-ga over a recruit before he's played one down for Nebraska. I admit, I drank the Kool-Aid after Bill Callahan's "sensational" recruiting class of 2005. We all know what happened to that year's star-studded class. No one is going to know for certain the talent of this year's class until 2 or 3 years down the road.
I would have loved to have been in the room when Husker QB Patrick Witt and his dad (?) came into Bo Pelini's office last week demanding to know by the end of spring practice whether or not Patrick was going to be the starter in the fall. The idea was, that if Witt didn't get the starting nod, he was going to leave Nebraska. To be sure, Patrick may have seen the handwriting on the wall. Of the 5 quarterbacks (including Taylor Martinez) on the roster this spring, Witt was the least mobile. He may have thought his playing time would be limited if he were to remain at Nebraska.
But issuing an ultimatum to Bo Pelini? Can you imagine how the hair on the back of Bo's neck must have bristled at that thought?
If we know one thing with Bo Pelini, the tail doesn't wag the dog. Bo was justified in telling Patrick and his dad not to let the door hit them in the butt as they were leaving. What is amazing about the ultimatum was thinking they-or anyone for that matter-could get away with it. The audacity of hope?
MO' JOE GANZ
The Witt saga further underscores the character, commitment and class of former Husker QB Joe Ganz. Many times during his rocky Husker career, Joe would have been justified leaving the Huskers. Every time a slot would open at QB, Callahan would haul in a new recruit. Joe decided to work his butt off, keep his mouth shut and wait for his break. Thankfully, all Husker fans got to see what a class act Joe Ganz is.
BRYCE "AWFUL NICE" BROWN
Bryce Brown has been labeled by some recruiting "experts" as being the number one pick at any position in the 2009 recruiting class. When you look at video of this kid, it's easy to get enthusiastic. He has the "Wow Factor" ten times over.
Apparently Brown, who lives in Wichita, Kansas, didn't sign with any team last month. Instead, to escape the pressure of the recruiting process, he decided to come to Omaha to stay with his uncle, Lawrence Pete, who was a middle guard for the Huskers from '86-'88. Does Brown's coming to Omaha give the Huskers the inside track? I have no clue. Stay tuned.
Another blue chipper who also didn't sign with any football team last week, is star running back David Oku from Midwest City, Oklahoma.
He bailed out of his final semester of high school in Oklahoma to enroll at Lincoln East, ostensibly to pick up courses he couldn't get at Carl Albert High in Midwest City. David maintains that he didn't come to Lincoln just because he wanted to be near his girlfriend. Yeah, right. And I'm the King of Norway.
Do the Huskers have the inside track of signing him?
Here's my take. Although the Huskers offered him a scholarship last fall, I don't think the Huskers will continue to pursue him. Why? The red flag in this case is the character flaw of Oku. He quit his final semester of high school to come to Lincoln to be with his girlfriend. What if his squeeze decides to move after Oku enrolls at NU? Does he split again? Also, what to you tell this year's running back recruits Rex Burkhead and Trey Robinson?
BODTMANN AND ROBBIN'
Some of you have written me about your disappointment concerning the withdrawal of NU's scholarship offer to Shawn Bodtmann, a weakside linebacker from West Scranton, Pennsylvania. Shawn, if you'll recall committed to the Huskers in April of last year.
What complicates the matter, is that the Husker coaches didn't let Bodtmann know they were yanking their scholarship until just weeks before the '09 signing date-apparently too late for him to find another football program to join. The other schools that had shown interest in him earlier, had already moved on by then.
How could the Huskers be seemingly so classless? How could they throw a kid under the bus at the last minute? Why would Nebraska risk the bad publicity from such a move?
Shawn and his high school coach insist that they complied with Nebraska's every request. So what's the real truth?
We may never know all the details, but as the late (and very great) Paul Harvey used to say, "And now you know the REST of the story."
First of all, every Husker fan hopes that Shawn can find a school that will allow him to pursue his college football dreams.
I attended a Husker football banquet last month that included Husker Assistant A.D. for Football, Jeff Jamrog, as its featured speaker. Someone asked him about the Bodtmann incident. Jeff said, "Trust me, if all the details of this situation were known, 99.5% of the schools would have done the same thing we (the Huskers) did."
So whom do you believe? If I find out anything more, I'll let you know.
BETTY "BIG RED BETTY" WALKER
There isn't room to post all of them, but here is a sampling of the letters I received concerning the passing of Betty Walker. Thanks to all of you who took time to write.
Thanks for letting me know that Betty Walker had passed away. I enjoyed talking to her on two occasions on the phone. She seemed like a very nice person and obviously was a great Nebraska supporter.
I’m sorry to hear of her death, but I am glad that we did make connection before she passed away.
Thanks for keeping me informed about Betty. I had a great telephone conversation with her that day, and I remember her talking about how she loved watching the games in the fall. It was my pleasure to get to know her before she passed away. There is something special about how she supported the Huskers all those years. Her dedication to the program did not go unnoticed.
My best to her family and friends,
Dear Dan: Thanks for letting me know, about the passing of Betty Walker. I appreciate that you gave me the opportunity to connect with her.
Thank you for your wonderful story about Big Red Betty. I have tears in my eyes...really... At the moment I can't say any more than thank you, and I am sure Betty
will be missed... and I am so happy that she got to see Bo's first season.
You brought a tear to my eyes with that article about "Big Red Betty" passing onto Big Red Heaven. Very touching story for me. My mother was also named Betty and she also died 3 years ago in Lincoln of cancer. She too was a very rabid Husker Fan to the end. She knew a lot about our Huskers too. Followed them with passion for many, many years. Just wanted to say thanks for that article, it paralleled my Mom's life so closely. Keep up the good work.
Now living in MN, but will always bleed Big Red until I'm dead.
Well said, Amen. May all Huskers join the Big Red Alumni "up there" one day.
Dear Husker Dan:
I would like to thank you for the wonderful tribute to my first cousin Betty "Big Red Betty" Walker. If there ever was a true Husker fan she was it. She supported them through the good and the bad. One of the biggest thrills of her life was talking to Tom Osborne. She could talk football with the best of them. She was convinced that she talked him into becoming the athletic director. Besides being a big fan she was a wonderful daughter, mother and grandmother. Her family meant the world to her. She fought a long hard battle and I honestly think Nebraska football was one of the reasons she held on so long. Thank you again
Thanks, this was your best- and most likely, the hardest for you to write. Betty will be always remembered. As a cancer survivor, I can relate.
What a beautiful tribute to my first cousin Betty Ann! We have had a very close relationship throughout our lives and she is the one who introduced me to you and Huskerpedia. Since there are (or have been) 68 first cousins in our family and since our grandparents and their 18 children were all born and raised in Nebraska, it’s no wonder that we aren’t all Husker lovers – we could have our own Husker Nation, couldn’t we? This group of cousins meets every other year in Aurora, Nebraska for a long weekend, usually around the 4th of July and we were sorry that Betty could not attend the one in ’08. I graduated from the University in ’59 so I was in school during those ‘lean’ years of football so I remember them well. My husband and I lived in Texas during our three children’s college days so guess where they went to school – yes, they are truly Longhorns! I remain a True Husker and will cheer for the Longhorns ONLY if they are not playing MY team. When Betty was diagnosed with cancer and she knew she didn’t have long to live, my email to the fellow cousins stated that she really did want to be able to follow Bo Pelini’s first game as the new coach. I told them we would know how good of a Husker fan she was if she lasted throughout the whole season! Who would have thought! She was so touched by the phone call she received from Coach Osborne and really thought someone was playing a prank on her. Thank you for your kind words – she truly deserved them!
Rose Marie Warren
Aurora, NE 68818
Big time Sooner fan here and I knew of Betty for a few years through college football chat on AOL along with several others who got to know her. She is beyond the general term of class. She always was a delight to a lot of us who know each other outside the chat room. I am 25 and knew her since I was 19 in the room. She is truly an inspiration and she is a perfect example of why Nebraska fans are the best in the land. She always lifted the spirits of others and it was always fun chatting with her about the classic days of OU/NU and Big 8 for that matter. There is so much that can be said about how great of a woman she was and will be for years to come. She may be physically gone but she will never leave anyone's presence who were impacted by her and her words. She will be missed but she will never be gone!!!
Thank you so much for all your kind words that Sieg Efken read from you at my mom's service. You really made the service better! Thank you for taking the time. Especially on such short notice. Thank you also for letting Tom Osborne know. When he called mom, it truly was a highlight of her life. It shows what a quality person he is. The world could sure use more people like you guys. I guess the bottom line is that we need more Nebraskans! I am proud to have my family roots there.
Thanks again for all you have done. I will always be grateful.
Betty with Roger Craig