Bill Sloey was a linebacker on the 1971 and '72 Nebraska teams. This interview was done on June 23, 2004 by David Max.
DM Where are you from originally?
BS I was born in Columbus, Nebraska in the same hospital as Joe Blahak. My dad was a teacher/coach in Leigh, Nebraska. We moved to Wahoo when I was in kindergarten, then we moved to Randolph, Iowa. My second cousin, Al Sloey, married a Sullivan and retired in Shenandoah, Iowa and I am a distant relative of the former trainer George Sullivan. We moved to California when I was 10 years old. I went to Hawthorne High School, then El Camino Junior College. (Editor's note: Al Sloey was one of the original members of the Riders of the Purple Sage).
DM Who recruited you to Nebraska?
BS Tom Osborne. I had high visibility at El Camino. I did pretty well and the coaches were promoting me as an All-American linebacker. I was the first freshman to start on the El Camino defense. I remember my first game at El Camino and they said a pre-game prayer and I remember saying to myself "If I do the best I can maybe I can get to Nebraska." I kind of singled out Nebraska back when they had open end zones going back to 1955 or '56 when my dad would take us down to the ball games.
DM What was your first practice like?
BS When I went back for Spring Ball there were 160 guys on scholarship and 80 guys walked on so that brought the total to 240. Then they had cameramen and reporters and you couldn't even get out on the field. When they broke up on offense and defense and they started calling out names they called out the guys that had been there 3 to 4 years and then down to the freshmen and they didn't even call my name. They just said everybody else pick up a red shirt. I'm thinking I'm 7th or 8th team linebacker here. What's this all about? I'm an All-American. What's going on here? I picked up a white shirt which moved me up a team. I was amazed at how many people there were and how first class the program was as far as the camaraderie and as far as the facilities.
They had rookie camp and I was considered a rookie and I had to do a skit with the freshmen. I imitated Bob Devaney. A roommate that I had, Glenn Garson, was Howard Cossell interviewing me as Bob and we put on a pretty good skit.
DM Who else were you recruited by?
BS I was heavily recruited by Colorado. In fact, I was going to go to Colorado. I took a trip with a guy named Gillespie who was from Cypress (CA) and he said that Nebraska had already been out to the West Coast and recruited. I thought that I was passed over by Nebraska so I was going to go to the Big 8 and play for Colorado. About two days before the LSU game ('70 Championship game) my brother picked me up at El Camino and said "Guess who called? I said, "I don't know." He said "Tom Osborne." I said, "Who's that?" He said "A Nebraska coach." Then the light came on and I knew who it was. My dad had talked to him and Cletus Fisher-who my Dad had coached against when he was coaching at Leigh as well as his brothers. As an aside my father was an All-American at Doane College in the late 30's and I believe he led the nation one year in all purpose rushing and is a member of the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. He called me back that same night and told me that he had missed me on a previous scouting trip and wanted to get together and see if I was still available and be interested in going to Nebraska. I talked to him on the phone and it's a funny thing because when my dad coached at Leigh, Nebraska his team was undefeated for 5 years and they were a very prominent 8 man football team. Tom Osborne went to Hastings High School and was voted Athlete of the Year. My dad really disputed that because he had a guy named Tom Kumpf that he thought was a better athlete. I knew the name Osborne and I knew the history about it and I had a comfortable feeling talking with Tom and they wanting to fly me back on a recruiting trip. I told him I was kind of tired of recruiting trips and if he could answer a question for me I could probably decide. He said, "Ask anything you want." I asked "If I grade out higher than everybody else in the spring would I start in the fall?" He said "That's our policy but I'll be very honest with you and said that we've never had anybody do that." I said "OK, that's fine. If that's the policy I'll come to Nebraska." He said "Don't you want a recruiting trip?" I told him that I was from Nebraska but I did end up taking the recruiting trip. It was two days and no frills type of thing and I ended up signing the letter of intent while I was back there. Coach Osborne thought I was pretty easy to get and he probably wondered if I was as good as they thought I was.
DM Did you take recruiting trips to other schools?
BS Yes, I did. I went to quite a few schools. I went to Kansas. I was recruited by Danny Heck and John Riggins. John Riggins you probably know. Danny Heck was our quarterback at El Camino that went to Kansas on a scholarship. I was recruited by Pepper Rodgers and Terry Donohue. The funny thing about that was I was with Tommy Prothro at UCLA two weeks before that and I was leaning toward UCLA before Colorado. When I went to my recruiting trip at Kansas Pepper Rodgers told me that I didn't want to go to Kansas. I should go to UCLA. I told him that I was looking at UCLA and he said, "Well, I'm the new coach at UCLA." That was my introduction to big time recruiting.
I took trips to Colorado, Alabama, UCLA, San Diego State and Nebraska.
Another interesting note is some of the other players from Southern California at the time that ended up at Nebraska. One was Zaven Yaralian and another was Vince Ferragamo. I helped recruit Zaven and Vince came out of the South Bay area that I grew up in. My brother played baseball against his older brother Chris. When Tom recruited him from Berkeley I took him out and told him about Osborne and Nebraska. He was real disappointed with Berkeley but he came back to Nebraska and did real well. He's a real class act. I saw him last year at the opener.
DM You had a serious knee injury during the first game of your Nebraska career against Oregon. What happened?
BS It was a third and eight and we tackled Bobby Moore for a loss and I jumped the pile to avoid a penalty and when I landed I hit an Oregon player's helmet and tore my ACL and PCL ligaments. I played on it the whole season and had surgery after the Hawaii game. They were draining my knee a couple of times a week. I came back to California and the Kerlan Jobe Clinic did a hamstring transplant surgery on it. It was the second one of that type of surgery that they had performed at that time. The first one was on a guy that I had grown up with named Eddie Crowell so that was kind of ironic. They did it two weeks after they did the elbow ligament transplant surgery on Tommy John.
Having my knee done out here instead of back at Nebraska kind of put me in a bad light. I can understand their position but my whole intent was not to make them look bad. It was to get back out on the field. I played eight games on it before surgery and was on crutches for the Game of the Century against Oklahoma. I remember one play in the fourth quarter when Tagge was trying to loop the ball behind his back and it got caught on his hip pads and was bouncing around I almost went out after it on my crutches. It was a memorable game.
DM Do you have any teammate stories?
BS Yeah, we definitely had a diversity of backgrounds. Everybody had their own character. You need to ask Jim Carstens about his love for motorcycles. He had one disassembled, painted and put back together up in his dorm. The whole thing about the team was that it was a team. When we went down to the Orange Bowl to play Alabama, Marvin Crenshaw, who was a third team tackle, got up on stage at the banquet and captivated the whole audience singing Stand by Me and other songs. Tagge was a great leader. Kinney was very low key and humble. Everybody played above their ability and they played with the respect of the other players and the coaches. That was a trickle down from Bob Devaney. He was quite a master of motivation.
DM Do you have any Bob Devaney stories?
BS One time we heard we were going to get out of practice early because he was going to go to the legislature to push a bill for a cigarette tax to raise money for a sports complex. He worked our tails off that day and we kept saying "Coach, you better get down to the Legislature and get that sports complex." We still did our wind sprints. He went down and as the story goes he had proposed the tax on cigarettes and gasoline and one of the legislators said that if we put a tax on alcohol we could get it done a lot faster. Devaney looked at him and said "Not on your life."
He was very well respected by everybody. He was a leader. His coaches in their own domain were very powerful and they were attached to their players. Whether it would be Monte Kiffin, Warren Powers, Cletus Fischer or Tom Osborne. The integrity and leadership that they all shown was a class act. I remember going back in the spring and being the new guy on campus. Nobody really understood the intensity as to why I was going back there for because that's my homeland and I knew about the football program. I still watch Nebraska games and we have a delegation out here that supports Nebraska and hope they have a really good year.
Can I mention something about the fans? Last year at opening day against Oklahoma State we had 800 people back there and we all had our jerseys with our numbers on them. Time flew because people were coming out of the woodwork that you hadn't seen in 25 years. After they sang the Star Spangled Banner we had about three minutes to get up to our seats before kickoff. I got up to my seat and sat down and I didn't have to introduce myself to anybody. Right away people were telling me about when I played and guys I played with. It was incredible watching a game at Nebraska. I hate getting around LA (Los Angeles) fans and going to the Dodger games or other games out here because the fans out here are idiots. The Nebraska fans are so educated, so supportive, and so concerned. It's just amazing. I have to say that the fans are a good portion of why Nebraska is so good in football.
DM Is there a particular regular season game that sticks out in your memory?
BS Well, of course Oregon. That was the first game I played in. I can remember Rich Sanger kicking the ball out of the end zone and Oregon starting on the 20. Bobby Moore who became known as Ahmad Rashad who went on to be a Hall of Famer was running at I-Back and he ran a dive up the middle and we had Richie Glover slanting down and Larry Jacobson slanting down in an Okie defense and I scrape off of Larry Jacobson and I'm one on one with Bobby Moore. He just gets the ball and his eyes light up and I'm about ready to nail him and I look up and there's 10,000 fans in the end zone looking at me. It was like going out in a pasture where all the cattle are and all the cattle are staring at you. I lost the fact of what I was doing and Moore ran by me. I could have nailed him big time. I got shocked by everybody looking at me. I ended up tripping him up and he ended up with three yards and everybody went crazy like "Yeah right, good play!!" and I'm thinking "Woo, this is going to be tough." I will remember that for the rest of my life.
In the Army game I intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter when it was 63-0 and the only guy that chased me was the quarterback that threw the ball. They were pretty demoralized. I slipped him on the 30 and I was slowing down hoping someone would make it a dramatic even though anticlimactic touchdown type of thing. I slowed down quite a bit and ended up almost walking into the end zone. I came off the sideline and Devaney was in my face and said "You sure tried to get a lot of air time on that play!" We were on regional TV. I said, "Well, I was thinking about going the other way." He looked at me and said, "You should of!!" That made it 70-0 and then, dog gone it, we didn't want to run it up with Army but Ralphie Powell ended up running a play 96 yards and ended up on the Army’s 2 yard line. The score ended up something like 77-7. In that game when we scored our first touchdown I remember looking up in the stands and a Army fan held up a sign that said "Wait until next year."
I got the defensive player of the game against Kansas my senior year and I got the game ball for that. I think I took it before they gave it to me. I still have it. I intercepted one pass and recovered two fumbles and made 7 or 8 tackles and knocked down two passes. That was very memorable.
The Oklahoma game I was on crutches but I made it down to the game. It was definitely the game of the century. I played in the Hawaii game and that was memorable for me because my dad played his last game on that same field on December 6, 1941, the day before Pearl Harbor. I was pretty psyched up about that and got a few tackles before my knee went out again. I had surgery after the game and joined the team down in the Orange Bowl.
We beat Alabama which was #2 rated with Bear Bryant and after they played us they realized that they were not even #2 and were placed behind Colorado and Oklahoma. (After the bowls Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Colorado were rated 1,2,3 which is the only time three schools from the same conference ended up 1,2,3 nationally). When the game was over everybody took their showers and got on the bus. You would anticipate everybody going crazy and yelling and screaming but it was very, very quiet and subdued. We felt like "Yeah, we knew we were going to beat them." It was very professional and nobody really jumped out of their seats. It was just another game. In fact, we probably had a couple of practices against the third team scout team that were better than Alabama. I rated the third team scout team 6th in the country.
DM Your knee injury had a significant impact on your playing career at Nebraska.
BS Yeah, I was pretty crushed that I couldn't play and I tried very hard to play but when the tape got wet I couldn't operate. I was thinking about coming back to Long Beach State my senior year and I met with Coach Devaney after the football season. He told me that I didn't want to go to Long Beach State and that I should stick it out. It made a lot of sense to me. I was able to overcome the difficulties and I got a few rewards in regards to football play and academically. My dad always stressed to me that there are a lot of students and a lot of athletes but not a lot of student-athletes. That little phrase kept me going on to get my degree.
DM Do you have any "in the huddle" memories?
BS Bob Terrio was in charge of the defensive huddle my junior year. My senior year Bill Janssen was in charge. It was pretty simplistic. It was Okie defense. It was either slant Monster or slant Okie or straight ahead. We keyed off the films from the week before. There was a lot of film work and a lot of preparation off the field that people don't see. Overall it was a pretty simple defense. We won a lot of ball games by setting up the offense for the score. There were a lot of unsung heroes. John Adkins, Larry Jacobson, Rich Glover, Bill Janssen and Willie Harper were probably the best collegiate line up to that point. It was fun to play behind them because they drew a lot of fire. It was a good position to be in. You could pick and choose who you were going to hit.
DM Do you have any favorite Bob Devaney stories?
BS Against Iowa State in 1972 we tied them because they missed an extra point with two seconds left to go in the game. We just knew Bob was going to explode when he got on the bus. It was a muddy field in Ames and we didn't play very well and we should have gotten beat. Nobody said anything on the bus. It was dead silent. Devaney was coming up to the bus and he bumps his head on the corner of the bus. He just turns red and got real mad and he couldn't even talk. We knew what he was thinking. (Laughs) I could feel for him.
There are a lot of stories about Bob Devaney but the biggest story was that he really cared about the players. He cared about winning but he also cared about winning the right way.
DM How was practice the next week after the game?
BS He didn't hold any grudges. It was over with. It was done. He kept us from going into a slump. We went down to Kansas State the next week. They were notorious. They wanted to get a fight going. Jim Carstens went down on a kick off and clobbered somebody and the benches cleared and we all went down to help Jim. We called him "Earth" and not Jim. Everybody had a nickname like the Bugeaters. The worse the name the better they liked you.
DM Do you have a favorite Tom Osborne story?
BS Going back when Tom recruited me I was probably his easiest recruit. About the third week into Spring Ball I had the Black Shirt on and he was out there running his laps and he stopped running and looked at me and said, "That looks good on you!" I said "Thank you." He just kind of in bewilderment looked at me and said "You know, you're the easiest recruit I ever had." Kind of like he was getting a lemon or something and I turned out to be legitimate. He looked out after everybody and emphasized school and getting your degree. He was definitely the guy to put in there to take over after Devaney.
When he came down to the sideline I remember a reporter asking him "When you were in the press box for Devaney and had all the Fumblerooskies and trick plays and now you don't." He said "It's a lot different when you're on the sideline as the head coach." I was thinking that when he got on the sidelines there would be more dipsy doodles but it was just the opposite. I have a lot of good memories about Tom. He's doing well in Congress now and I'm sure he would win if he decides to run again. He's a great role model.
DM What was your best bowl game memory?
BS I remember the Alabama game I was on the sidelines on crutches after my knee surgery. My memory of that game was we handled them so easily. The reporters afterward tried to pad it for Alabama saying, "Well, if they hadn't fumbled...." Bear Bryant said, "We didn't want to fumble. They made us fumble and they were definitely the better team." He legitimized us and the fact that it wasn't a fluke that we beat them. It was bittersweet because I couldn't participate.
In the Notre Dame game I got hit by their All-American tight end, Dave Casper, and I saw the lights, then I saw the moon, and then I saw green grass. He went on the play for Oakland. After that play he didn't catch a pass on me. I was all over him. After the game half the Notre Dame team wanted to come to our party after the game instead of going to their hotel. It was good camaraderie. I remember the respect that Tom had. The Sunday before that game they had a Christian breakfast and Tom invited everybody that would like to go to attend. We had about 42 to 44 of our ball players go and we thought that the whole Notre Dame team would be there. As it turned out Notre Dame just had their captain and co-captain there with their coaches. I think Tom was happy that he had a good showing.
The pageantry of the Notre Dame game was nice. The game wasn't that much. We had Johnny Rodgers running all over the place. He was an incredible back. We even had him at I-Back for part of the game. They were really pushing him for Heisman that year and I think he deserved the vote. He was somebody that was high octane. He was somebody that performed when he had to perform and he did it at a very high level. I could go on about every individual that played. They all had their own characteristics that brought a little bit of diversity to the team. I will say that the team itself, man for man, may not have had the best athletes in the nation. That's not what won the National Championship. We had the best team in the nation. There is no doubt about that. Everybody played to their ability and probably played above their ability if that's possible. Everybody played as hard as they could to maintain the reputation and the pride that Nebraska has for the school. It was very dear and something that can't be taken away and you come away with that pride. I've talked to thousands of people about the team and how all of the individuals made the team National Champions.
DM Do you still stay in touch with teammates that you played with?
BS Oh, yeah. Rich Sanger for one. I just got online with David Humm. I talked to him and he has a daughter and I have a daughter about the same age and we relate that way. In talking to and emailing teammates old memories come up. Terrio talks about driving back to Nebraska in a Volkswagen with Bob Newton. I did the same thing with Glenn Garson and Bob Thornton who they called "Little Thunder" in regards to Thunder Thornton. We drove from LA to Lincoln in a Volkswagen. We stopped in Las Vegas and stayed the night at Mr. and Mrs. Humm's house. It was just like going to an aunt's house. It was just like family. A lot of memories came up that I shared with Dave on that. Jarvis Redwine is out here in Culver City. Jim Wrightman who is a cousin to Johnny Rodgers is out here in Carson. I coached him as a freshman coach. I talk to Johnny Rodgers from time to time. He's very gracious. A lot of people that I met at the Oklahoma State reunion game last year in Lincoln gave me their contact information. I talk with Bob Newton and Bob Terrio was a notable character that I enjoyed being around. The list goes on. It's good times. There are a lot of good memories.
DM Is there anything else that you would like to comment about?
BS The memory of the fans when I went back for the Oklahoma State reunion game amazed me. It really did. One event that happened when I went back to play at Nebraska that first spring relates to my whole family that migrated from Illinois to Thayer County down near Belvedere and Hebron which are small towns along the southeast corner of Nebraska. They had a bicentennial celebration when I was back there and they wanted Johnny Rodgers to come down and be Grand Marshall. Johnny was booked and Coach Devaney called me and said "Sloey, I don't know who you are but they want you to come down and be Grand Marshall. They will pay for your lunch and travel and everything like that." So I went down will Bill Janssen and he and I were Grand Marshalls and everybody was coming up to me and telling me about my dad and my grandfather. There had to be 15,000 people down there and Bill Janssen turned around and looked at me and said "They didn't need me here! You've been here for three weeks. Who are you?" He didn't understand that the genealogy went back 70-80 years. The memories that people back there have is just amazing. It's simplicity and it's genuineness. It's something that you don't find in larger communities.
DM What are you doing now?
BS I work at Raytheon Systems out in El Segundo. I work in the Aerospace Systems as an administrative manager. I've been out there for 22 years. I'm hopefully looking to retire in the next couple of years. I bought a 40 foot RV from Altman's RV center. Joe Altman is from Nebraska. I have three very good kids 8, 11, and 16 and they're very athletic and getting good grades and I echo the phrase my Dad told me about students & athletes to them.
DM Bill, thanks for sharing your Husker memories with us.