One of the coolest things about this Throwback Thursday Husker series we’ve been sharing this football season is seeing how many different paths these former players have taken since leaving Lincoln. I’m not sure why I’m so surprised. Think of the people in your graduating classes from high school and college and ask yourself, where are they now? Of the 100+ players on the roster every season at Nebraska, there are bound to be any number of careers and futures these young men pursue.
Today’s featured Husker didn’t dream of or plan for the career he ended up in, but he calls it ‘great’, and has risen to one of the highest ranks in his department.
Assistant Fire Chief John McCormick (thanks to Nebraska Athletics for the photo!)
By our guess, there are seven or eight men on the Omaha Fire Department who played football at Nebraska. Ironically, the highest ranking member of that small club has kept his time as ‘Captain’ a secret at work.
“Most don’t know,” McCormick told me in a recent interview. “Most of the guys on the fire department weren’t even a twinkle in their dads’ eye when I played.”
1987, John McCormick was in his senior season, his third year starting as Nebraska’s right guard. That year, he was named Team Co-Captain, First Team All-American, First Team All-Big 8 and an Academic All-Big 8 player. McCormick’s Huskers earned respect by playing some of the biggest names in football that season.
“Arizona State, UCLA, South Carolina, big power teams,” said McCormick. “But all the hype was usually around Oklahoma. That was always a big rivalry back then.”
Screen grab from our friend Jake Jacobsen at HuskerTapes.com; watch his clips of the 1987 NU vs OK game here!
McCormick, an Omaha native and graduate of Gross High School, is still passionate about today’s Huskers. His favorite: Nebraska’s star running back Ameer Abdullah.
“I think he’s a quality person, he has good character,” said McCormick. “And he’s a very good running back. I think he’s going to do well in his life.”
So has McCormick, who is now saving lives as an Omaha firefighter. A quick search of the KETV archives shows McCormick was one of the first responders at Molotov cocktail fires, at 2-alarm house fires, at scenes where firefighters risked their own lives to save strangers.
January 20, 2014 was no exception.
Then Battalion Chief John McCormick was one of the first firefighters to arrive at the International Nutrition plant minutes after the building collapsed, trapping workers inside.
“We had to rely on training and on our experience throughout our career to do the best we could,” said McCormick. “We were able to get a few people out. Sad that we couldn’t get everybody out.”
Two men died that day. Firefighters rescued at least nine others who were hurt, but survived. I remember anchoring our coverage that day while reporters Kyle Gravlin and Amanda Crawford reported from the field, and none of us knew how many were trapped or lost inside. We did know firefighters were inside, trying to find them, NOT knowing how stable the plant was or what could happen around them at any moment.
Just last month, seven of those firefighters were given Medals of Courage and/or Lifesaving Medals for their heroic efforts that day. At the same ceremony, Battalion Chief John McCormick was promoted to Assistant Chief.
“I consider it to be a lot like football in that it’s a team sport,” said McCormick. “It’s a team job. You need to accomplish a lot by using other people. The old cliché, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
And as the Huskers are hopefully gaining strength during this bye week, preparing for new Nebraska rival Wisconsin, McCormick offers this advice.
“This is such an important part of their life, but it’s only a short part of their life,” said McCormick, now a married father of eight in addition to his duties with the fire department. “Play hard, practice hard, prepare well and leave everything out on the field.”