It’s a historic moment in sports history.. Babe Ruth steps up to the plate, points at the outfield fence, then delivers.. home run. I do this at softball then strike out; the only guy who can actually do it is KETV meteorologist Kyle Gravlin (also the reigning Media Homerun Derby champ–watch the proof here).
In sports today, what would happen if an athlete called his shot? Just imagine, switching sports, what would happen if a D-1 college football player addressed reporters and said ‘we’re going to win a national championship!’
Ladies and gentlemen, #42 Jerry Murtaugh.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.
Heading into his senior year, Murtaugh was already a 2-year starting linebacker, had broken school records for total tackles and was a unanimous All-Big 8 pick in 1969. Nebraska had never won a national football championship, but Murtaugh knew something big was on the horizon.
“I remember before the season I predicted we were going to win it all, in front of reporters,” Murtaugh told me recently. “Devaney found out about three minutes later, sends Jeff Kinney over, Jeff grabs me, takes me back, says ‘Murtaugh, you can’t keep your mouth shut!’ But at the end of the year, we ended up with this.”
Murtaugh held up his hand, curled into a fist, a giant ring reflecting off his finger.
“A national championship. So the prediction did come true.”
Dan Schneiss, Coach Bob Devaney and Jerry Murtaugh, taken in 1970. Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics
That conversation symbolizes so many things about Murtaugh and his time at Nebraska. He’s an outspoken guy to this day who recently published the book, ‘If These Walls Could Talk’. Murtaugh bluntly writes about everything from his volatile relationship with Bob Devaney, to his ‘near-jail’ experience in Mexico his junior year, to his time at Colorado’s Playboy Mansion for a college football photo shoot.
Adventures aside, Murtaugh is proud to say he was a Nebraska football player, part of a long history of talent and tradition.
“Being a Blackshirt, the older I get, which I’m old now!, I can’t describe the word. It’s an honor. It’s an honor to have earned a black shirt,” said Murtaugh. “I thank all of the players before me because I think the world of the Frank Solich’s, the Barry Alvarez’s, the Mike Kennedy’s. I could go on and on, great football players before us.”
Murtaugh is also proud to be an Omaha native, a triple-sport athlete for Omaha North High School in the 1960’s.
“Expectations were high from fellow Omaha kids at Nebraska. Bobby Churchich, Denny Morrison, Dicky Davis,” said Murtaugh. “They said, Hey, we have a standard here. You better keep it high. So we tried.”
So does Murtaugh still hold that bar high for today’s players? After all, it’s been 18 years since Nebraska players have earned national championship rings like Murtaugh’s.
“People have to remember, 1968 & 1968 we were 6-4 and I was part of that,” said Murtaugh. “They wanted to run Devaney out on a pole. I had threatening calls, things like that. It was nasty. These young men now, they do the best they can. It’s a game! We forget about that.”
Murtaugh DOES expect all of the Huskers to give 110%. Today, he reaches out to athletes who have done just that, given their all despite their challenges. Murtaugh is the President of the Nebraska Greats Foundation, offering financial assistance to letter-winning athletes from colleges and universities across the state facing medical expenses. Recipients include Nebraska football player Dave Humm, wheelchair-bound due to multiple sclerosis; Creighton basketball star Josh Jones, who faced multiple surgeries due to a career-ending heart condition (see more here); and Jim Unger, the first gymnast in UNL history to receive All-American honors.
Jim Unger, Nebraska gymnast 1972-1975. Photo courtesy the Nebraska Greats Foundation.
“About three years ago riding his bike, [Unger] hit a pothole, hit a tree, paralyzed neck down,” said Murtaugh. “Things like that, we come in and help with their medical expenses, what the insurance doesn’t pay or if they don’t have insurance.”
Longtime Nebraska Coach Ron Brown and Murtaugh. Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.
So what’s Jerry Murtaugh’s prediction this time around, as a new Coach takes the reigns and Nebraska starts a season 2-2? Murtaugh, who talks Husker Football on his weekly Legends Radio Show in Omaha, says he DOESN’T predict.
“I’m going to sit there and watch and hope for the best for these young men,” said Murtaugh. “They’re still inexperienced. It’s going to take them awhile. All I ask is give 110-percent.”
Murtaugh supports Coach Riley, Shawn Eichorst and all of the players. Most of all, just as he did in another time and another place when he called his shot before his historic senior season began, he loves Nebraska fans.
“The excitement. The loyalty. The niceness. The–EVERYTHING,” said Murtaugh. “Greatest fans in the country.”