Tag Archive | blackshirts

Calling The Shots

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.

Nebraska football player Jerry Murtaugh. Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

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.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON #42 JERRY MURTAUGH!

MURTAUGH AND DEVANEY

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.

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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.”

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Photo courtesy FanBase.com

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.

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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.”

MURTAUGH ON RADIO

 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.”

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For more on #42 Jerry Murtaugh, click here to read his complete bio from Nebraska Athletics.

Click here for more information about the Nebraska Greats Foundation via their website; click here to visit the organization’s Facebook page!

Click here for more information about Murtaugh’s book, ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ by Murtaugh, Jimmy Sheil, Brian Rosenthal, George Achola and Brian Brashaw.

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WEEK FOUR.. CLASS OF 1992 WILL SHIELDS!

NEXT WEEK.. CLASS OF 1991 CURTIS COTTON!

Time For Kickoff

We are now just DAYS AWAY from a new Husker Football season.

2015 is no ordinary year.. we have a new head coach, a new mentality, a new style.  We lost powerhouse players like Ameer Abdullah and Kenny Bell, but will see new faces like true freshman Dedrick Young, awarded his blackshirt just this week.

A new chapter will be written in the storied history that is Nebraska Football.  Every Thursday, I get to flip back a few pages (or more) and check in with the ‘legends’ of seasons past.

IT’S TIME FOR THROWBACK THURSDAY.

Like last year, I’m hoping to dabble in as many eras of Husker football as possible.  We’ll talk to guys hoping to continue playing in the NFL, guys who pursued other talents after graduation, and guys who built the foundation for decades of moments to come at Memorial Stadium.  This has been one of my FAVORITE series to put together in my career here at KETV, and I can’t wait for another season!  (To see who we featured in the 2014 season, CLICK HERE, or click the Throwback Thursday index tab at the top of the page!)

Who better to kick off 2015 then arguably THE BEST kicker in NCAA history?!?!

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#90 ALEX HENERY

Photo courtesy Huskers.com

Alex Henery, Nebraska’s place kicker/punter who played for the team from 2006-2010, set records not only at Nebraska, but in the college football history books.  He only missed EIGHT FIELD GOALS HIS ENTIRE CAREER.

Think about that for a second… HIS ENTIRE CAREER.

The Omaha Burke grad with the golden foot finished college with an accuracy rate of 89.5%, topping the previous NCAA record of 87.8%.  One kick in particular is STILL in Nebraska record books for longest field goal, a moment that set the college football world on FIRE.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY FEATURE ON ALEX HENERY!

Nebraska was playing rival Colorado to close out the 2008 regular season.  The Buffaloes had just scored a touchdown, putting them up 31-30.  With less than 2 minutes on the clock and a looming 4th down, Coach Bo Pelini called in Henery.

My husband was on the sidelines shooting the game, so I was watching alone at home.  I remember I was putting away laundry, and heard the announcer say Henery was coming in… that his field goal attempt would be from 57 yards out.

WHAT?!?! 57 YARDS?!?!

I put down the laundry basket, and clung to our dog, Mack, watching to see what would happen.

“The big thing I remember is standing out on mid-field,” Henery told me recently.  “There was a commercial break, Jake Wesch looked at me and said, ‘you’re gonna be famous after this.’ I said, ‘right..'”

Do you remember?!? Click here to watch it all over again, thanks to HuskerAddict!

#37 knew what he was talking about.  The kick went in.  The announcers, 85,000 fans at Memorial Stadium and football fans all over the COUNTRY were in awe.  Nebraska won the game.

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Photo courtesy Spokeo.com

“Everyone I talk to, that’s the main thing they talk about,” said Henery.  “They know where they were, who they were high-fiving, and it’s fun to hear people’s stories.”

That one moment was a preview of the consistency and reliability Alex Henery provided for Nebraska. Husker fans reached a point that we knew if Henery was in, the Huskers would put up another 3 points, no questions asked.

That is part of what fuels Henery’s message to this year’s kickers and special teams players at Nebraska.

“Come through in the clutch; that’s all that matters,” said Henery.  “I think the coaches coming in, sounds like they’re great and the guys are buying in.”

He’ll be watching from his hometown of Omaha this season… maybe. After three years playing for the Eagles and Lions, Henery is now an NFL free agent, meaning his phone could ring (and has) at anytime, sending him to tryouts across the country.  In fact, Henery and I had to reschedule our initial interview because he was in Pittsburgh trying out with the Steelers.  Henery was at a charity golf tournament in Omaha when he got the call.

“Had to stop golfing and catch a flight out of town to make the tryouts,” Henery said.  Unfortunately this time around, Henery didn’t get the job.  We talked a little about the differences between college and the pros.. Henery credits great holders and snappers at Nebraska, and notes the business culture of professional football versus the fan adoration and fun many players have in college.

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His biggest fans are always waiting for him back in Omaha, his beautiful wife, Johna, and sweet little Landen, who just turned one year old.  How cool will it be for that kid to try on the jerseys hanging in the closet (the Burke High jersey right next to Nebraska and Philadelphia), to look at all of his dad’s plaques and awards from his years as a Husker, and to read all of the cards and newspaper clippings his dad kept as keepsakes?

“College was good to me and I have many good moments to look back on,” said Henery.

#90 Alex Henery courtesy Huskers.com and Nebraska Athletics

Photo courtesy Huskers.com

For more on #90 Alex Henery, CLICK HERE to read his official bio from Nebraska Athletics.

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NEXT WEEK… CLASS OF 2008 JOE GANZ!

A Tale Of Two Teams

I used to work with this guy named Matt.  He was really funny.  No, I mean REALLY funny.

Did you see his story, In Carl We Trust, on KETV in 2008?  Let’s just say when Carl Pelini was later hired by Florida Atlantic as their new football coach, the University started printing T-shirts reading CARLFENSE.  Seriously–KETV photographer Tyler White bought one.  And it is awesome.  And now Matt Schick is an anchor at ESPNU.  Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.

A few years earlier, Matt also put together a story called West Coast Defense, featuring Nebraska Blackshirts Corey McKeon, Stu Bradley and Bo Ruud.  Just a few games into the season in 2005, the Husker defense had scored HALF of Nebraska’s touchdowns. Four huge Pick 6’s.  Matt’s look into this trio’s ‘secret to success’ on the field was HILARIOUS–one of my favorite stories of the season.

COREY MCKEON

#13 Corey McKeon, photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics

Combine that humor and explosive play on the field and Husker Nation became well acquainted with this guy, Corey McKeon.  McKeon had a monster season as a sophomore in 2005, leading Nebraska with 98 tackles and at the time, earning his spot as second-best in school history for tackles for loss.  This was the best of times; success on the field alongside the Blackshirts who were also his best friends.

“We had so much fun doing it, that’s what really mattered to us,” McKeon told me in a recent interview.  “If we can go out and have fun and make those kinds of big plays, that’s what Husker Football is all about.”

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CHECK OUT KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY SPECIAL ON COREY MCKEON!

Ironically, McKeon’s most memorable game was not one of those fun plays, it was the heartbreaking loss to Texas Tech in 2005.

“At the end of the game they were going for the game winning drive, we were up by 4 and I tipped the ball right in the red zone,” said McKeon.  “Our defensive lineman, I’m not gonna name his name because he’s still a lot bigger than me and could come whoop me, he intercepts it.  In those situations, you’re just supposed to fall down because the game is over.  He runs by me, you see my hands out on the field telling him to stop, he runs by me, their running back forces a fumble, they get the ball back, they get the next touchdown.”

McKeon says that loss, while tough to swallow, was against a great team; a game that came down to the wire.  That, he says, is what you remember the most.

In a way, it’s fitting the Texas Tech game stands out for a player like Corey McKeon, a guy who ended his career at Nebraska in the midst of controversy and arguably, one of the darkest eras of Nebraska football.  In 2007, the Huskers lost 7 games (they went 2-6 in Big 12 play), Head Coach Bill Callahan was fired and McKeon often took a stand, never mincing words defending his teammates and coaches.  This was the worst of times.

“The best part about Husker Nation is also the most difficult part,” McKeon said, noting he doesn’t regret his outspoken nature while with the team.  “They are so involved, we need them so much and the second they’re not there for us, even an inkling, it takes it’s effect because Husker Football is as much about Husker Nation as it is about the players and coaches.”

McKeon also told me at the height of the controversy, he consulted the sports psychologist, frustrated about everything going on, especially with his Defensive Coordinator, Kevin Cosgrove.

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Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Journal Star

“Coach Cosgrove fought for us year after year, he did so much for us,” said McKeon.  “He was a player’s coach and no, his schemes didn’t work out the best all the time, but he was always there for us personally.  Even if we weren’t performing well on the field, he always had our back.  I think that’s what got to me the most.”

McKeon has two pieces of advice for today’s players; one is to cherish the good times on and off the field.  Those same buddies he had two-a-days with, who went through the same losses he did, remain some of his best friends.

teammates

His other suggestion is to realize the impact all Huskers can have, both now and in the future.  It’s something McKeon sees firsthand as an Ollie Webb Center board member and Executive Vice President.  His wife, Erika, organizes the annual fundraising gala.

McKeons

Both, associates with McKesson Pharmaceuticals, say they came to Ollie Webb hoping to learn more about something they didn’t have much experience with, people with developmental and intellectual disabilities.  When we followed around the McKeons for our interview at Ollie Webb, they shook hands with students, checked out their artwork, and joked about which Huskers they like best.  (One student’s, no surprise, Ameer Abdullah.)

fun with friends at Ollie

Thanks to the Ollie Webb Center for the photo!

The teenagers and adults get to be with friends for art activities and events, to learn computers and programs, and to work on life skills like how to keep a budget.  Erika McKeon calls their interaction with Ollie Webb life changing.

“Seeing the families that are [at the gala] and seeing the kids come up and perform on stage and just show us how happy they are and how appreciative they are for what we are doing, it’s just amazing,” said Erika.

performer AJ Taylor at gala

Ollie Webb’s AJ Taylor performing at the 2014 Fundraising Gala

The McKeons stress how powerful Nebraska football can be and how they hope players from all eras, especially the 2014 squad, use that to make a difference.  Corey notes that when he reaches out for auction items or other help, former players and the University are often the first to step up.

donation for gala

Autographed portrait donated for the 2014 Ollie Webb Fundraising Gala

“You’re going to come back to your community and want to impact it,” said McKeon.  “Husker Football is the number one way to do that.”

And THIS is how Corey McKeon hopes to impact you now, years after his name covered message boards and newspaper articles across Husker Nation.  When I contacted him about being part of our Huskers Throwback Thursday series, he agreed, IF we also made the story about Ollie Webb.  Shoot the story there, let he and Erika talk about what the organization is and how it’s helping people in our community, and hopefully draw some attention to THOSE names and faces, like the young woman at Ollie Webb who smiled and waved when Corey McKeon recognized her from the gym.

It’s not the kind of story we always get to share, but in this post of best of times and worst of times.. it’s certainly GREAT.

The Ollie Webb Center is always in need of donations and volunteers.  If you’d like to help, or would like to learn more about programs and services, contact them online or via Facbook.

To learn more about #13 Corey McKeon, check out his bio with Nebraska Athletics.

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CLICK HERE to Throwback to the Class of 2003, Pat Ricketts!

Next week’s Throwback Thursday.. Classes of 1971 & 1997, Bill & Jesse Kosch!

Brothers In Blue

I was very lucky a few years ago (OK, MANY years ago..) to become friends with a guy named Jeff Nathan.  I was the only student from Papio-La Vista at speech nationals, and for whatever reason, Jeff and his teammates from Millard North ‘adopted’ me and let me hang out with them.  As fate would have it, Jeff and I had a broadcasting class together in college at UNL and again, his close circle of friends took me in like they’d known me for years.  I remember one night in particular, Jeff asked if I wanted to come to their intramural softball game on campus; all the players were his friends from Millard North.  If you follow me on Twitter, you know I LOVE softball, and was totally game.  When I showed up, the guys were already on the field practicing, including THIS guy.

Ricketts Head Shot

Thanks to Nebraska Athletics for the photo!

My first thought, “holy crap!! That’s Pat Ricketts!”

My second thought, “ummmm.. is he allowed to play intramural softball?”

Yes. Yes he was.  And their team DOMINATED everyone they played against.. mostly because of Jeff’s Cy Young quality pitching. (You’re welcome, Jeff.)

In the early 2000’s, Millard North was well-represented not only on the softball field, but at Memorial Stadium.  Eric Crouch, Mike McClaughlin, Judd Davies and Pat Ricketts.. they all played together in high school, were recruited together to come to Nebraska, and played together as Huskers.

“It was really neat to go from high school to college, to bring that work ethic,” Ricketts told me in a recent interview.  “We had a lot of pride, and still do have a lot of pride, as Millard graduates and especially as Mustang graduates.”

Check out KETV’s Throwback Thursday Husker feature on Pat Ricketts!

Each player made an impact during his time at Nebraska (Crouch going on to win the Heisman Trophy), and Ricketts was no exception.  The cornerback was a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week his junior year in 2002, and as a senior, was part of  the defense that set a school record, leading the nation with 32 interceptions.  One of those in 2003 was by Ricketts against rival Colorado.

Still, Ricketts’ favorite moment as a Husker came off the field.

“My sophomore year, I earned a Blackshirt,” said Ricketts.  (Blackshirts are an iconic symbol awarded to members of Nebraska’s defense for strong performance and leadership.)  “That was the first Blackshirt I was able to earn, it was right after practice.  It was a complete surprise.”

with his blackshirt--NOT TO BE USED IN STORY

Photo courtesy of John Peterson Photo/Hail Varsity Magazine 

Ricketts’ advice to current players is to have a good time, because it goes by way too fast.  In a way, he always knew that, and knew what path he would take when his playing days came to an end.

“I worked in several financial institutions, and with the family starting TD Ameritrade in town, that’s what I grew up around,” said Ricketts.  He worked hard in the classroom at Nebraska, landing on the Honor Roll nearly his entire college career.  Today, he is President and CFO of Vintage Financial Group offering investment advice to both his clients and the public as a frequent guest on KETV First News Weekend.

Ricketts married his college sweetheart, Kirstin (who also came to those softball games!), now a fellow Vintage associate; together they have three children.

Ricketts Family pic

Ricketts also remains committed to the school district that helped shape him as a kid.  He is currently President of the Millard Public Schools Board, playing a key role in guiding the future of 23,000 students.  He hopes to someday see some of those kids wearing red ‘N’ jerseys (maybe even his own boys!)

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“It’s extremely important to get those in-state kids down to Lincoln, down to the University,” said Ricketts.  “Those are bonds across the state of Nebraska, those small towns to large towns, to know that’s their boy down at the University.  It’s fun; they’ve watched that kid grow up, and to be able to go on to college, that creates that fan base that is unique to Nebraska.  It’s important that Nebraska keeps that tradition going.”

Ricketts says this fall, like every other year, he’ll be watching Nebraska’s Blackshirts, a group he calls a fraternity.  I’m guessing once or twice, he’ll catch a game with his other brothers, his longtime friends from Millard North.

Here’s to a great season, and to friendships that stand the tests of time, change, and intramural softball.

Learn more about Pat Ricketts via Nebraska Athletics or on Vintage Financial Group’s website.

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CLICK HERE to Throwback to the Classes of 2004 & 2007, Barrett & Bo Ruud

Next week’s Throwback Thursday Husker.. Class of 2007, Corey McKeon