Tag Archive | shawn eichorst

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.

***

WEEK FOUR.. CLASS OF 1992 WILL SHIELDS!

NEXT WEEK.. CLASS OF 1991 CURTIS COTTON!

The Good Ol’ Days

1969.  Nebraska was selected to play in the Sun Bowl against Georgia.  No big titles on the line, no history book story lines from this match-up, but some might argue December 20, 1969 marked THE BEGINNING.

“We beat Georgia really badly,” remembers Jeff Kinney.  “Vince Dooley (Georgia’s then Head Coach) said neither one of us should’ve been in the bowl game.  They should’ve been in a better one, we should not have been in a bowl game.  But I think at that point, you could just really see things turn around.”

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics

Kinney was a sophomore running back at Nebraska that year, the Big 8 Sophomore of the Year in fact in a conference that would later claim the #1, #2, and #3 ranked teams in the country.  Kinney’s Huskers had tough years in the seasons leading up to that game, but followed up that Sun Bowl victory with Nebraska’s first two national football championships in 1970 and 1971.

Those Huskers were nothing short of legendary.  Jeff Kinney was an integral part of it.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH KETV’S HUSKER THROWBACK THURSDAY WITH #35 JEFF KINNEY!

Kinney grew up in McCook, Nebraska.  His memories of Nebraska football mirror thousands, if not millions of others spanning generations of Husker fans.  Families, tuning in to the radio or television every Saturday, ears and eyes glued to every moment.

“I was a fan before I was ever a player,” Kinney recently told KETV’s John Oakey.  “I knew that side of it, I knew how important it was and how much fun it was.”

As a Husker, Kinney was an offensive machine. In 1970, Kinney rushed for 684 yards, caught 20 passes for 206 yards, and scored five touchdowns… all of these numbers despite splitting time with another Husker great, Joe Orduna.  Fast forward to 1971, Kinney set the career rushing record with 2,420 yards, and he set a new Husker career touchdown record with 35.

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Photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics.

Kinney had arguably the biggest game of his college career with 55-million people watching, the Game of the Century versus Oklahoma in 1971.  Kinney set a new season best rushing mark of 171 yards and scored four touchdowns, one of those putting Nebraska ahead of the Sooners with just minutes left to play.

Click here to watch highlights from the Game of the Century, thanks to HuskerTapes.com!

“Every play in that game had to happen for us to win.  Richie Glover, had he not played, we wouldn’t have won the game,” said Kinney.  “That particular season and that particular team just continues to live on.”

Especially when those dynastic teams seem like a distant memory at times.  Kinney, now living and working in Colorado, says it’s been discouraging sometimes watching parts of the program deteriorate.

“Every program goes through that.  It takes some retooling to get back up,” said Kinney.  “I’m really excited what they’ve got going on right now.  I love the coach, I love the athletic director, I really look forward to some good things happening.  May take two or three years, but I think the foundation is being laid, just like what we talked about, how WE started to get better after some tough seasons.”

Funny how teams and times can seem so different, and yet sometimes, seem so much the same.  Will Nebraska ever have a team like Kinney’s 1971 Huskers?  I don’t know.  Some things, though, will never change.

“This gal walks up to me and says ‘Mr. Kinney, I just want you to know you’re my Dad’s favorite player’,” Kinney described.  “She said, ‘he passed away about a month ago, but my fondest memories were riding on the tractor, every Saturday, he’d have the radio up full blast listening to the game.’  That scenario plays out a million times every Saturday in Nebraska.’

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Win or lose, Husker Nation will still wear red every Saturday.  We’ll still pack Memorial Stadium waiting to let go of our balloons after that first touchdown.  We’ll still turn out in droves to meet and get an autograph from legends like Jeff Kinney.

Perhaps THAT is why we can debate what was the beginning of the Nebraska Football dynasty, but there is no end.

“I just loved playing football at Nebraska,” said Kinney.

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Click here for more on #35 Jeff Kinney, courtesy Nebraska Athletics!

WEEK TWO.. CLASS OF 2008 JOE GANZ!

WEEK FOUR.. CLASS OF 1992 WILL SHIELDS!

For a full list of KETV’s Throwback Thursday Huskers, click on the Throwback Thursday index at the top of the page!

The (Shocking) Season Finale

All season during this Husker Throwback series, I’ve tried to post these blogs the day or two before the story has aired on KETV.  There have been a few exceptions.. Monte Anthony had an ‘encore’ post thanks to Pearl Jam in Lincoln, and in our final week, legendary coach Milt Tenopir took a backseat to a terrible head cold.  (No one puts Coach in the corner!)  I fully intended to sit down at my desk Sunday and give Coach Tenopir the write-up his storied career at Nebraska deserved.

Then we all got the email that changed everything.

‘University of Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst has dismissed Head Football Coach Bo Pelini effective immediately.’

I’ve been sitting here,  contemplating what to type next.  The truth is, as I’ve written before, I don’t KNOW sports.  There are journalists, commentators and analysts who make a living sharing the whys, the what ifs and the could bes.  They research and study programs and team histories; they KNOW the game.  One of the things Pelini told me himself in our interview last April was that there were sure a lot of people outside of his program who THOUGHT they knew everything.

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Yes, that’s part of the job, and Pelini was the first to say that in our interview.  Yes, he got paid a good salary, a GREAT salary, for that job.  Still, quite an unenviable position to have tens of thousands of people criticize your EVERY. MOVE.

I KNOW I don’t know.  Does ANYONE have all the answers for the success of Husker football?

COACH TENOPIR

From 1974 to 2003, Offensive Line Coach Milt Tenopir sure knew a lot.

“Here’s an example, the offensive line had zero, ZERO penalties,” said Tenopir of his 1995 team.

ZERO PENALTIES. ALL SEASON.

Milt Tenopir was the man behind that original Pipeline of sheer, impenetrable muscle.  The coach who was often off camera, calling plays upstairs, looking down at the field inside Memorial Stadium.  The role model who turned out hundreds of young men he says became beloved friends.

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The 1994 Pipeline, an unbreakable Husker offensive line.  4 of the 5 starters that year went on to play pro ball.  (Photo Courtesy Brenden Stai Golf Classic)

“I never demanded respect.  I felt you had to earn respect whether you were a coach or whomever,” Tenopir told me last week.  “If the kids believe in you and you believe in them, you’re going to develop a friendship.  And we had a friendship, you know.  There’s not many that would come through that door today that we wouldn’t hug, maybe shed a tear, because there was just a bond set up there.”

Tenopir was a players’ coach (“I beat ’em up if they didn’t say that,” he joked), but it wasn’t because he went easy on them.  Tenopir says today’s players run 50-70 snaps, MAX, at practice.  His players ran 110.  ALL of his players, starting or not.  THAT, he says, is how his Huskers dominated their opponents on the field.

“The reason for that success was we didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot.  We didn’t have a bunch of jumps offsides, we didn’t have a bunch of chop blocks.  We didn’t have a lot of holding stuff,” said Tenopir.  “We beat everybody we should’ve beaten and a lot of times we beat people maybe we shouldn’t have beaten.  We never lost a game that we were supposed to win.”

There were losses, of course, but not many.  Tenopir credits his longtime head coach, Tom Osborne, who suffered two of those losses back to back at the start of his head coaching career.

“Coach Osborne was in our locker room before you could even get your clothes off to shower, he was not a happy camper,” remembers Tenopir.  “He wanted change, and he got change.  We ended up winning nine that year.  The following game we played Colorado and we thumped ’em pretty good.”

That is one of the things Tenopir says bothers him about so many programs today; the inability to make adjustments, especially during a game.  He says in 95% of Coach Osborne’s games, he brought a team back after halftime that performed better than in the first two quarters.

“When you look back at coaching 25 years, 255 wins, that’s an average of ten games a year.  That says something,” said Tenopir.  “Being in Coach’s presence made you all better people.  He was just that type of a guy.”

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There are other things Tenopir would like to see done differently at Nebraska.  He’d like to see the Big Red get back to a run-first mentality.  He says his coaching strategies, practice and consistency were not perfect but were proven.

“If they have repetition and the ability to make it second nature to them, then they’re going to be better.  I see that as an area of change that needs to be done,” said Tenopir.  “You’ve got a red N on your hat and that means something.  It means you don’t ever give up.  It means you try to be a perfectionist in everything you do.”

That red N might as well be tattooed onto Tenopir’s heart; though the 74-year old’s coaching days are over, he is still living by that Husker motto to keep fighting.  Tenopir battled cancer and won, twice. (He is currently in remission, hoping he’ll be able to continue therapy at home in January.)  This latest bout with leukemia, diagnosed in May, and the treatments that followed, drained Tenopir of his strength.  When the 1994 National Championship team was honored during this season’s Nebraska vs Miami game, his fellow coaches pushed Tenopir onto the field in a wheelchair.  On his lap, he held the ’94 trophy.

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Photo Courtesy Huskers Illustrated

“It was heavy,” said Tenopir, smiling.  “It was a thrill to me to be with those kids and the fact so many of them showed up.  Rob Zatechka, Brenden Stai, Aaron Graham, Joel Wilks, Zach Wiegert, those were some pretty special kids.”

As for Tenopir’s favorite?

“Can’t tell you that, I coached so doggone many,” said Tenopir.  “There’s not a kid I coached that I didn’t fall in love with.”

And from all accounts, the feeling is mutual.  Even during our interview, Coach Tenopir stopped to wave back at people passing by, even hugging a woman working in the athletic department.  11 years out from his retirement from coaching and he’s still beloved in Husker Nation.

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Something has been verified for me time and time again putting together these Throwback Thursday stories.  To be a Husker is something very, very special, both to the players and to the fans.  It’s not just a game in Nebraska.  It’s tradition, it’s prominence, it’s a dynasty.  It’s hard work, it’s adrenaline, it’s victory.  It’s something we collectively look forward to and join together for.  It’s more than the games, yet it IS the games, the players, the coaches that make all of this happen.

Will we ever have another coach like Milt Tenopir, like Tom Osborne, like Bob Devaney?  Will Nebraska ever win another national title?  Will ANY program see another team become a legacy like the 70-71 Huskers, or the 90’s powerhouse Nebraska teams?

Less than a week before Coach Bo Pelini would be dismissed, Coach Tenopir told me every head coach will take the blame for what goes wrong with his team.  He added, you can’t put it all on one guy.  In my interview with Coach Pelini, he was honest, down-to-earth, and seemed grounded by the things that are truly important; his family, and helping young men develop as players and people.  KETV Sports Director Andy Kendeigh said it best tonight during our 10pm newscast: “He’s truly a good man.”  Coach, I wish you the best.

For all of you who have followed this new Throwback Thursday Husker series, THANK YOU–I’ve really enjoyed following up with these players and coaches and sharing their stories.  Ironically, as I close the door on this blog post and on the 2014 season, we are pursuing another developing story.  Tomorrow, Husker Nation will welcome in new Head Football coach Mike Riley.

A new era of Nebraska Football is about to begin.