The offensive right guard said he would remember the Oregon game, how hot it was, and how the blonde in the end zone had such a short skirt and as the team drove downfield toward the blonde there was more than casual reference in the Nebraska huddle to the quality of her limbs. And the Colorado game, when it was 35° and raining in Lincoln and cold, and the crazy Nebraska fans lined up their empty booze bottles on the concrete steps in the north end zone and you could see them there, glistening. He said for all the gravity of big-time college football it was amazing how observant you could be in a huddle. And he said within his treasure chest would live forever the lines of Raquel Welch, who declared she dug quarterbacks like Joe Namath over "dumb guards." "If I had Raquel Welch here, I'd punch her out," he said, and everybody in the room leaned back to enjoy the specter of the guard pummeling Miss Welch.
The split end, sitting on the bed with his legs crossed, said he would remember all the attention they received before the Oklahoma game—television cameramen running around, magazine covers, The Game of the Century, Howard Cosell—and how the pressure finally got to him and he quit going to class because he could not concentrate on the two things at the same time. But he said that after the season, their last at Nebraska, he actually enjoyed and got a lot out of some of the courses he took—Zoology, Kinesiology, Physiology of Exercise 284. The guard and the tackle laughed at him and told him to come off it.
"Who likes school?" said the tackle. Of the three, he was the only one with enough credits to graduate.
"I hate it," said the guard. He said he figured it out and he was "exactly 24 hours" (about two semesters) short of his degree. "Or 26."
"Or 28," said the tackle.
The tackle said he would remember Bob Devaney. He said he was convinced it was a special thing about Coach Devaney that brought it all home—the national championships and the indulgence of the Nebraska fans, who made themselves obvious not just in the stands but everywhere: on the streets, in drugstores, dentists' offices, gas stations. He said even the Nebraska students were nuts about the football team.
He looked around the room at the memorabilia they had accumulated (red-and-white player dolls, No. 1 clocks, Big Red bath mats), the spoor of Nebraska's football zealotry. They were clearing it all out now. He said the funny thing about playing football at Nebraska was that eventually you went over the line and became a fan yourself. He said the answer had to be Devaney, but after close surveillance he had not been able to figure out what the man did, except to scare him (the tackle) to death.
He corrected himself, exhaling over the lip of his can of beer. "No, not exactly scare," he said.
"Yes," said the guard. "S-c-a-r-e."
The guard asked his girl, a platinum blonde named Jeannie who had been helping with the cleanup, if she would please get some more beer. The guard's name was Keith Wortman. He had come to Nebraska from Whittier, Calif. and Rio Hondo Junior College, an affable, quick-witted young man with densely lashed brown eyes. At 21 he had grown to be 6'3" and 250 pounds and, as the logical extension of his training at Nebraska, had acquired a contract to play for the Green Bay Packers. Over his bed was a crinkled photograph laminated onto a piece of wood, which Jeannie had made him, that showed the guard at the sublime moment of his employment at Nebraska: on the ground after completing a block for Halfback Jeff Kinney, who is shown soaring over the top to score a touchdown against Oklahoma. Wortman's number—65—is visible in the picture between the legs of an official.
Also on display was one of Wortman's athletic supporters Jeannie had embroidered with a red N.U., a No. 1 and a cluster of oranges symbolizing the victories over LSU and Alabama in the last two Orange Bowl games. Jeannie was a very talented girl, Wortman said. He planned to drop by Pershing Auditorium the next day to watch her graduate, something he himself would have to put off. He wasn't trying to bull anybody—his ambition when he came to Lincoln was to play football. "I don't consider myself dumb," he said. "I'll get my degree when the time comes." He said much of his academic life had been a series of false starts. "I had five majors. English, sociology—I couldn't pronounce the word—business and then P.E."
"That's four," said the split end.
"Math wasn't one of them," said Wortman.
One positive effect Nebraska had on his development, Wortman said, was a birth of confidence. "I'd never been on a winner in my life until I came here, then all of a sudden I was surrounded by them." He said it transformed him. In high school he had thought himself a clod, and there was always someone around willing to support that view. In those days he had dreamed of being a fullback. One of his coaches told him, "Wortman, you're a lineman, and you will always be a lineman." He said when he missed making All-League by one vote, his head coach told him it was he who didn't vote for him. "My own coach! I was just a big fat insecure kid until I came here to Nebraska."
"So what's changed, Chubby?" said the tackle.
The tackle's name was Carl Johnson. Blond, blue-eyed and massive (6'4", 255 pounds), he had come from Phoenix Junior College and played next to Wortman on the Nebraska offensive line; played well enough to be drafted in the fifth round by the New Orleans Saints. He had also completed the requirements for a degree in business. His father and mother and grandmother were in from Phoenix to see him get it. The grandmother wore an orchid corsage for the occasion.
The split end's name was Woody Cox. He was, by the standards of his roommates, lilliputian: 5'9", 167 pounds. He had been told many times, even before he got to high school, that he was too small to play football but had never been convinced. Wortman remembered playing against him in junior college, when Cox starred for New Mexico Military. "I saw him twice—running past me to touchdowns." In his last season at Nebraska, Cox caught 26 passes for 378 yards, second high on the team. Since then, free from team restrictions, he had let his curly brown hair spring out from his head like chicory. He had not been asked to play professional football, Cox said, so he was going home for the summer to sail on a friend's new $150,000 yacht. "Woody owns Grosse Pointe, Michigan," said Keith Wortman.
Cox was 10 hours short of his degree. His grades were good, and he would be back in the fall to finish up. He would, at the same time, help coach the Nebraska team as a "graduate assistant." He said it was the least he could do after learning such advanced techniques on the field: "All this knowledge...it would be a shame not to pass it on."
The three players had shared the apartment for nine months, along with an occasional freeloader such as Van Brownson, the quarterback, whenever Brownson tired of living out of his automobile, and a fairly consistent ebb and flow of coeds. ("Girls go for football players around here," Jeannie said.) The apartment's inventory of goods during that time had multiplied to include a line of empty Strawberry Hill wine bottles on the board-and-cinder-block bookcase, a superabundance of colored bath towels, a worthwhile stack of popular records (Cat Stevens, Chicago) and, on the toilet tank, a tall, yellowing pile of Playboy magazines.
Now, preparing to quit the apartment, the three roommates sat around hashing over their experiences, letting memories trigger memories. The success of Nebraska football, said one, was due not so much to dedicated players as it was to dedicated coaches. "Football's a big business here. The whole state is involved. The coaches know it, and they coach that way."
"More meetings, more films, more everything."
"The coaches made themselves accessible. 'I need help in this science course.' They got you a tutor. 'Where do I go to buy tires.' 'What am I going to do about this girl.' They were there always."
"The big thing was the closeness. The players got along. No race problems, no nothing."
"When you made a block for Kinney, he let you know he appreciated it. Tagge was the same."
"We were a partying team. Devaney knew it. I think he encouraged it. He's strict, but he knows what it's all about."
"Nobody really hassled you, but there was kind of an unspoken rule. As long as what you did didn't wind up in the newspapers you were safe."
"Nebraska's not as conservative as you'd think," said Carl Johnson. "It's not Berkeley, but the girls behave the same here as anyplace. And when they have a demonstration, all five or six campus radicals show up."
"Most college kids are a bunch of bull shooters," said Keith Wortman. "You think they're really saying something, or being involved, but they're just giving you a lot of bull. I do it myself."
"I'll say," said Woody Cox.
That night the roommates and their dates celebrated, perhaps for the last time as a group in Nebraska, by taking in a steak at Tony and Luigi's, one of the nicer restaurants in town. They drank a little (Cox abstaining), and one of them recalled the night they went swimming in Broyhill Fountain after loading up with beer. Wortman said he would miss that, and a lot of things. Getting psyched up for a big game. Double-teaming some opponent with Carl. He said it hadn't been so bad being a guard after all. "Fridays were the best days," Johnson said. "They let all the linemen play catch at practice."
"The challenge was to see how long we could keep the ball up in the air without dropping it," said Wortman, "31, 32, 33...duhhhh."
College life, said Cox, was a series of these challenges.
Bob Terrio's mother came from Los Angeles for the graduation. His father, George, flew in from Las Vegas, where he is a shift boss in the Keno game at the Las Vegas Hilton. "This is what we've lived for," said George as they pulled two lounge tables together at the Misty the night before graduation. The Misty has a reputation for prime ribs that is Lincoln-wide and is known as a good place to sit around after hours. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world," said George Terrio, smiling happily. He is a tall man, deeply tanned, with a Don Ameche mustache, and he wore a flowered shirt with the tail out. The Terrios had been divorced when Bob was a child. Mrs. Terrio kept the name by marrying George's brother Bill, but they had all remained close over the years, sharing a common interest in Bob.
The mother was in a reminiscent mood. She, too, is tall and lean, with flesh-colored hair and horn-rimmed glasses. She recalled with delight the time she fell over the railing at a Pop Warner League football game cheering one of Bob's feats (a crucial run, as she recalled). She recited from "the greatest story ever done on him," in the hometown paper when he was a fullback at Fullerton J.C. "In the story they called him The Mudder," she said, because he was always at his best when playing conditions were worst. "The Mudder," she repeated, looking at Bob.
She told about the time she almost fell out of the Orange Bowl on New Year's night 1971 when Bob intercepted a last-ditch LSU pass to save Nebraska's victory and first national championship. She was jumping up and down, she said, and almost lost control.
Bob Terrio said he remembered the first day he arrived in Lincoln, on a flight from Los Angeles, three years ago.
"It was January," he said, "and the sun was shining like today. Bob Newton and I got off the plane in our shirtsleeves. It was 5°. We looked at each other. 'We ain't staying here,' I said."
Nevertheless he did, partly out of appreciation for Devaney's attractive program (bowl games; trips to Honolulu) and partly because the University of Southern California had not asked him. He remembered falling in among the redwoods Devaney had recruited that year. "I thought I was big," he said. (He is 6'2", 215 pounds.) At the first practice session he was matched one-on-one with a 6'8" 280-pounder. His compensation was a swollen eye that did not open for two days.
A scar on Bob's right cheekbone, from an encounter years ago with an opponent's front teeth, stood out in the blue glow of the lounge, contributing to a general swarthiness that made him look older than his 22 years. Terrio, he said, was not an Italian name; it was shortened from Therialt, and the bloodlines were French Canadian and Indian. One of his Nebraska coaches had said there was also a creditable strain of American Stubborn. The coaches had redshirted him his first year at Nebraska, risking the chance that he might run home to sunny California.
"It was a terrible letdown," Bob said. "I'd always been first string wherever I played, whatever I played. I thought, 'Do I have to put up with the weather and this, too? For an extra year? Why am I here?' I did think of going home. But I had never quit anything in my life, and I didn't want to start.
"That Easter, Diane and I got married, and in the fall, even though I was a redshirt, Coach Devaney included us on the Sun Bowl trip. We had a great time. I never really thought about quitting again."
Ultimately, Terrio was told he was not going to be a fullback anymore, but a linebacker. "It meant I had to start all over. I'd never played defense in my life, and there were guys around who were bigger and harder nosed than me. But I thought, what the hell." Terrio was laboring on the third team when an assistant coach, John Melton, ordered him to take off his green practice jersey and put on a black one. Black shirts are worn only by the first team at Nebraska. He said he would not forget that day.
Thereafter, the good times far outnumbered the bad for Bob and Diane Terrio. An A student in high school, he breezed through Nebraska's physical-education courses. "I never had to study. I learned to be satisfied with Bs."
His teammates were also his classmates and the friends he socialized with. It was a pleasantly insulated life—hunting and fishing together, drinking, fooling around. Bob and Diane rented a house at the Lincoln Air Base eight miles out of town for $63.95 a month. The water pipes were in the ceiling. There was no money to burn, but they paid their bills. Diane worked as a telephone operator, and they drove a Volkswagen, and the couples they ran with were expert at cut-rate entertainment. Of an evening, the girls would gossip, the guys would play pitch and drink some beer, and then they would all join in for a hot game of charades. "You'd be surprised how wild charades can get," Terrio said.
He said he learned to appreciate Nebraska. He said, most certainly, he learned to appreciate Nebraska football fans.
"People would see you in a place like this and come right up to you. 'Say, you're Bob Terrio. Let me buy you a drink.' 'Hey, Bob. Siddown over here. Want a beer?' " There were stores, he said, that gave players discounts on clothing, and car dealers who would give you a break. "I bought a car for $1,995 and traded it back a year later, and they allowed me $2,300."
George Terrio said he had kind of hoped to have a pro football player in the family.
"No way," said Bob. "I'm a family man." In June, Diane Terrio had produced Robert Ryan Terrio, and Bob Devaney had invited the baby's father to help coach the Nebraska team in the fall while he works on his master's degree. Bob Terrio said it was enough to make a man proud to be a University of Nebraska graduate.
The proprietor of the restaurant came to the table then and, calling Bob by name, ordered drinks for everybody. On the house.
Van Brownson had let his hair grow almost to his shoulders since the football season and wispily down his forehead in the front; he was working on a goatee but had a way to go. He said girls like long hair; "they all tell you so." One, an eye-catching brunette in pants and a halter, was present in the apartment. The apartment was that of his friends, Wortman, Johnson and Cox, but Brownson at the time had the run of it.
Brownson said there were times when he did not care to live out of his gold Toronado. There were other times, however, when he had felt there were "more worthwhile things than paying rent." He said he had almost totaled out his living quarters late one night (or early one morning) in West Omaha when he hit an icy spot, slammed over a retaining curb, hit a sign and jumped a 10-foot drainage ditch. When he appeared in court, the spectators recognized him and applauded. He told the judge he fell asleep at the wheel. He pleaded not guilty and paid a $10 fine.
The story made the local papers, he said, but he got the car fixed himself rather than go through insurance channels because he didn't want his father to get wind of it. His father was back in Shenandoah, Iowa, "the nursery capital of the world," and did not always appreciate Van's adventures in paradise.
"A lot of guys get into trouble," he said, smiling, his leg slung over a chair, "but I am the one who always gets caught." His lean (6'3", 195 pounds) lizard's body was covered with a Hawaiian shirt, faded red Bermudas and a pair of two-tone blue-suede string-up shoes with square toes. "Ninety percent of the players drink beer. I drink quite a bit. I wonder sometimes how many brain cells all that beer has killed."
For the record, Van Brownson was listed as a senior. He had completed four years of football at Nebraska and had been drafted in the eighth round by the Baltimore Colts. For two years—as a sophomore and junior—he had shared the quarterbacking with Jerry Tagge, and they had made a formidable, even spectacular, duo, unbeaten in 19 games. But injuries nagged Brownson, and in the spring before his senior year he suffered a shoulder separation. After that Tagge pretty much had it to himself, and Nebraska won 13 more. The experience of stepping from spotlight into shadow cost Brownson a dear thing, he said.
"I lost my confidence. I never lost my determination—I'm as determined as ever—but I lost my confidence. I lost confidence in my body. I always liked contact. I liked running the ball. Now I was getting hurt. My elbow, my shoulder. I got bursitis. I lost confidence in my passing. I knew where to put it, but I wasn't getting it there on time. I thought, 'If I could just throw as well as I did in high school.' "
His strikingly clear blue eyes, so blue as to appear luminescent, darted back and forth. In the context of his experience, one might have said he appeared shell-shocked, except that his tongue was facile. He said he had come to the point where he had abandoned all pretenses.
"No," he said, "I don't want to go to class. No, I don't go to class. I don't need a degree to play football." He said he had attended only 10 classes in the fall semester, all in the same subject—the professor threatened to drop him and that would have cost him his eligibility. Since the season, he said, he had gone to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and to the Colts' rookie camp in Tampa. He spent some time in L.A.
The trouble with being a fun lover, he said, is that you get a reputation. Rumors start. They get all the way back to Shenandoah, Iowa. He said that Devaney had put up with a lot. "He'd hear rumors and he'd call me in. We were in the Suite IV Lounge in Omaha one night to see this hypnotist. He got me up on the stage, doing crazy things. I was out, but not from hypnotism. I yelled some profanity. They had my picture in the paper on the stage. Devaney called me in. "You can't go around making a spectacle of yourself,' he said. Actually, he was very understanding."
Brownson said that his eventual comedown in football was as much a blow to his father as it was to him. His father, a tractor and implement dealer, was living in Lincoln when Van was born and the father, an alumnus himself, caught the passion. "He was more frustrated than I was. He'd continually say things—'if you had only been in there....' How could it matter? We never lost. I heard he went to the coaches a couple times. A real pain.
"I wouldn't change anything I've done," he said. "Nothing at all. I want to live my life the way I want to live it, and if others don't agree, well...." He shrugged and lounged back in the chair. "In many ways these have been the most enjoyable four years of my life. I've made so many friends. Fraternity guys, football players. It's not just eat, drink and be merry. I worry about tomorrow. I don't worry about getting married. I came to college to get smarter, not dumber. But I worry about whether I'm going to make it professionally, whether I'll be economically stable. I'd like to make it in pro football. I wonder if I can. If I will. What I will do if I don't. I think about those things.
"I'd like my coaches here to have good memories of me. Hopefully, they'll remember me as a good athlete. As an intelligent person. I'm not sure they'll think of me as a responsible person. But I think I understand more now."
Ten years from now, Brownson said, he would remember those two national championships, and his contributions. He would especially remember the time in 1970 when Nebraska was down 20-10 to Kansas, and he brought the team back to win 41-20. Those heroics, which won him Big Eight Back of the Week honors, began with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Guy Ingles. Brownson remembered he got the pass away just as he was knocked off his feet and didn't see it, but the game movies showed it to be a perfectly thrown ball, the kind quarterbacks deliver in their dreams. Ingles had one step on the defender and never had to break stride.
Then a very funny thing happened, Brownson said. That spring the Nebraska football-highlights film, the one that makes the rounds of luncheons and banquets, came out, and included in it was Brownson's great pass. At the appropriate moment, as the play flickered on the screen, the announcer said, "Now, here it is: Jerry Tagge's perfect 80-yard touchdown pass to Guy Ingles."
Brownson said the irony had not been lost on him.
He was born in the south Nebraska town of Oxford (pop. 1,116), which is on the Republican River, where the bass fishing is good. There is nothing else Jeff Kinney can think to say about Oxford except that it has a big turkey feed every summer. His father, a brakeman for the Burlington Northern Railroad, raised the family upriver in McCook, a town distinct from Oxford in that it has 7,000 more people. There Jeff Kinney grew to be a star quarterback and a fine allround athlete. Devaney himself came to McCook to see him ("It was like entertaining the President," Kinney recalls), and Devaney gave him a scholarship to Nebraska, where Kinney starred again, this time as a halfback.
He married his high school sweetheart, whose name is Becky, as all high school sweethearts should be, and Becky gave him a son, Jeffrey Scott. And the Nebraska football fans gave him unremitting attention. In his senior year Kinney made All-America; he ended his career with the finest record for running the football in the history of the school (2,420 yards, 35 touchdowns) and was drafted in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs. "Things have always fallen into place for me," said Jeff Kinney.
But with the encroachment of adulthood, Kinney found that a hero's work is never done, and that the ascent is never as direct or as painless as that brief resume would indicate. To be objective about it, one would have to say that between the joyful noise of hands clapping together, one would have to include the sleepless nights and the family budget; the realities of a classroom education and the harder realities outside. One summer he took a job with a section gang for the railroad, changing ties in the steaming rockbeds around McCook. The temperature reached 118°. He learned to appreciate the shade. Another time he worked as a policeman in Lincoln, riding a squad car at $3.50 an hour, and experienced the sensation of being called a pig. He said as a policeman he had a very hard time controlling his temper.
On the afternoon before the Nebraska class of '72 was to be graduated—graduating without him, he said, with a trace of indignation, because he had fallen behind due to the demands on a football hero's time—Kinney sat in the stark two-bedroom brick bungalow on Cleveland Avenue, the one he and Becky had rented (a bargain at $55 a month) two years before, and with the window-unit air conditioner buzzing at his back, he recalled that even the greatest triumphs were not without postscripts.
"A lot of us don't realize yet the full impact of that Oklahoma game," he said. "Maybe we never will." Surrounding him on the walls and furniture tops of the living room were the engraved plaques and trophies and pictures (one showing him with President Nixon) that certified his rank as a football star. Becky sat on the chair next to him. They had been packing for the move to Kansas City. Becky had quit her job as a dental assistant. Jeff said: "I know, personally, it was the biggest moment of my life, the Oklahoma game. Not everybody gets to play in a game like that. People around here idolize football players. They'll remember that game. They'll remember and be apt to help you later on, if you ever need help." Jeff Kinney had rushed for 171 yards and scored four touchdowns.
"The whole thing was wild, like being in a different world. The game itself was unbelievable—35-31. When the plane bringing us home landed in Lincoln, they couldn't get it anywhere close to the terminal because of all the people. Ten thousand of them, yelling and screaming."
Becky said she and three other players' wives had watched the game that afternoon on television. "I almost had a heart attack on that last touchdown drive when Jeff...."
"Don't say it. It wasn't a fumble."
"When Jeff almost fumbled."
The ball had come loose from Kinney's grip near the Oklahoma goal, but it was blown dead because he was already down. Oklahoma players protested vigorously, but vainly. Moments later Kinney scored the winning touchdown.
"I haven't been the same since," Kinney said. His nerves, he said, were a mess. He had been unable to sleep. He hyperventilated. "I'll be in bed at night," he said, "lying there wide awake, feeling like I'm having a heart attack, my fingers tingling. The doctor said not to take deep breaths. Drink a beer. Take a hot bath."
"The whole thing made him a hypochondriac," said Becky.
Jeff Kinney smiled. It is a good smile, on a good face: protrusively jawed, with full lips and sleepy blue eyes under a Buster Brown hairdo. "I've had them all," he said. "Cancer, heart attacks, brain tumors. I saw Brian's Song, and actually got a stomachache."
It hadn't been easy for him, Becky said, with all his responsibilities and commitments, trying to get through school and being married, too.
"If I hadn't been married, I would have been enjoying myself too much," Jeff said, still smiling. "Becky was somebody to complain to. She took a lot of heat.
"I'm glad it's over," he said. "It's time to get away. It's been good for us, but it's too small a world. We need to get out. It's just about impossible to get lost in Lincoln."
"A lot of Sundays after a game I'd get up early and go over to the hospital to watch the autopsies," said Linebacker Pat Morell. "After a while the pathologist let me help—I got to remove a liver, or a kidney, and put it on a dish to be examined. They let me in the operating room to watch open-heart surgery. I got to see kidney stones removed. And a vasectomy. The urologist let me cut some sutures and hold back the incision while he worked.
"A lot of guys are filled up with college after four years, but I'm not. I'm anxious to get started again. Medicine excites me. I'm intrigued with the possibilities of having that kind of ability. For a long time I hoped that at this point in my life I would have been drafted by a pro football team and be all geared up to play pro ball, but I don't worry about that anymore. I came to realize I didn't want to make football my life."
The 1971 Nebraska football brochure describes Morell as 6'2", 215 pounds, "big, tough, mobile and aggressive," a linebacker with a "potential for stardom." The adjoining picture shows him to be clean-cut and clear-eyed with enough strength in his jaw for an alert publicist to suggest "determination." Morell's career at Nebraska is now over. He played well enough to letter three times. He never became a star. For three years he was "almost" a regular; for the last two he marked time behind his friend, Bob Terrio, who had come from the West Coast to steal his thunder. Morell's name did not become a household word in Nebraska. People did not stop him on the street unless he was walking with his buddy Jerry Tagge, the quarterback. When they were roommates their junior year he got an occasional kick out of pretending he was Tagge when the girls called at 2 a.m.
But if waves of applause did not carry Pat Morell into adulthood, an uncommon sense of priority and direction did. He had applied and been accepted into the university's medical school at Omaha. Following an accelerated program, he said, he would have his M.D. in three years.
Morell had been married for almost a year. His wife Debbi is a breathtakingly lovely girl with eyes the color of sea-water ("greeny blue," she says), and together they have found a lot to like in the world. They found they like Lincoln ("really nice people, nice-size town," says Pat); they talk about living there. They like to do things together. They even like their parents. They like going to see his folks in Kansas City ("My father is a postal inspector, and the man I admire most in the world") and can't wait to get down to Broken Bow to see hers. Not only does Debbi have a beautiful face, but she has an exquisitely level head. She encourages his studies. She keeps his shirt with the little OB (for Orange Bowl) 71 on the front whiter than white and their apartment spotless. There are books (An Introduction to Art, A History of Classical Music, The Autobiography of Malcolm X) and paintings (a large print by Luongo; an original, by a friend, showing horses being led to a race, that hangs over their bed. "There are just so many walls," says Debbi). Missing is the clutter of Nebraska football paraphernalia. Only a couple of team pictures.
Debbi herself was graduating the next day, with a degree in business. She said she planned to be a CPA. She had, in the past, helped some of Pat's teammates. She was capable of being very serious. But she was also capable of giving Pat a hard time in Miami when he wanted to sit by the pool and read The Godfather when she wanted to run on the beach. Her argument was that he had already read it once.
"Three outstanding things happened to me in these four years," Morell said as they sat together on the sofa of the apartment, consciously touching. "One, I got married. Two, I got admitted to med school. Three, I was on two national-championship football teams. Some guys might give you that in reverse order, depending on who's with them at the time"—he looked at Debbi—"but I am very, very happy to be married."
Morell said that his disappointment at not being a regular had been keen. "There was so much talent here that first year. Sixty guys, all of them outstanding—All-America, All-State, all this or that. I remember going to Valentino's for a pizza one night with Tagge. He happened to mention that he had been a high school All-America in football. But not only that, he was All-America in basketball, too, and had been offered a pro baseball contract. So many outstanding guys.
"You see things, being less than first string. Nebraska fans, as good as they are, can be as fickle as anybody. If you're in there with the second team and the opponent scores, they start yelling, 'Get the scrubs out.' I experienced that. But I guess I never really reconciled myself to being second team.
"I was bitter for a while, but looking back I feel I really did contribute. And it was worthwhile contributing, too. Football at Nebraska is like pro football. Devaney treated us like men. We responded like men. It can be the other way. It's the same with college life. It can be a farce. You can get by without studying. You can cheat. Some guys cheat all the way through school. Or you can lose your identity. It's a big school. Some classes are so big you don't even sign your name, you give your Social Security number. But you get what you put into it. I thought my education was as good as I could have gotten anywhere, because I put the time and effort into it."
He looked at Debbi.
"I feel the same way about football." Pat Morell said. "It was the third-best thing that ever happened to me."
Bigness, rather than beauty, is the mark of the University of Nebraska campus. It sprawls without rhyme through the avenues and side streets of Lincoln, spreading fitfully under the duress of an ever-increasing demand on its enrollment, now up to 21,000. Its architecture is a rummage of style and shade, its epidermis a variety of brick and stone and, as a concession to modern tastes, glass and metal. Somehow, one is not surprised to find the Hardy Furniture warehouse in the midst of it all. An aerial view is dominated by two enormous grain silos on the north edge of town, and to the west is the Memorial Football Stadium, which has been enlarged five times since Bob Devaney arrived to be coach in 1962. By next fall it will have enough seats (75,000) to accommodate half the population of Lincoln.
To keep those seats filled, Devaney has made Nebraska a national institution—he does not discriminate against a good football player because he lives in San Diego or South Philadelphia. Once they reach Lincoln, he does not require his players to live in a football dormitory, separate from the natural stream of student life. Once they have varsity experience, they may live off campus. They filter into apartments and fraternity houses. Those who wish to remain often gravitate to George P. Abel Hall, the largest of the campus dormitories. Abel Hall is 13 stories high, with musty-smelling corridors and yellow block walls that need paint. There usually is a sign in the lobby of Abel Hall that says something like "Wanted: two roommates to share a mobile home." For John Adkins of Lynchburg, Va., Abel Hall was home for the last two years at Nebraska. "I don't like to cook," he explained when asked about his choice. What does that mean? "Move into an apartment and you wind up cooking."
The morning of graduation, Adkins was in his room, sifting through piles of clothes and supplies, filling a trunk, cleaning out. Still on the bookshelf was a copy of Faulkner's Light in August and a large bottle of Hoffman's HiProteen food supplement. Adkins had fulfilled all academic requirements for his degree in physical education, but he was not going to the graduation. He said it was partly because he owed the university $130 in parking tickets and couldn't get his diploma until he paid up, and partly because he never planned to attend in the first place.
"All they do is tell all the seniors to stand up, sit down and then go to the basement and pick up their diplomas. It's easier to have it sent to you."
John Adkins, nicknamed Spider, is 21, 6'3" tall, 221 pounds, handsome and black. His father drives a garbage truck in Lynchburg. Neither his father nor his mother ever saw John play football, except on television. He lettered every year and was a regular defensive end for Nebraska. He was not drafted by an NFL team.
"That hurt," he said. "I really wasn't planning to play pro football. I was planning to go to graduate school. But that hurt my pride." So when Montreal of the Canadian League called, Adkins signed up.
He had other plans as well. He and a buddy back home and a white teammate named Jeff Hughes hoped to someday develop an area outside the Cherry Point, N.C. Marine base for low-income housing. He said it was no pie in the sky. He was confident that sometime in the future there would be real money in the project. "If there's one thing college has given me," he said, "it's confidence. Confidence to play football, confidence to get my degree, confidence I can do anything."
He said there would be no bad memories of Nebraska. No real problems. His girl friend Cindy was white, he said, and he felt sometimes they received some unusually long looks when they went places together, but he admitted it might have been his own sensitivity that caused him to think so. Certainly there had been no overt discrimination, he said. Black players tended to go their own way, but that was not unusual, and there were white players he considered good friends. He hunted with Larry Jacobson. One thing he especially liked about Nebraska, he said, was the availability of pheasant; one of the most prized of his acquisitions, was a 12-gauge shotgun. He said if there was one thing that would bring him back for a visit it would be a pheasant hunt.
One play in his junior year stands out in his memory. Against Oklahoma State, a pass deflected by a teammate floated into his hands—"I don't know how I got it, but I got it and I went with it"—and in order to make it to the State goal he outran a swift back for 57 yards.
After that, he said, the attention that Nebraska football players get began to come to him, too. "Too much attention?" he was asked. "How can you get too much? I liked it," he said. When his senior season was over, he was named to a local columnist's 10-year All-Nebraska team. He said it was no small thrill. But there had been others. It was inspiring, he said, to enter a stadium with 68,000 people, all in red, screaming their lungs out for you. And to play under inspired coaches, with equally inspired teammates. But he said when it came right down to it, for John Adkins, it wasn't necessary. He would have been inspired anyway. "My inspiration," he said, "was myself."
Graduation for the University of Nebraska class of '72 was held May 19 at Pershing Auditorium in downtown Lincoln. It was divided into two sessions, morning and afternoon, because the number to be graduated (2,338) was a record. The auditorium is a bulky sandstone and slate building with a large tile fresco over the front entrance. Relatives and friends of the graduates-some of whom rode into town with bumper tags that read WIN IT THREE TIMES, and some of whom ate the Go Big Red Breakfast at the Ramada Inn that morning—filled the auditorium at both sessions.