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Big Ten Countdown 49 -Tom "Train Wreck" Novak: The Toughest Husker Ever And Northwestern's Only Bowl Win

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Over the past 10 months, Big Ten fans have been treated to numerous Q&A sessions with Nebraska pundits.  I'm sure there will be plenty more to come as sites such as CN search for relevant content through the offseason, and as Big Ten media tries to educate their respective fan bases about Nebraska football.

One consistent question will be "Who Were the Greatest Huskers of All Time?".

There probably aren't a lot of variants in the answers. Most will name Ndamukong Suh (for obvious reasons), Tommie Frazier, or Heisman Trophy winners Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier and Eric Crouch. Some might include Grant Wistrom, or Dave Rimington (still the best offensive lineman in college football history).

But one name that may be forgotten is Tom Novak.

Novak, whose nickname was "Train Wreck" because of the way he played the game, is widely known as the toughest Husker in school history. Novak's number, #60, is one of only two permanently retired numbers at Nebraska. Novak's number was retired during the 1950 season.

What is more remarkable about Novak's career is that he played during some of the leanest years of Husker football, from 1946-1949. Over that span, Nebraska's record was 3-6, 2-7, 2-8, and 4-5, respectively, going 11-26. Yet Novak made first-team All-Conference every season, and remains as Nebraska's only four time All-Conference selection. In 1949, Novak became an All-American. 

Novak passed away November 1st, 1998.

Despite his accomplishments, there isn't a whole lot written about Novak. has a relatively short bio, and he is mentioned in Mark Fricke's book Nebraska Cornhusker Football (still on sale at the University bookstore last I checked). The most complete treatise appears to be in Mike Babcock's excellent book, Stadium Stories, Nebraska Cornhuskers. Babcock also writes about him in the Nebraska Vault book, a must-own by any Husker fan who wants to know more about Nebraska football.

The most famous quote about Novak came from another Husker legend

"My eyes have never seen Tom Novak's equal at any position. As football players go, the Good Lord made Tom Novak, then threw away the mold." --Lyell Bremser, longtime radio broadcaster.

Every year a current Husker player is given the Tom Novak Award for that which "best exemplifies courage and determination despite all odds in the manner of Nebraska All-America center Tom Novak", or as I like to think of it, goes to the toughest sonofabitch on the team.

That other "49" mentioned in the title?

In 1949 Northwestern (the other NU) pulled off their only bowl win in Wildcat history, defeating California 20-14 in the Rose Bowl. The 1948 team finished the season with a 8-2 record, finishing second in the Big Ten and earning a trip to the Rose Bowl because of the conference's "no repeat rule" which did not allow a team to make back-to-back trips to the Rose Bowl.

Note that Michigan won the national title that season (Their last since 1997, you know, the one they shared with a Nebraska team, the one that was supposedly a gift to Tom Osborne but was just as much a gift to Michigan? Yeah, that one.), going 9-0, and 6-0 in conference.

Northwestern has preserved game footage, some of which is shown in a video that was done during a 60th year reunion. Pretty cool stuff, actually. A game write up is available as well.

March to the '49 Rose Bowl from Northwestern News on Vimeo.

1949 wasn't Northwestern's only shot at a bowl win. They've made nine bowl trips (including the 1949 Rose Bowl), with eight of them coming since 1996. (Husker fans should remember the 2000 Alamo Bowl in which Nebraska won 66-17.)

They just can't get a win. They lost the 2011 Ticket City Bowl to Texas Tech, 45-38. It was their third consecutive bowl trip, having lost the Alamo Bowl in 2008 to Missouri, 30-23, and to Auburn in the 2010 Outback Bowl, 38-35. Both of those bowls were lost in overtime.