[Paul Koch was a strength & conditioning specialist for the Nebraska Athletic Department from 1987 to 1995. Koch wrote the books No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Volumes 1 and 2. I asked him to do a write up of the Reunion of the '94 National title football team. Paul also provided photos, taken with his cell phone. You can click on those to make them bigger - Jon.]
What a weekend!
Husker Nation got its money's worth on this one. Saturday night fever raged; the sun went down, but Memorial Stadium turned hot. Emotions were in the red on this contest's tachometer: A despised rival known for bravado and trash-talk, their rare visit to Lincoln's confines after so many Husker trips to "The U's" armpit in Florida, a chance for Big Red redemption after the last 2002 tilt in the Rose Bowl, Josh Mitchell's game-turning "Scooperooskie" and a 20-year reunion & Tunnel Walk honoring 1994's gritty bunch who wrote the template and simply refused to lose.
On Friday night just as the 2014 team was busy downing its post-practice meal in West Stadium, old friends gathered in the upper confines of East Stadium for an evening of recollection and retrospection. Overlooking Tom Osborne Field, man-hugs and handshakes were aplenty. T.O. was there, along with Charlie McBride, George Darlington, Milt Tenopir and Ron Brown from the old coaching staff.
The entire Pipeline was there, though The Crazies of the Defensive Line were conspicuous in their absence. Former A.D. Bill Byrne, Strength Coach Boyd Epley, Jeff Schmall of Husker Vision, Game Announcer Rick Schweiger, and Trainer Emeritus George Sullivan were spotted, along with guest Jan Berringer, telling how her grandson was the spitting image of his Uncle Brook and was looking forward to the next day's tunnel walk wearing the #18 jersey in his honor.
Old nicknames sprang to life. Overheard were monikers such as: Beetle, Slug, Stinky Pete, Buddha, Boopsie, Shepp, Biff, The Stroker, Black Steel, Triple Fat Goose, No Toe's, The Aussie Negro, D*ck Fingers, Zim, Stew, Proo, Sully & Floyd, and some not fit for print.
But a funny thing happened: although their National Championship accomplishment had brought them back together again, there was actually little-to-no talk of the Jan. 1, 1995 Miami game itself.
"It was like being back in the locker room", said former split end Brett Popplewell of Sydney, Australia, who'd flown for 32 hours to attend the event. "Not once did anyone mention an actual game that we played. The discussions were about everything else but football, which was hilarious! Everyone was laughing and smiling and you could see and feel the genuine love for one another. 20 years had passed and it seemed like nothing had changed. You see why we were a great team just by the way everyone interacted."
The word ‘resolve' was bandied about, especially by Tom Osborne: "The 1995 win over Miami was quite possibly my most satisfying game, and a lot of it was due to the resolve of this team. I was speaking with Howard Schnellenberger once about playing in Miami, and Howard said that their home field advantage was usually worth about ten to fourteen points for the home team, and I'd agree with that...especially when teams from the north come to play. You have 85% humidity and the visiting team just came from a place with only 15% humidity, you had the change in the temperature, not to mention that they'd won around 70 of the last 71 games there when we played them. But this team? Not only were they playing them on their home field, but this team came back from nine points down twice to win the game. Much of it was their love and care for each other, and their resolve after the previous bowl loss to Florida State."
He added, "I've looked over that game's film quite a bit over the years, and I still can't find the clip on that Corey Dixon touchdown return."
Former Captain Terry Connealy noted, "Since this was a reunion, I half expected to come up here and see Christian Peter and Joel Wilks in a fistfight in the middle of the room, just like the old days down in The Pit of the old Schulte Fieldhouse."
Haven't heard of the famous "Battles of the Pit"? You can read about them in my book No Place Like Nebraska: Anatomy of an Era, Vols. 1 & 2 (Amazon). The Pit was where boys became men, men became warriors, and Wednesday's battles became Saturday's victories.
Former Captain Ed Stewart (and present-day Associate Commissioner of Big 12 Football) mentioned, "Football has been very good to me. It's been very good to all of us. With everything the NFL has been going through lately, I hope Nebraska and its former players continue to set an example of leadership in our society." Ed was later seen chatting with Tom Osborne, who is a member of the playoff selection committee. That must have been an interesting conversation.
Also in attendance was former backup wide receiver Jacques Allen, who used to perform double duty as the team comedian. Osborne wryly noted, "You might be aware of it, but our coach Bo Pelini can get a little tightly wound on game day. I used to go down to the locker room before the game to see how he was doing...and I was thinking maybe me and Jacques can go down there tomorrow before the game and try to loosen him up a bit."
Zach Weigert was said to have rented out the entire rooftop of Barry's Bar & Grill for an after-party. Osborne mentioned that they might want to keep things toned down since there was still the next day's Tunnel Walk to come: "Be sure to take it easy tonight. I don't want to read about you in tomorrow's paper," and ended with a sly smile, "I guess that's not the first time you've heard me say that, is it?"
- By Paul Koch