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Nebraska County Countdown - 72 Chase County - Imperial, Cowboys, And The Lincoln Highway

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History can be fun. Cowboys! Track Stars! High School Football Stories!

Chase County was named after Champion S. Chase, who served as mayor of Omaha for seven years and was Nebraska’s first Attorney General. This seems to me to be a weak name for a county. Maybe they should have named it “Champion County” instead, then they could have perhaps have all the Jackmans from Grant move to their county and had a completely different future.

Chase County was separated from Hayes County by the Nebraska legislature on February 27, 1873, although the county was not organized until 1886.

Check this from Wikipedia:

It was once said that, excluding ranch owners, their wives, and their cooks, at the time Chase County was organized it was populated entirely by cowboys.

Uhhhhh... I realize there were lawyers and doctors around in 1886, but other professions would include... plumber? No. Electrician? No. Car mechanic? No. Teachers? No teachers? Maybe a cowboy teacher? Blacksmith? Oh, come on, you had to have at least one blacksmith in a county full of cowboys. This is why Wikipedia is entirely unreliable.

Imperial is the county seat. Other towns include Wauneta, Lamar, and then two kind of places, Champion and Enders. Champion was obviously named after the dude above. Enders was named after the famous sci-fi book, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. (No, it wasn’t, but let’s pretend.)

The 2010 census showed 3,966 people living in Chase County.

Historical Places Include:

  • Balcony House
  • Chase County Court House
  • Wauneta Roller Mills
  • Champion Mill
  • Pinkie’s Corner
  • Lovett Site
  • Texas Trail Stone Corral

About the Balcony house:

1921 hotel of a tourist camp on the Lincoln Highway,built around a relocated and expanded 1880s schoolhouse. Now a bed & breakfast.

The Lincoln highway is a highway across the United States. I don’t recall ever hearing of this before because we obviously have I-80 now.

You could spend a lot of time reading books and stories about the history of the Lincoln Highway and the Great Western Cattle Trail. You could learn about the domination of the railroad and the wars they had in business dealings.

Then, you could watch The Cowboys with John Wayne.

I’ve broke my back once, and my hip twice. And on my worst day I could still beat the hell out of you.

You could hate Bruce Dern. I sure as hell did.

More Old Timey Stories From Jon

We played Imperial in sports when I was in high school. I remember them well in both football and track. You’ll notice that my early references to these counties are from sports. I attempted sports in high school. This is because I came from a small town (Curtis) and it gave people like me, people who can’t walk and dribble a basketball simultaneously, the chance to compete. I am forever grateful for that. It gave me the resolve to do better in other things in life, like being in IT, where I can excel and crush other people’s souls by blocking porn at work.

Imperial was a class B school. My school, Medicine Valley, was a class D school, yet here we were in the same conference - the SPVA (Southern Platte Valley Association). I looked it up, and it still exists, with five schools that I played against in high school.

Back to the Class warfare.

You might ask, isn’t that a little unfair - Class B vs. D? It would seem so, but that’s how it went. Maybe it was because our town was in denial of the population change that has plagued rural Nebraska for decades. Maybe this is a discussion for another day.

Imperial was the biggest school in our conference. They always won the district track meet because they always had more people to put in races.

Maybe two guys from my team ran the 800m or 1600m, including me. Imperial could put about 38 guys in that same race. It’s one thing to lose to a few people, but when you come in 36th, it becomes more money you have to spend on counseling later in life. And alcohol. And then alcohol counseling. It’s like a three-fer.

“Congratulations, you’re 36th, you beat a guy who was run over by a cow earlier this week and a guy whose legs were crushed by a pipe trailer who just wanted to prove he could do it.”

Mark Gokie ran distance for Imperial. He and this other guy would finish 1-2 in every distance race I remember involving their team. He would later run for Nebraska. The last time I remember seeing him was when he was sitting in a dorm room in Schramm with a whole bunch of guys and he asked, “Who here thinks I look like John Denver?” at which point, everyone in the room raised their hand. He looked exactly like John Denver. Great guy. Great sense of humor.

My best memory of Imperial is beating them in my senior year in football, 19-0. We weren’t expected to win many games my last year, but we did rather well and fished at 6-3.

A quick note about life. I turned 56 this month. I’m thankful to be here. There’s this life question people sometimes ask - “Would you go back in time and be 18 again?”

There’s only one reason I would be 18 again. That’s to play high school football. I loved football. I wasn’t very good, but it was the one sport in which I felt that if I worked harder than everyone else, I could at least be adequate. That’s what I did. I worked hard. I played hard. I lifted weights. I got to play, mostly as a guard. That’s why I love guards.

I especially loved plays in which I got to pull. We’d run a play where I’d have to pull and hit the defensive end. Most small town football teams put their best player at defensive end. The defensive end has three steps to make when he crosses the line. My coach tried to teach me these three steps, and it took him a very long time while the rest of my team watched and probably said to themselves, “Johnston can’t even take three steps right.” By the time we were done, I knew them well enough to use them against defensive ends.

I would pull, and just before I hit them, I would scream at them. I am a very loud person. Most of the time this had the desired effect of blocking. Then there were those times when you would bounce off of them, like a pebble hitting a boulder.

My therapist is tired of these stories, but this is the first time for you. I know you’re enthralled.

I remember a few plays in my senior game at Imperial.

Imperial had a guy - I think his name was Purdy - who was a running back. We keyed on him for the game. At one point one of our guys hit him, and he’s laying on the ground, holding his knee and screaming in pain. I’m thinking, “Damn, that sucks,” while at the same time thinking “We got these guys.”

At one point Imperial fumbled, and the ball ended up right in front of me. A teammate, Rick Brown, got to it before me. I tried to kill him. There’s something about the ball being on the ground that makes linemen go berzerk. It’s called a “stat,” but noooooooo, Rick, being more athletic and faster than me got there first. I jumped on him and tried to wrestle the ball away from him. I pulled a railroad spike from my pants and tried to stab him. I ran to the sideline, grabbed a folding chair, came back and clubbed him on the head. He would not relinquish the ball. He played quarterback and defensive back. He got all the chicks. He denied me the one stat, “recovered fumble” that I coveted because it was a stat. What a bastard.

On another play late in the game, Imperial’s quarterback went back to throw the ball, and I rushed to the best of my ability. Right when he cocked his arm back to throw, I reached out and swiped at him, just close enough to hit his middle finger. The ball popped up into the air bounced directly into my hands. An Imperial player flattened me, and I lost control of the ball. They recovered but had to punt. Denied a stat, yet again.

I went off the field, and an assistant coach asked me what happened. I said it was a pass play and that I nearly got a sack but caused the quarterback to fumble. He looked at me and said, it wasn’t a pass play at all, but a run. That’s when I realized he was either a joy-stealing sonofabitch or controlled by the Illuminati to crush my soul because they were worried about the effect my strong personality would have on the world later in life. I’m pretty sure I would be ruling the entire earth right now if it weren’t for their attempt to destroy my self-esteem.

There was a pizza place in Imperial that we always enjoyed stopping after our games. I loved that place. I loved pizza. At this point in life, Mom was working as a lunch lady at the school. She would bring home food in coffee cans, saying that we were too poor to afford real food. I didn’t mind most of the time, but the butter rolls at school were a lot better when they weren’t flavored by Folgers.

Imperial was in the Mountain Time Zone, so we always got back at really late at night. The away game my senior year was the night before my ACT test for college. We got back about 4 AM and then had to drive to North Platte to take our tests. I didn’t bother going to bed that night. I tell you this because I’m sure that it affected my test score for college admissions at the University of Nebraska. This would come back to haunt me years later as my wife told my children how’d I done and they continue to make fun of me to this day.

Husker Stuff!

There is no current player listed as #72 on the roster.

Perhaps the most well-known #72 in Nebraska history is Zach Weigert.

1972 was the year that Johnny Rodgers won Nebraska’s first Heisman Trophy.

The 1972 team entered the season with with a 23-game winning streak and 33-game unbeaten streak, and then lost the first game of the season to UCLA, 20-17. So much for that new head coach, Tom Osborne. He’s no Devaney! The team went on to finish 9-2-1, losing to Oklahoma and tying Iowa State. They beat Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl to finish #4 in the AP and #9 in the Coaches Poll.

Nebraska scored 72 points in the first and second quarters of the 2017 season combined, which is not good, considering our opponents scored 122 and 142, respectively.

Remember the 2009 Iowa State game? The one with eight turnovers? Remember that one where Niles Paul catches a pass, goes 72 yards, looks like he’s going to score and then fumbles without anyone hitting him except SATAN?

Let’s close on a positive note.

That Rodgers’ punt return you see every time someone references the 1971 “Game of the Century” against Oklahoma? That was 72 yards long. It was the first score of a Nebraska 35-31 victory.

Here, feel better: