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Nebraska Football: 25 Most Beloved Figures in Team History

Brandon CavanaughCorrespondent IMarch 30, 2011

Nebraska Football: 25 Most Beloved Figures in Team History

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    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    An incredibly large number of people have been a part of the Nebraska football program over the years.

    From the athletic directors to interns whose faces never graced a newspaper’s print, all played a role.

    Several lists have been made about the best Cornhuskers that there are, the best that there were and the best that there ever will be, but there’s something different about the most beloved members of such a tightly-knit family.

    The idea of being beloved isn’t all about statistics or trophies, but about how the community views you.

    Several former players fit under this category, but not all were starters, and not all were initially offered scholarships.

    There are even several staff members who deserve recognition.

    With that said, let’s have a look at the most revered Nebraska Cornhuskers in the team’s 121-year history.

25: James Dobson

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    Photo by Huskers.com

    Whether you cheer or curse the Nebraska Cornhuskers, there is one man as equally responsible for the product put on the field on a yearly basis as the head coach:

    Head Strength Coach James Dobson

    Dobson’s job isn’t only to ensure that the Cornhuskers’ best and brightest continue to max out their potential, but also get the newbies acclimated.

    Perhaps his most challenging, yet rewarding, job is polishing the so-called “diamonds in the rough” that come with recruiting classes.

    If you’re impressed with how a player has developed physically since early 2008, you can thank Dobson.

24: Milt Tenopir

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    If there’s one fanbase in college football that appreciates what the monsters in the trenches get done on game day, it’s Nebraska’s.

    For 29 years, Milt Tenopir produced what Cornhusker fans lovingly referred to as “The Pipeline”.

    No matter the player lost to attrition or injury, it seemed like Tenopir effortlessly could mix and match two-deep to make things work.

    Twenty-seven linemen coached by him signed professional contracts, 14 of whom were selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft.  

    During his official retirement announcement in 2003, Tenopir said, “…I want to thank the University, Coach Tom Osborne and Coach Frank Solich for the past 29 years. I will miss the relationships with the kids the most."

23: Brandon Rigoni

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    Photo by Life.com

    Perhaps the icon for all walk-ons past and present, Brandon Rigoni stood all of 5’6” and weighed in at 185 pounds.

    That doesn’t mean that the firecracker from Lincoln, Nebraska couldn’t pack a wallop.

    Serving primarily on the Cornhuskers’ special teams units, Rigoni was voted one of three captains for the 2006 season.

22: I.M. Hipp

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    Photo by Huskers.com

    Another walk-on from Chapin, South Carolina, Isaiah Moses Hipp comes up during a number of Nebraska-related conversations.

    When he left Nebraska in 1979, he did so as the Cornhuskers’ all-time leading rusher with 2,940 yards.

    He was selected to two All-Big Eight teams and would later be drafted in the fourth round of the NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons.

    It goes without saying that his name is always a topic of conversation.

21: John Ruud

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    The roots of the Ruud family tree roll deep within the Nebraska program.

    The uncle of Barrett and Bo, John's most famous contribution to the Cornhusker program was quite simply put: "The Hit."

    When you can define punishment as a defender so well in two words, that's a pretty lovable feat.

20: Tom Rathman

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    Tom Rathman is identified as one of the best fullbacks that Nebraska has ever produced.

    Coming from another position that is often overlooked, yet a favorite of Cornhusker fans, it’s easy to see why he is so revered.

    He ran for 881 yards during his senior season in 1985, shattering the previous record of 717 that was set in 1967.

    Rathman ran for a total of 1,429 yards and 12 TDs during his career at Nebraska before a fruitful career with San Francisco and the Los Angeles Raiders of the NFL.

19: Ed Stewart

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    Stewart was one of the most violent linebackers in the history of the Nebraska Blackshirt defense, and that’s saying something.

    A 1994 Cornhusker co-captain, Big 8 Defensive Player-of-the-Year and Butkus Award finalist, Stewart’s intensity from the linebacker position made him easy to love for Nebraska fans.

    Conversely, he was equally easy to hate by opposing offensive coordinators.

18: Dave Rimington

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    When an eventual annual college football award is named after you, more than likely you had a successful career.

    Such is the case with Dave Rimington.

    Another standout offensive lineman, Rimington won the Outland Trophy awarded to the best collegiate interior lineman in both 1981 and 1982.

    He also won the Lombardi Award given to the best college football lineman or linebacker during the 1982 season.

    Rimington’s accolades were many, and he did spend time in the NFL, playing five seasons with the Cincinnati Begins and two with the Philadelphia Eagles.

    As mentioned, the Rimington Trophy was founded in 1990 and has been presented annually to college football’s best center.

17: Rich Glover

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    One of the baddest men to ever wear a black practice jersey for the Cornhuskers, Rich Glover helped define the standard that Nebraska’s defensive lineman are held to.

    Glover won the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award in 1972 and had two national championships to his credit.

    He is one of 13 players, and the first of four Cornhuskers, to win the Outland and Lombardi honors in the same year.

    Bob Devaney, Nebraska’s head coach at the time, called Glover “the greatest defensive player I ever saw."

16: Ahman Green

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    Ahman Green was unleashed by the Nebraska Cornhuskers onto the world in 1995, and he still hasn’t stopped running.

    He ran for 3,880 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns as a Cornhusker and won two national championships as a member of Nebraska’s 1995 and 1997 squads.

    Green’s professional career keeps on going and going like an Energizer battery.

    He most recently signed a two-year deal with the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Allouettes.

    Since 1998, he has been a member of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers (twice), Houston Texans and the UFL’s Omaha Nighthawks before his current stop in Montreal.

    Green is a four-time Pro Bowl selection and is currently the Packers’ all-time leading rusher.

15: Grant Wistrom

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    One of Nebraska’s most vocal defenders, Wistrom was looked to for leadership throughout his career.

    He would take home the Lombardi Award in 1997 as he and defensive tackle Jason Peter spearheaded not only the Cornhuskers’ vocal and physical leadership that year en route to a national championship.

    Wistrom was named to three first-team all-conference lists.

    He was selected with the sixth pick of the 1998 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams, whom he later went on to win Super Bowl XXXIV with. He spent the remainder of his career with the Seattle Seahawks before retiring in 2006.

14: Tom Novak

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    Nebraska players are often described as “legendary”, but Tom Novak was the definition during his career as a Cornhusker.

    The first Nebraska player to have his jersey number permanently retired, Novak is the only Cornhusker in the school’s history to be a four-time all-conference selection.

    He was a two-way player for Nebraska, manning both the center and linebacker positions, though his exploits are more famously known on the offensive side of the ball.

13: Dean Steinkuhler

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    The beginning of another Nebraska legacy, Dean Steinkuhler would bulldoze his way through opponents' defensive fronts before Ty and current Cornhusker Baker took the field for his alma mater.

    Steinkuhler would see the same postseason accolades of teammate Dave Rimington, who took home the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award honors just one season earlier.

    Perhaps the most famous moment of his career was being part of Nebraska’s famous “Fumblerooski” play in the 1984 Orange Bowl versus Miami (FL).

    Quarterback Turner Gill intentionally fumbled the ball, allowing for Steinkuhler to rumble 19 yards for a touchdown.

12: Eric Crouch

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    In retrospect, it seems like Crouch was saving all of his energy for the 2001 season.

    Much like current Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has garnered comparisons to Crouch, Eric would shatter records on a weekly basis.

    He would see a slew of 2001 postseason honors, including being named the Heisman Trophy winner.

    Crouch currently holds such Nebraska records as career total-offense touchdown leader (88), career record for most rushing yards by a quarterback (3,434) and career total offense leader (7,915 yards).

11: Mike Brown

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    If there is an argument regarding the best strong safety in the modern history of Nebraska football, one should only look to Mike Brown.

    The former Chicago Bear and Kansas City Chief tallied 287 TKL, six FR and nine INT as a Cornhusker.

    Brown was aided in the Nebraska secondary by Ralph Brown II (no relation).

    The two would dominate the Blackshirt secondary in stunning fashion, and while Ralph Brown II wasn’t chopped liver, the Cornhusker three-year starter is clearly one of the best of all time.

10: Will Shields

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    Photo by Huskers.com

    One word can be used to sum up the career of former Nebraska Cornhusker Will Shields: consistency.

    Shields started the last 36 games of his Cornhusker career, and that reliability would carry on into the NFL.

    While a third-round pick, Shields remained a Kansas City Chief for the duration of his 15-season professional career.

    He played in a franchise-record 224 consecutive regular-season games at right guard, along with being named to a franchise-record 12 consecutive Pro Bowls.

    Shields was also the last player in Nebraska history to pull off the “Fumblerooski” as he did versus Colorado in 1992.

9: Mike Rozier

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    The second Heisman Trophy winner for Nebraska, Rozier is considered by many Nebraska fans to be the best running back in the school’s history.

    The Camden, New Jersey native accounted for 4,780 yards and 49 TDs running the football.

    He would also add 20 receptions for 216 yards and two TDs to his career statistics.

    Rozier also lent his hand to the kick return team.

    At the end of Rozier’s Cornhusker career, he accounted for 52 touchdowns and 312 total points.

    It's obvious why Nebraska fans can't help but love this guy.

8: Johnny Rodgers

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    Nebraska’s first Heisman Trophy winner is perhaps the most memorable.

    1971’s “Game of the Century” pitting Nebraska versus rival Oklahoma set the stage for one of the signature moments in not only Cornhusker history, but college football’s.

    Rodgers would return a punt that help define his nickname, “The Jet”, and the Cornhuskers would win the contest 35-31 on their way to a second consecutive national championship.

    He wasn’t just a special teams sensation, though.

    Rodgers rushed for 745 yards and 11 TDs along with snagging 143 catches for 2,479 yards and 25 TDs.

    Even today, his career highlights still keep Husker fans young and old “rolling in the aisles”, to quote the late “Voice of the Huskers” Lyell Bremser.

7: Charlie McBride

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    If you were a fan of any Nebraska defender from 1981 through 1999, there’s one man that you likely need to thank.

    That would be former Cornhusker defensive coordinator Charlie McBride.

    McBride's defenses would rank top 10 nationally in total defense 11 times while even leading college football in 1984.

    Current Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini’s defenses have been compared to those of McBrides for their physical nature and statistics that match up with some of the best in the college sport.

6: Tommie Frazier

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    When mentioning the name “Tommie Frazier” to a Cornhusker fan, a number of moments come to mind.

    There are the instances where defenders tried to latch onto him, yet Frazier seemed to be covered in Crisco.

    The 1995 Orange Bowl which helped to define his career and left the Miami Hurricane defense in the dust while doing so.

    Commanding a team that has stood the test of time as arguably the greatest ever during the 1995 season, which would see the SEC’s Florida Gators dismantled 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

    Tommie Frazier is a name known across college football for a reason, even if it always spelled properly.

5: Bob Devaney

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    When Bob Devaney stepped in as Nebraska’s head football coach, the program was in shambles.

    The 1950s were not a kind decade to the Cornhuskers and the 1960s weren’t starting out much better.

    Bill Jennings had lost the support of fans and alumni.

    A brash unknown from the University of Wyoming took over and Nebraska football history would never be the same.

    Devaney took over in 1962 and saw the beginning of a sellout streak that began during the Cornhuskers’ homecoming game versus Missouri.

    Every home game since has sold out.

    Following somewhat disappointing campaigns in 1967 and 1968, the crowds shouted “No more 6 and four!” in reference to the Cornhuskers’ records during those two seasons.

    Devaney responded with never winning any less than nine games and brought Nebraska its first two national championships.

    He would end his Nebraska coaching career with a 101–20–2 record and take over as Athletic Director in 1967 through 1993.

4: Alex Henery

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    Photo by Huskers.com

    The story of Alex Henery couldn’t have been written any better.

    A walk-on out of Omaha, Nebraska’s Burke High School, Henery’s name burst onto the college football scene following a 57-yard field goal that would lead to a 40-31 victory over Colorado.

    Henery is easily Nebraska’s most celebrated kicker in school history.

    He holds records in career scoring (397 points), most consecutive made field goals (18), most field goals in a season (24 in 2009), most field goals in a career (68) and the longest field goal in school/Memorial Stadium history with the aforementioned kick versus Colorado.

    Henery went 68-76 during his career including a 26-33 success rate from 40 yards-plus.

    That’s the kind of accuracy that gets a kicker some love.

     

3: Ndamukong Suh

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    The most decorated Cornhusker in history, Ndamukong Suh’s is also considered one of the best defensive players to ever play college football.

    A ruthless defender, Suh would crush opposing quarterbacks and ball-carriers to the cheer of his name by 86,000+ during home games.

    He would require a wheelbarrow as he trotted the award circuit carrying home the Chuck Bednarik, Bronko Nagurski and Lombardi trophies along with countless other honors.

    He would also find himself in New York City sitting amongst the Heisman Trophy finalists.

    Suh's senior season accolades could fill a book, but what separated Suh from his peers wasn’t just his ability.

    His humble nature, his wry smile and professional nature keeps him in the hearts of Nebraska fans.

2: Brook Berringer

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    So many speak of Tommie Frazier, but his back-up was just as memorable.

    Brook Berringer, a relative unknown from Goodland, Kansas spelled Frazier during his bouts with blood clot issues.

    He would help lead the Cornhuskers to the 1994 national championship and was a part of the dominant 1995 squad as well.

    Even as a back-up, he was expected to be selected in the 1996 NFL draft.

    Tragically, he was involved in a plane crash that took his life two days before the event.

    A memorial service was held for Berringer before the 1996 Spring Game when camp concludes with a final scrimmage.

    48,659 fans attended the service.

    Sawyer Brown, a group that had grown close to Berringer, had written a song in tribute to the former Cornhusker before he died, but he never had an opportunity to hear it.

    A statue sits outside the north side of Memorial Stadium depicting former Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne and Berringer.

1: Tom Osborne

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    Brian Bahr/Getty Images

    There is no one person that more people identify with the Cornhusker football program than Dr. Tom Osborne.

    He is cherished by thousands of players, millions of fans and has done quite a bit to get to that point.

    Osborne is known for his 255 wins, his three national championships, countless NFL draft picks, etc.

    While he currently serves as Nebraska’s athletic director as his mentor Bob Devaney did before him, he also is heavily invested in something besides Cornhusker athletics.

    Osborne established the TeamMates Mentoring Program in 1991 with his wife Nancy.

    According to the TeamMates website, the program “includes 100 chapters in over 120 communities serving more than 4,000 students in grades 4-12.”

    The 74-year-old Osborne still works diligently to ensure that Nebraska athletics will be well-taken care of when he concedes his post.

    Currently, he is overseeing a renovation of Memorial Stadium, the creation of a new arena for basketball and several other projects.

    It’s hard to say when Osborne will actually be able to step aside, but he’ll always be one of, if not the, most beloved icon in Nebraska football history.

     

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