How did he arrive at the answer?
"I started counting by nines—9, 18, 27—and when I got to 27, it just hit me," he said.
Tomich attended public school in St. John, and in the third grade he was placed in a class for learning-disabled students. He could read, but his retention was poor. (Tomich has read only a few books outside of the classroom, a favorite being You're Okay, It's Just a Bruise, by Robert Huizenga, a former NFL team physician.) Reading problems were something with which Jared's parents were unfamiliar. His mother, Cheryll, who works in the pet department of a store in St. John, is an avid reader, a Stephen King buff. Jared's father, James, a big-machinery mechanic at a steel mill in Gary, Ind., reads newspapers and technical journals. But the school counselors said Jared was learning-disabled, and his parents reasoned that the counselors surely knew what they were talking about.
Some of Tomich's classmates had speaking difficulties, some had physical abnormalities. Jared looked and sounded normal, but he knew already what it took teachers a decade to figure out. His mind worked for pictures, not for words.
On the Nebraska campus in Lincoln there's a museum called the Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, and Tomich paid his first visit to it the other day. He examined an Andy Warhol painting with four nearly identical images of Mickey Mouse; all Tomich could see were the differences. He didn't want to guess the painting's value. "I wouldn't want to insult the painter," he said.
Tomich had passed the museum hundreds of times in his four years at school, but he was always due someplace else. In his first year he was a compulsive student, trying to gain the academic credentials necessary to qualify for an athletic scholarship. In his second year (during which he practiced with the team but did not play) Tomich and Walczak bought their home for $4,000, and Tomich spent his limited free time fixing it up. Last year was his first as both a full-time football player and a full-time student. This year he was an important starter on the college football team ranked highest in the nation, and that's time-consuming.
Now that he was finally visiting the museum, he said, "This is nice. It's tranquil."
Tomich looked at a painting of a stream in a woods and, moving his lips, read an accompanying placard that gave the name of the artist, the year he was born, the title of the work and the year it was painted. "This I could see on the wall of my house," he said.
The football player turned away from the painting. Several minutes later he was asked what he remembered of it. His memory was precise. He knew the painting's size. He recalled a leafless limb straddling the stream. He had a sense of the painting methods used by the artist. But the information on the placard was gone from Tomich's mind.
"Every kid learns differently," says Charlie McBride, the Cornhuskers' defensive coordinator and the man who got Tomich to Nebraska when no other four-year college was prepared to take him. "I don't know that I've ever had a player who studies tape more intently. He likes to do it alone, at his own speed. If some of the other kids come in to watch, he slips out."