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THE GRADUATES
John Underwood
July 03, 1972
In the last days of their college careers, some of the athletes who made Nebraska No. 1 in football reflect on their life and labor as Cornhuskers. They weigh the glory and goals of the past and of the times to come
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July 03, 1972

The Graduates

In the last days of their college careers, some of the athletes who made Nebraska No. 1 in football reflect on their life and labor as Cornhuskers. They weigh the glory and goals of the past and of the times to come

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The offensive right guard said he would remember the Oregon game, how hot it was, and how the blonde in the end zone had such a short skirt and as the team drove downfield toward the blonde there was more than casual reference in the Nebraska huddle to the quality of her limbs. And the Colorado game, when it was 35° and raining in Lincoln and cold, and the crazy Nebraska fans lined up their empty booze bottles on the concrete steps in the north end zone and you could see them there, glistening. He said for all the gravity of big-time college football it was amazing how observant you could be in a huddle. And he said within his treasure chest would live forever the lines of Raquel Welch, who declared she dug quarterbacks like Joe Namath over "dumb guards." "If I had Raquel Welch here, I'd punch her out," he said, and everybody in the room leaned back to enjoy the specter of the guard pummeling Miss Welch.

The split end, sitting on the bed with his legs crossed, said he would remember all the attention they received before the Oklahoma game—television cameramen running around, magazine covers, The Game of the Century, Howard Cosell—and how the pressure finally got to him and he quit going to class because he could not concentrate on the two things at the same time. But he said that after the season, their last at Nebraska, he actually enjoyed and got a lot out of some of the courses he took—Zoology, Kinesiology, Physiology of Exercise 284. The guard and the tackle laughed at him and told him to come off it.

"Who likes school?" said the tackle. Of the three, he was the only one with enough credits to graduate.

"I hate it," said the guard. He said he figured it out and he was "exactly 24 hours" (about two semesters) short of his degree. "Or 26."

"Or 28," said the tackle.

The tackle said he would remember Bob Devaney. He said he was convinced it was a special thing about Coach Devaney that brought it all home—the national championships and the indulgence of the Nebraska fans, who made themselves obvious not just in the stands but everywhere: on the streets, in drugstores, dentists' offices, gas stations. He said even the Nebraska students were nuts about the football team.

He looked around the room at the memorabilia they had accumulated (red-and-white player dolls, No. 1 clocks, Big Red bath mats), the spoor of Nebraska's football zealotry. They were clearing it all out now. He said the funny thing about playing football at Nebraska was that eventually you went over the line and became a fan yourself. He said the answer had to be Devaney, but after close surveillance he had not been able to figure out what the man did, except to scare him (the tackle) to death.

He corrected himself, exhaling over the lip of his can of beer. "No, not exactly scare," he said.

"Yes," said the guard. "S-c-a-r-e."

The guard asked his girl, a platinum blonde named Jeannie who had been helping with the cleanup, if she would please get some more beer. The guard's name was Keith Wortman. He had come to Nebraska from Whittier, Calif. and Rio Hondo Junior College, an affable, quick-witted young man with densely lashed brown eyes. At 21 he had grown to be 6'3" and 250 pounds and, as the logical extension of his training at Nebraska, had acquired a contract to play for the Green Bay Packers. Over his bed was a crinkled photograph laminated onto a piece of wood, which Jeannie had made him, that showed the guard at the sublime moment of his employment at Nebraska: on the ground after completing a block for Halfback Jeff Kinney, who is shown soaring over the top to score a touchdown against Oklahoma. Wortman's number—65—is visible in the picture between the legs of an official.

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