While some say Payton's reticence with the press is one reason why recognition hasn't kept pace with his accomplishments, he replies, "I think it's beautiful anytime I'm left alone."
Not long after The Cincinnati Enquirer installed posters of Pete Rose in its newspaper vending machines, it received in the mail three dollar bills and a note: "I am sending The Enquirer this three dollars and hope this will cover the cost for the Pete Rose poster I took out of one of your stands. I just could not resist it." It was signed, "Thank you, A Fan of Pete."
'NOBODY WANTED TO BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED'
Nebraska football players will wear the numeral 94 on their helmets this season in tribute to senior Brian Hiemer, 21, who died after shooting himself in the head on Aug. 13, the day he was to report for fall practice. Hiemer's death shocked an entire state. "Nobody wanted to believe what happened," says Bill Morgan, owner of the A and B Cafe in Shelby, Neb. (pop. 720), Hiemer's hometown. "Everyone wants to know why."
An all-state kicker and tight end as well as a yearbook editor and prom king, Hiemer had a storybook high school career. At Nebraska he was dubbed the Comeback Kid. When he was cut after his freshman season, he persuaded head coach Tom Osborne to give him another chance; he then rose rapidly from 10th on the Cornhusker depth charts to first string. Last season Hiemer caught 12 passes and led the team with four touchdown receptions. This spring, playing at a rock-solid 6'3", 218, he was a star of the intrasquad Red-White game, scoring the game-winning touchdown on a spectacular leaping catch between two defenders. In the classroom Hiemer had a 3.3 grade-point average (4.0 is the maximum) in mechanized agriculture. Says Husker receivers coach Gene Huey, "He was a high achiever. He didn't want to fail at anything."
Statistics show that from 1950 to 1981 suicides in the U.S. among the 15 to 24 age group increased from 4.5 to 12.3 per 100,000. Among males the rate is more than four times greater than among females. In colleges, suicide is the second-leading killer after accidents. Sitting at her dining room table, Brian's mother speaks softly of the hundreds of letters the family has received from parents whose children have committed suicide: "They're all the same type of kids, achievers, excellent students, and the parents all ask the same question. Why?"
Hiemer had returned to the family's 320-acre farm from the university on Friday evening, Aug. 9. Over the weekend, he mowed the lawn and walked the fields with his father. On Tuesday, however, Loyola Hiemer noticed that her son was unusually restless and quiet. That afternoon, while his father was in the north fields and his mother was in the house, Hiemer walked behind a wooden shed and sat down with a .22 caliber rifle, one bullet in the weapon. He was found about 4 p.m. by his father. Walking near the shed last week, Willard Hiemer said, "You look for something, a warning. Maybe there was a reason, but Brian didn't tell us."
Though rumors persist that a suicide note was found, family members and police say there was none. Close friends describe Hiemer, the youngest of five children, as introverted, yet quick with a quip. Kriss King, a classmate who dated him last spring, says that Hiemer, with an eye on a pro career, was trying unsuccessfully to put on extra weight. "At lunch one day he told me if he could put on 20 pounds he could be an All-America," says King. "He'd sit down with two entrees, two of everything. He said, 'I'm so sick of stuffing myself all the time.' I think he was a little frustrated." King and Gregg Reeves, a defensive end, both say that Hiemer was worried about a future life on the farm. "He didn't think that with just him and his dad it was economically feasible," says Reeves.
Hiemer shunned the limelight attending Nebraska football. "He told us that people made too much of it," says his mother. "Being on a Number One team, in the Number One position, it wasn't that big of a thing to Brian," said Dale Kerkman, Hiemer's high school basketball coach. "Brian's happiest moments were shoving, laughing, playing pickup games with his buddies."
Nebraska is now preparing for the season opener against Florida State this Saturday, Sept. 7, but the team has already suffered its biggest loss of the season. Hiemer is gone, and no one understands the reason. Huey says, "Whatever it was, it will rest with Brian."