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Staking A Claim To Best Ever
Douglas S. Looney
October 10, 1983
Nebraska of '83, led by Mike Rozier (above), has the stuff to transcend Notre Dame of '24, Army of '44 and the rest
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October 10, 1983

Staking A Claim To Best Ever

Nebraska of '83, led by Mike Rozier (above), has the stuff to transcend Notre Dame of '24, Army of '44 and the rest

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Sitting around in his apartment the other evening, considering the Heisman, Rozier suggested, "If I win it I think we should split it three ways. I should get the legs, Turner should get the head, and Irving should get the arms." That would be equitable. For Gill, who ran for three touchdowns Saturday, is as heady as any college quarterback in the country. A starter last season at shortstop for the Husker baseball team who passed up a $90,000 signing bonus with the Chicago White Sox coming out of high school, Gill runs the option just the way coaches draw it on the blackboards. However, if a team chooses to shut down the option, he'll throw to Fryar or someone else. Pick your poison. "I don't know how good we are," says Gill, "but we can beat anyone in the country."

Fryar thinks so, too. "I'd say by the end of the season we'll probably be the greatest," he says. "Our destiny is in our own hands." All Fryar does is run, catch, return punts and block furiously. An admiring Rodgers says of Fryar, "He does everything I did, plus he's bigger [6 feet, 200 pounds vs. 5'9", 173]." Husker followers think Johnny R hung the moon over Nebraska, but now, in sober moments, many are confessing that Fryar may be better. According to Epley, Fryar is the best athlete on the team, and his 4.23 speed makes him the fastest Cornhusker ever. Most of all, Fryar provides the deep-strike element in the Husker offense. He has caught 16 passes this season for a 25.9-yard average. Against Syracuse, however, he played only a few minutes before having to sit down with a minor concussion.

Says Gill, "We know what we're doing. We have three great people in the backfield, and if we do a half-decent job, the other guys will do the rest." That statement ignores Fullback Mark Schellen, who has bench-pressed a team-record 475 pounds and runs a smoldering 4.31. That's 4.31 around people or over people. He makes no distinction. He knows he's not a star in a backfield with a star overload. "I play harder trying to keep up with the other guys," says Schellen, who's a walk-on.

In addition to Steinkuhler, the starters on the offensive line are Guard Harry Grimminger, who tries to be the nastiest, orneriest, meanest guy in the valley and once went three weeks without showering; tackles John Sherlock, who overstudied his playbook and got so hopelessly confused it was taken away from him, and Scott Raridon; and Center Mark Traynowicz. Says Line Coach Milt Tenopir, "People ask how we could replace [1981 and '82 Outland winner] Dave Rimington at center. We did it." To watch these five play is to view excellence. They perform with mayhem in their hearts and love of the game in their souls, and it shows. Says Wyoming Coach Al Kincaid, "When I say this is the greatest offensive team I've ever seen, I mean it's in a class by itself. I have never seen a college offensive line with the strength, speed and pure athletic ability of Nebraska's."

More bad news for opponents who doubt the Huskers' greatness is that the second team is nearly the equal of the first. "They're like clones," says Syracuse Athletic Director Jake Crouthamel. "They all look the same, and they all play the same." Which is to say they play like there's no tomorrow. On Saturday, Nebraska dressed 103 players, and all but eight saw action. And we're not talking ragtag. Example: In the third quarter, third-team Quarterback Craig Sundberg threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to fourth-string Tight End Brian Hiemer, and in the fourth quarter he took his team 45 yards to another score.

Defensively the Huskers don't have stars, simply players. They lack experience—only four of this year's starters were first-teamers in 1982—but Tackle Rob Stuckey, one of the four returners, says, "We make up for what we don't know by hitting hard." The defense has been unfairly maligned for giving up 312.8 yards per game. But that's a case in which numbers have little meaning. Look at the opposing team's points on the scoreboard. "Playing defense doesn't demand a lot of skill, just a lot of desire," says Stuckey. Then he ponders the greatest-team-ever question. "We hear that stuff," says Stuckey. "But I'm playing on the team, so that means it can't be the greatest ever."

Give Stuckey credit for modesty if nothing else. A team would be lucky to land a Rozier, a Gill, a Fryar or a Steinkuhler once in a decade. To have four such performers on a single squad is downright unfair. Then, Nebraska remains one of the few places where all the little boys grow up dying to play for State U. Defensive End Scott Strasburger of Holdredge turned down financial aid at Dartmouth to pay his own way to Nebraska as a walk-on. Indeed, of the Huskers' top 44 players, 15 are walk-ons. "Nebraska has made it an honor to be a walk-on," says UCLA Offensive Coordinator Homer Smith. "It's like getting a scholarship somewhere else."

Consider the Nebraska tradition. Devaney took the Huskers from oblivion to glory—and their two national championships, in 1970 and '71—and then his longtime assistant, Osborne, continued the march, but not without some glitches. After taking over in '73, Osborne lost eight of his first nine games against Oklahoma. He now is enjoying a two-game winning streak over the Sooners. The Oklahoma defeats bugged him enormously, and after the '78 season he even considered becoming coach at Colorado. But he stayed on at Lincoln and, make no mistake, the fans deeply appreciate both Osborne and football. They dress in red, but they contribute green—legally and freely. Saturday was the 127th straight sellout at Memorial Stadium.

Oddly, all these runaway wins have a down side. ABC wants to showcase the Huskers, but it's understandably reluctant to televise a blowout. The most unpleasant sound a network executive can hear is sets being clicked off. ABC has the unhappy prospect of airing Nebraska vs. Oklahoma State, Missouri, Colorado, Kansas State, Iowa State or Kansas, the Huskers' opponents before they face Oklahoma in the Nov. 26 season finale. CBS will broadcast the Sooner game.

Osborne, too, has problems. After the Cornhuskers defeated Minnesota 84-13 three weeks ago, he said, "Those 84 points were bordering on obscenity. I know that." But what's he to do? When the reserves play, Osborne can't very well tell them to go in and flub up. At the end of the UCLA game he had Sundberg kneel with the ball on the Bruin two-yard line rather than score another touchdown. Some observers thought that gesture showed up UCLA. On Saturday some Syracuse people were grumbling about Nebraska running up the score, but that wasn't the case. In fact, three times Osborne refused to kick a field goal—which he would have done in any reasonably close game—and ran a play instead. It just so happened that on all three occasions, the Huskers ran the ball in for scores. Nine of Nebraska's first 11 possessions ended in touchdowns. "All it would take to beat Nebraska is another Nebraska," says UCLA Defensive Tackle Jeff Chaffin.

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