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Steven M. Sipple: Osborne doesn't expect a 'thank you,' but former players make it a point
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HUSKER FOOTBALL

Steven M. Sipple: Osborne doesn't expect a 'thank you,' but former players make it a point

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South Alabama vs. Nebraska, 9.12.15

Former Nebraska head coach and athletic director Tom Osborne on the field before the South Alabama game in September 2015 at Memorial Stadium.

Coach Tom Osborne, Hall of Fame head coach at Nebraska

Mike Osborne has taught Sunday school for the past 30 years. 

He's noticed something interesting in recent years as it pertains to his famous father, Tom Osborne. 

That is, his father isn't necessarily famous in the realm of young people, especially those who weren't alive during Tom's coaching heyday in the 1990s. 

"I noticed at some point in the early 2000s, they kind of had a sense that my dad was somebody special, at least to other people at the church," Mike Osborne told the Journal Star. "The students weren't quite sure who it was, so they'd ask me, 'Is your dad Ozzy Osbourne?'"

Ozzy Osbourne, really? The Prince of Darkness? 

It's incredible. Wild. Almost makes you want to bark at the moon or board a crazy train.

"It's almost gotten to the point where only the truly fanatical young Husker fans really have a concept of who these really historic guys are, including my dad," Mike Osborne said. 

His dad, in case you've never heard of him, is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. 

He called plays on offense for Bob Devaney's national championship teams at Nebraska in 1970 and 1971, then guided Nebraska to national championships in 1994, 1995 and 1997 as a head coach who also happened to call the offensive plays. 

In other words, Osborne called plays for five national championship teams. That's all. 

That's not what former Nebraska safety great Tony Veland tells people about Osborne. Veland, a straight shooter to his core, keeps it simple. 

"He's one of the best men I know," Veland said. "To me, it's more about the man and less about what he did on the football field. It's more about how he made us feel and the kind of atmosphere he created within that program." 

It's difficult to put in perspective what Osborne means to this state. Along those lines, I often wonder how many people in all walks of life over the years emulated his quiet and understated manner. 

Wednesday, a group of former Nebraska players led by Veland and Josh Davis organized a "thank you" celebration at Mike Osborne's Husker store, Best of Big Red, in the Haymarket. Davis, a running back in the early 2000s, created the Alumni CAP Foundation as a way to recognize all Husker student-athletes who lettered. Long story short, Davis had a career achievement plaque (CAP) created for Osborne. It's a gorgeous plaque and a great idea. Sometimes the simple ideas are the best ones.

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Davis also arranged for Osborne to watch 30 "thank you" videos from former players, including Neil Smith and Grant Wistrom. Osborne seemed genuinely touched, saying relationships with players and others in the program tend to trump all else — including all those wins (he was 255-49-3) and championships.

Mike Osborne figured his dad would take it all in stride. 

I'm guessing his dad takes in stride the fact a generation of Nebraska fans either has a vague awareness or no idea of all he accomplished as the head coach. 

"They'll have trouble selling seats (in Memorial Stadium) here in not too long," Mike said. "There's the rare exception of someone (in his class) who has a general sense that the Huskers were great a long time ago and they think that's really cool and they can't wait for them to get great again and they really die with every loss. They're like, 'Tell me about the old times, Mike.' It's just very rare, though."  

Mike portrays his father's reaction to Nebraska's struggles as a program as one might portray the reaction of any ardent fan. The losses in close games are especially deflating.  

Tom still works regularly to keep the TeamMates Mentoring Program operating at a high level, working out of an office at a local bank. The program began in 1991 with the vision of Osborne and his wife, Nancy. 

"He actually kept doing some public speaking throughout the whole pandemic — never to any big groups," Mike said. 

Osborne, 84, has had both of his COVID vaccination shots, said Mike Osborne, who deftly puts into perspective his father's standing in many Nebraska fans' consciousness. 

"Right when his career was done (in 1997), there were just so many awards banquets," he said. "You kind of get to where you're just used to going to those type of things all the time. But now his time has passed and we've all kind of seen what reality can look like. 

"I've been involved in several businesses, but I've been in the Husker business the whole time. The mindset coming out of my dad's stint was, 'Well, we're Nebraska. We're just going to keep rolling.' I was like, 'You have no clue what went into this. You … really … have … no … idea.'" 

It seems almost fictional, that five-year run from 1993-97 when the Huskers were an astounding 60-3 with five straight 11-win seasons.

"As soon as I saw what happened to us in 2001 at Colorado (a 62-36 defeat), I started diversifying," Mike Osborne said. "I started getting in other businesses because … something was wrong." 

There's one part of the conversation that is particularly maddening to Mike. 

"People seem to think the offense was so simple, just easy to run," he said. "No, it was not. The linemen were the smartest guys on the field because of all the things they had to know. They had to be on the same page every single play, and the quarterback was probably the second-smartest because he had to recognize what was going on. It was extremely complex."

Tom Osborne had a way of making it all look easy. OK, most of it. 

Of course, the college football landscape has changed dramatically, and NU's advantages in certain areas dissipated.

Through it all, I'm hoping every so often people say "thank you" to Tom. He doesn't expect it. That's not his style. But it makes sense to do it anyway.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.

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