Randy York’s N-Sider: Tommie Frazier
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Mom Talked Frazier Out of Leaving Lincoln Early
Legendary Nebraska Quarterback Understands the Rigors of Two-a-Days
When Tommie Frazier was a senior in high school at Bradenton, Florida, he could have gone to almost any university in the country. He chose Nebraska because he saw it as "the college for academic support" and "the college with a father figure – Tom Osborne."
Frazier said Osborne has played a significant role in his life, and he still considers Nebraska’s Hall of Fame football coach and athletic director the ultimate father figure.
But last Saturday night, when he was inducted into the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame at the North Omaha Boys and Girls Clubs, Frazier revealed the most classic example of tough love in his freshman year at Nebraska. He said it wasn’t a life lesson from Osborne, the coach who recruited him. It was the conventional wisdom of Priscilla Frazier, his mother.
"I see two of my teammates here tonight – Damon Benning and Tony Veland," Frazier told the audience when he accepted his award. "They saw me come in as a young 17-year-old from Florida. We all remember those early, two-a-day fall practices, don’t we guys? That’s when Tony and I were battling it out for the starting quarterback job."
Frazier admitted an injury to Veland "kind of progressed me" ahead of him. But he still remembers how much he struggled when he first arrived on campus.
"You have to realize coming to Nebraska was the first time I ever left home," he recalled. "The farthest north I’d ever been was southern Alabama, so that was a long haul for me. Let me tell you, there were some nights where I got real homesick, and there was a time I was about to leave, wasn’t I?" Frazier asked his former teammates, who nodded affirmatively in the audience.
‘You Can Come Home, But You Ain’t Going to Live Here’
Frazier got so homesick, in fact, he remembers getting on the phone, calling his mom and asking her if he could come home. "’You can come home," she said, "but you ain’t going to live here,’" Tommie related. "I had no choice; I had to stay. But everything worked out okay – in football and in life."
Indeed. Frazier was as good as any quarterback in the history of college football. Before you call that an exaggerated statement, answer this: Who else has been arguably the MVP of three consecutive national championship games?
As far as I know, no one, but Frazier got closer to that kind of perfection than even USC’s Matt Leinert did.
Tommie was the MVP of Nebraska’s 1994 and 1995 national championship teams that beat Miami in the Orange Bowl and then smoked Florida in the Fiesta Bowl.
If the 1993 Huskers hadn’t missed a last-second field goal, Nebraska would have beaten Florida State, 19-18, in the Orange Bowl and then Tommie most likely would have been the MVP of three consecutive national championship games.
Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward won the ’94 Orange Bowl MVP award, but a high number of national media members who covered that game thought Frazier, Nebraska’s MVP and just a sophomore, was the best player on the field.
Even Bobby Bowden acknowledged how poorly his offense had played that night, giving credence to the argument that if fate had been kinder, and Byron Bennet’s field goal had sailed through the uprights instead of wide left, the unthinkable would have happened – three consecutive MVP awards for three consecutive national championship teams.
A four-year starter, who missed seven games his junior season because of life-threatening blood clots, Frazier always played his best games in the biggest games. He finished his career with a 33-3 record as a starter. He won nearly every award imaginable except the Heisman, where he finished second in the voting behind Ohio State’s Eddie George. Most recently he was named to Sports Illustrated’s All-Century Team. Sport Magazine named him one of the 10 greatest college football players of the century, and who among us, who have watched him play, would dispute that?
The Definitive Play on the ‘Greatest Team’ in Its Biggest Game
"Touchdown Tommie Frazier" deserves that kind of status because he quarterbacked the best college football team of all time – Nebraska’s 1995 national championship team. That’s not just my opinion. It’s the nation’s opinion, according to a recent ESPN fan poll. They, too, remember Tommie’s 75-yard tackle-breaking touchdown where he absorbed hit after hit, but somehow kept his footing. The definitive play on Nebraska’s "greatest" team in its biggest game was the ultimate blend of speed, power, agility and grace.
Johnny Rodgers was at Tommie’s induction ceremony last weekend and said he ranks Frazier’s run as one of the signature plays in Nebraska football history – right up there with his own circuitous, 72-yard punt return touchdown in the 35-31 win over Oklahoma in the 1971 Game of the Century and Matt Davison’s miraculous catch in the 38-31 win over Missouri in 1997.
Mike Lemaire, an online columnist, wrote a blog this summer and called Frazier "the best big-game performer, the best dual-threat quarterback, the fiercest competitor and one of the toughest players to ever grace the field."
He also wrote that to this day, "there is no player in my mind that is more reviled than Tommie Frazier."
It’s not the dichotomy you think it is. Lemaire, you see, is a Miami Hurricane fan, and it’s taken him this long to "give credit where credit is due." He says Nebraska’s 24-17 come-from-behind win over Miami is "the most memorable game I ever watched on TV" and "the most indelible mark that has been etched into my memory about Miami football."
He credits Osborne for re-inserting Frazier into the lineup in the fourth quarter with Nebraska trailing, 17-9, against a Miami defense that had dominated with linebacker Ray Lewis and six or seven other players who were under 230 pounds and could fly to the football.
"Lewis even bragged before the game that the option would be useless against the team speed of Miami – and for three quarters, it was," Lemaire wrote. "But when Frazier re-entered in the fourth quarter, Miami couldn’t stop him."
The only thing that could stop Frazier were the blood clots in his legs, something discovered to be a side effect of Crohn’s disease – diagnosed after his playing career was over. A chronic inflammatory disease that can affect any part of the digestive tract, Crohn’s probably cost Frazier a spot in the NFL draft and a lucrative contract, but the only money he thinks about is the $40,000 he recently helped raise as a spokesman for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.
Refusing to live in the past, Frazier said, "I move on. Every day is a new chapter." He credits "my backbone and my beautiful wife, Andrea" for his perspective. "Without her, I would not be here. I am not the easiest guy to get along with. She keeps me on the straight and narrow, and that’s just what I need."
Tim Tebow: The Modern-Day Tommie Frazier
Even though Tommie is dealing with life in the most positive way possible, comparisons to his accomplishments continue. Calling Frazier a "throwback to (2007 Heisman Trophy winner) Tim Tebow," Lemaire pointed out that no option quarterback has ever been a successful pro quarterback. But, he wrote, "I firmly believe Tommie Frazier would have been the first and only successful option quarterback in the pros. Now, I guess we will have to see the modified version when Tebow goes pro."
Frazier appreciates kudos, but remains modest. Saturday night, he thanked everyone from "the man upstairs" to his parents, wife, former teammates in high school and college, Coach Osborne and "all of my uncles and three older brothers who beat me up all the time."
He said Tommie Frazier Sr. and Priscilla "instilled in me what it takes to be successful not just in football, but in life. My mom always told me that ‘whatever you decide to do, never quit. Just give it your all.’"
That’s what he did, and that’s what he encouraged the Boys and Girls Club members in the back of the room to do.
"You don’t have to have it all to be successful," he said. "I wasn’t the biggest, the fastest or the strongest. But I worked hard, learned well, and I never quit."
He may have thought about it and even tried to act on it. But a simple statement from a strong-willed mother saved the day and paved the way to four highly productive Nebraska seasons.
No wonder the smartest coaches recruit the parents every bit as hard as they recruit the best athletes.
Respond to Randy
"I've been a Husker fan since about 1962. In my mind Frazier was the best quarterback I've ever seen in college football. He was an incredible athlete, football smart, and grit to no end. There may never be another like him. I've never seen one even close to him on the field." - Harry Keller