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If gold cannot be pure, and people cannot be perfect, perfection is impossible for any football team, even the Tom Osborne-coached 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers that steamrolled previously unbeaten Florida, 62-24, in the Fiesta Bowl. Few outside Nebraska’s inner sanctum saw that juggernaut rolling into Tempe, Ariz., but ‘Guy the Fly’ Ingles did, and his reasoning relates to an experience that sticks out in his heart and mind more than any other from Nebraska football’s glory days. Perhaps Ingles will discuss it when more than 400 players and their guests huddle up Friday night at Lincoln’s Embassy Suites Hotel to honor a Hall-of-Fame coach at his retirement dinner. Husker players and athletic department staff also will salute an athletic director for putting their alma mater back on the right track.
Please understand that Guy Ingles has considerable credibility. He was the fourth-leading scorer on Bob Devaney’s 1970 national championship team, and Osborne was his position coach on that team and throughout his Husker career as a split end. Osborne even hired Ingles, a three-sport standout at Omaha Westside High School, to be an NU graduate assistant coach for two years (1971-72), then an assistant freshman coach for three years (1973-74-75) and finally the head freshman coach for three more years (1976-77-78). From 1968 to ‘78, Ingles witnessed some incredible football achievements, but never one more impressive than taking his then 12-year-old daughter, Bailey, to the next-to-last Fiesta Bowl practice in Lincoln before the Huskers departed for Arizona.
“It was the best football practice I ever saw. Nothing even comes close to what we saw that day,” Ingles recalled. “There were 75 offensive plays that day and only one ‘run-it-again’ play. They were in full pads with officials and there was no motion, no fumbles, no offside, no dropped pitches or dropped passes. There was nobody yelling, no missed audible by the quarterbacks and the backs were running the ball 30 to 40 yards down field against one-on-one coverage that would later shut down Florida’s passing game. Our defensive teamwork was so good that Charlie McBride could have taken a nap.”
Talented Team Practiced with Clocklike Precision
After watching the almost perfect NU football practice and then watching the Huskers dismantle the Gators in Tempe, Ingles saw perfection like he’d never seen before or since from any college football team. “When I saw that win, I just kept thinking back to that practice,” Ingles said. “We had the best coach, the best system and the best tandem of quarterbacks in college football. We had the strongest and most mobile offensive line and two of the three best I-backs in the history of the program, plus five or six of the best defensive players who ever played at Nebraska.”
Looking back, Ingles regrets never sharing the greatness he saw with the man who coached him and then hired him as a coach. “I’ve never had the opportunity to share that experience with Coach Osborne, but what we saw that day was the most consistent, quietly confident, experienced team, which had superlative coaching. It was, by far, the most ‘together’ and physically superior team I ever saw up close. We saw that team perform at its absolute peak.”
I asked Osborne Tuesday if Ingles was accurate in the way he defined Nebraska’s pursuit of perfection. Osborne, of course, learned long ago that when you aim for perfection, you discover why it’s a moving target. He also knows what Vince Lombardi once declared – that even though perfection is unattainable, you can catch excellence if you chase perfection. Does Osborne remember that nearly perfect practice? “I don’t remember everything,” he said, “but I do remember how focused that team was leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. They could not have been much focused than they were.”
Ingles Complemented The Jet’s Impressive Stats
Ingles was a fairly focused player himself, almost matching Johnny Rodgers’ receiving totals in that 1970 national championship season when he was a senior and “The Jet” was a sophomore. Rodgers had 39 catches for 710 yards and seven touchdowns and Ingles had 36 catches for 625 yards and eight touchdowns. Ingles had a knack for delivering when needed most. He caught a touchdown pass in Nebraska’s 21-21 tie with Southern Cal that season and scored in clutch situations against Colorado and Oklahoma. In the 17-12 win over LSU in the national championship Orange Bowl game, Ingles caught two passes for 22 yards.
Osborne “was and is a better human being and leader than he was a football coach,” Ingles said. “He had the combination of a superior offensive football intellect, an unbelievable work ethic and the organizational ability to do it the same way, every day, for all 11 years as an assistant and 25 years as a head coach.” Osborne “could really throw” and Ingles remembers how tough it was catching passes from him in a quick turnaround drill. “He wasn’t able to get it by me,” he said. “I didn’t have any drops.”
To be perfect in that drill was Ingles’ way to reflect the habits of his position coach. “Win or lose, Tom was the same way in every meeting, every practice and every event,” Ingles said. “He always stuck to his values, and that helped him become more personable as the years went by.”
Ingles Family Will Celebrate Anniversary No. 40
Ingles and his wife, Jeanette, are getting close to celebrating their 40th anniversary. Daughter Bailey, who saw that almost perfect practice with her dad, became a swimmer at Nebraska and now teaches fourth grade in the Westside School District. Her older sister, Brandy, and husband Joe had a baby girl in mid-January – the first grandchild in the family. Brandy is the director of Compliance for the Creighton Athletic Department and Joe works with College World Series, Inc.
Guy “The Fly” Ingles is retired, but looking for a new challenge after being an executive with the Omaha Nighthawks in the United Football League. Ingles’ passion is golf, and he continues to have a love for his alma mater.
He remembers hugging Osborne in the locker room after Nebraska won its first national championship and how his position coach did not seem to be that overjoyed by the moment. “As the years have gone by, I’ve often thought about how much Coach Osborne loved the process and the preparation of being an assistant coach in those early years and how he’s become a good friend and a supporter since,” Ingles said.
Relationships Emerge from Process, Preparation
Ingles believes the process and the preparation have been trumped by the relationships that have emerged from Osborne’s years as an assistant to Devaney and his 25-year stint as Nebraska’s head coach. Friday night’s agenda between coaches and players at the Embassy Suites is private and simple. “I just want everyone to see each other and have a good time,” said Osborne, who wants to thank every player for being there just as much as they want to thank him and every assistant who served with him.
Osborne knows perfection is unachievable but he came closer to it than any modern-day major college football coach. He ended his career as a head coach with another “perfect” 1997 national championship season, capped by a 42-17 drubbing of Peyton Manning-led Tennessee. That marked win No. 60 in his last 63 games as head coach.
Someone once said that the closest to perfection a person ever comes is when he fills out a job application form. Thankfully, Osborne, now Nebraska’s Athletic Director Emeritus, is well beyond that. That’s why he’s just going to enjoy the moment, appreciate the players coming back for a reunion of sorts and hope they all see some elements of perfection in a team that will play eight home games in a 12-game 2013 regular season. One thing is certain. Ingles and every other Husker in the stadium Saturday will understand that the Spring Game is just a preview of what’s to come, and here’s hoping that in the pursuit of perfection, the Huskers catch just the right amount of excellence to contend for a Big Ten Championship.
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