Keith Zimmer, Jack Hoffman, Andy Hoffman, Jordan Wilson, Stacey Burling and Jessie Gardner.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Musial Award Exemplifies Husker Kindness

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

A weekend ago, when Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ameer Abdullah were collaborating on a touchdown to beat Michigan in college football’s biggest stadium in front the biggest crowd ever to see a Husker win, two devout Big Red fans were camped out next to a television set on a lower level of the Peabody Opera House in Downtown St. Louis. Andy Hoffman, father of Jack Hoffman, holder of Nebraska’s longest Spring Game touchdown run, was one fan. The other was Keith Zimmer, NU’s Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills. The two simply could not resist checking out the last-minute drama of a certain Big Ten game. So they connected from the Opera House to the Big House, where college football’s No. 1 school in terms of all-time victories was hosting a third-year conference member that ranks fourth in all-time wins. The Huskers (856) rank behind the Wolverines (904), Texas (867) and Notre Dame (865) and ahead of Ohio State (838), Oklahoma (832) and Alabama (828).

It was an interesting moment in time because while nearly every Husker fan in the world was focused on the Michigan game, Andy Hoffman, wife Bri, son Jack and daughters Ava and Reese were preoccupied. So were Zimmer and three pivotal players on his Life Skills staff who were preparing for a classy dinner that honors some of the nation’s most inspirational stories. Those stories become an important package for St. Louis fans to open during the holiday season. Yes, the Musial Awards get prime-time viewing on a local network TV affiliate, and Team Jack will be one of the featured stories this year. That's why the Hoffmans and NU’s Life Skills team were in St. Louis to accept a Musial Award that honors Nebraska’s football team. The event marked the 14th year for St. Louis to host the national sportsmanship awards and the first year the awards reflected Musial's name. In November of 2012, two months before Musial died at age 92, the renaming announcement was made to honor the Hall-of-Famer's legacy off and on the field.

Huskers Show Kindness, Generosity, Sportsmanship

“We were thrilled and honored to be able to recognize the Nebraska football program at the Musial Awards,” said Marc Schreiber, Vice President of Marketing and Development for the St. Louis Sports Commission and the National Sportsmanship Foundation. “Stan Musial personified kindness and generosity, and those virtues of sportsmanship are so evident in what the Huskers have done for Jack and his family. Specific to the run itself, the fact that the team would deviate from a routine that is understandably focused on winning a championship to bring so much joy and inspiration to Jack is truly special and something we felt deserving of a Musial. The entire Athletic Department's gesture is emblematic of the class so often associated with Nebraska football and its fans.

“It also was very meaningful to us to be able to meet and spend time with Jack, Andy and the entire family,” Schreiber said. “They could not have been any more gracious. I was especially impressed that even with the spotlight deservingly on Jack, they wanted to make sure their part in the Musial Awards was all about recognizing the university. It makes our work in producing the event all the more fulfilling to encounter wonderful people like the Hoffmans and those who represented the Nebraska Life Skills unit.”

Pelini, Burkhead, Teammates Gracious and Inspiring

Andy Hoffman, whose family is no stranger to national recognition which includes a coveted ESPY Award, said the Musial Awards were an absolute highlight because “my wife and I cried all night long watching the incredibly inspirational stories that a major national sports foundation put together,” he said. “The best part about it for us was the Musial Awards putting the focus in the right place – on the kindness and graciousness of Coach (Bo) Pelini and his team – from Rex Burkhead to every other team member that started an Uplifting Athletes chapter to help battle pediatric brain cancer. It was really special for Jack and I to be able to tell everyone in attendance at the Musial Awards what a kind and caring football program we have in Nebraska.

“On the night of the awards show, we talked about how Coach Pelini and his team represent the absolute best that sports have to offer,” Andy said. “Nebraska fans should be proud of their program receiving a National Sportsmanship Award because of their selfless act of kindness. The Nebraska football program has been placed into the same category as one of the greatest sportsman of all-time, Stan Musial. It’s not the football program or sportswriters that are putting the football program in an elite category like this. It’s the people on the inside. It’s the people who knew Stan Musial the best and all that he stands for. They put our football program on his level … the same people who just cheered on a World Series team.”

Zimmer: Musial Team Gets It, Helps Others Get It

Zimmer and his staff represented Nebraska football’s well deserved 2013 Musial Award. “What a great honor it was for our football team to be associated with such an outstanding humanitarian and sportsman icon as Stan Musial,” Zimmer said. “The committee that supports the Musial Award was amazing. You could tell it was a national award just by their attention to detail, organization and overall thoughtfulness. The Musial Awards have a powerful and compelling way to recognize sportsmanship. I can see why the Hoffman family was so moved. The Musial Award team really gets it, and they really help others get it, too.”

Jessie Gardner, a Life Skills Coordinator, still remembers meeting Jack and his parents more than two years ago and having lunch with them. “I never would have imagined that the relationship between Jack and Rex Burkhead would have evolved into a bond shared by the rest of the country. The Musial Awards really captured the essence of inspirational moments similar to Jack’s, and highlighted the unique power of sports beyond the field of competition. I felt privileged to be a part of such an uplifting event!”

The Big Picture Comes Increasingly into Focus

Stacey Burling, another Life Skills Coordindator, spent roughly 36 hours in St. Louis and left the city “knowing the type of person Stan Musial was,” she said. “He was genuine and loving, and giving was just an obvious and natural response for him. He wasn’t motivated by anything other than doing the right thing and his love was shown by how he lived his life. It’s evident that Stan Musial not only left his mark on the city of St. Louis, but also on the sport of baseball. He made a conscious effort to impact people through his actions, and with an event named after him for acts of sportsmanship, his legacy lives on.”

As proud as Burling was to see Nebraska’s football team recognized for its acts of kindness for Jack, “I see a bigger picture after this experience,” Burling said. “It really comes down to us all being carriers of love and all being capable of doing things for others. On that Saturday night in St. Louis, we really felt the weight of that. Whether we realize it or not, our actions and our state of mind matters. There is always an opportunity to do something good, and I think when people see and hear examples, it can be contagious. I’m lucky to be in the position I am. I’m surrounded by student-athletes and staff who want their lives to be a statement of selflessness and kindness. At Nebraska we’re paving the way by doing good things and we understand how much there is to be gained just by flat out loving people.”

Bottom Line, Musial Showed That Kindness Counts

Jordan Wilson joined her fellow Life Skills teammates in St. Louis. “It was such an honor to be a part of the ceremonies in St. Louis recognizing the great work our football team has done with Jack and pediatric brain cancer,” she said. “This award is an example of just how much impact one simple act of kindness can make. Learning about Stan Musial and the type of person he was day in and day out was inspiring. He was a man that St. Louis has every right to be proud of and someone that others should strive to emulate. Every honoree had an inspiring story and those honored are exemplary individuals for not only the people in attendance but for athletes all over the world. The Musial Awards put life into perspective because they showed how much kindness counts and how it’s something we can all do all the time. We’re all proud of how our football team lifted Jack up and showed him how much they care.”

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