Buried in the avalanche of all the college football awards shows on national television was a stirring speech in Charlotte, N.C., from Nebraska’s first of an NCAA record eight Outland Trophy winners. When Larry Jacobson accepted the 2012 Bronko Nagurski Legends Award, it was “inspiring and heartfelt from one of college football’s true legends,” said John Rocco, president of the Charlotte Touchdown Club. “We had 950 people in the room, and you could hear a pin drop. Larry conveyed so many important things in an unbelievably humble manner. He gave credit for his many past accolades not to himself, but to his teammates and his coaches! In every aspect of Larry’s speech, it was always about The Team!”
Jim Hertwig, CEO for the Florida East Coast Railway, the presenting sponsor of the Legends Award, echoed what Rocco shared with me. “The evening was amazing,” Hertwig said, “and it was an extreme pleasure having Larry and his family (wife Kathy and daughter Amy) at our table. Larry spoke from the heart and amplified an important theme. Over the decades, we all learn that life isn’t really about “me”. It’s about everyone around you. It’s about the teammates you played with, the relationships you form, and the bonds you share. That’s what creates success, and that’s what transcends time. Larry’s message was very powerful for our record audience, and it was important for both the young and the old to hear.”
Jacobson: Did Someone Call the Wrong Number?
In thanking Rocco, Jacobson admitted that when he was called and informed of the award last spring, “I thought John had gotten the wrong Larry Jacobson,” he said. “When I saw the list of past recipients, well … let’s just say it’s still hard to believe I was standing up there in front of that group of people and the Football Writers Association of America, which voted on the award.”
A star defensive tackle on Nebraska’s back-to-back national championship teams in 1970 and 1971. Jacobson was a pioneer for the Huskers. He was an All-American, an Academic All-American, a first-round NFL draft choice and a trailblazer for all who followed his lead, including Ndamukong Suh, who shared those same accolades and went beyond, including winning his own Nagurski trophy immediately (not the Legends award).
Jacobson is quick to point out that every honor that came his way “wouldn’t have been possible without the exceptionally talented players who were my teammates and the icons who were our coaches,” he said. “I mean, I played with Johnny Rodgers, who won the Heisman, and played right next to Rich Glover, who won the Outland, plus a Lombardi (the next year).”
On the Same Staff: Devaney, Kiffin, Alvarez, Osborne
“We had such coaches as Bob Devaney, Monte Kiffin, Barry Alvarez and Tom Osborne – all on the same staff!” Jacobson said. “Just last year, Sporting News magazine named our 1971 team college football’s best of all time. Twenty-five players on that team went on to play in the NFL, and you have to remember there weren’t nearly as many pro teams then as there is now.”
In Jacobson’s era, the Big Eight was the nation’s most powerful conference. “In 1971, we finished first in the final poll, Oklahoma second and Colorado third,” he pointed out. “We had three shutouts in ’71 and only three teams scored more than one touchdown against us while we were scoring from 31 to 55 points every game. The only game we trailed in all season was against Oklahoma, and we’re still proud about that game being routinely referred to as the Game of the Century.
“I’m often asked what I remember most,” Jacobson said. “For me, it’s my teammates, and they’re also what I miss the most. Over the years, I’ve come to sincerely appreciate the bond we developed as we played together in the trenches. We picked each other up and were determined not to let anyone beat us. It’s all about working together toward a goal – to be the best in the nation – that I cherish the most. In the past few years, when I’ve had the opportunity to be on the sidelines, it brings back just how hard players have to work and how much they have sacrifice to get to the top.”
A Meaningful Message: Dream Beyond the NFL
Rocco and Hertwig relished Jacobson recognizing the accomplishments of all Nagurski award finalists and encouraging them to be student-athletes. “Remember the importance of working hard in the classroom,” said Jacobson, who could speak from experience on why that was so important for him.
“We all know that football is an aggressive sport and even with precautions, everyone is always one injury away from not being able to play anymore,” Jacobson said, explaining how his accounting degree became infinitely more important than his awards on the field.
“As it turned out, in my fourth year with the New York Giants, I suffered a career-ending injury,” Jacobson said. “But with my degree, I was able to go back to Nebraska and enjoy more than 30 years as an investment advisor before retiring from Morgan Stanley.”
Jacobson ended his speech telling the Nagurski Award finalists that he looked forward to watching them play in the NFL. But if their football careers are cut short or they do not play professionally, he’s confident they will apply the same competitive principles they learned from football to succeed in life.
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