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Jerry Murtaugh recently spoke at John Melton’s funeral. The next day, the founder/leader of the Husker Greats Foundation and his wife, Connie, flew to Las Vegas to join nearly 200 former Husker players, coaches, spouses and fans at an event to honor Dave Humm, who was, is and always will be Melton’s most compelling individual recruiting success story.
“Did I feel the irony? Boy did I ever!” said Murtaugh, who watched former Husker kicker/teammate Rich Sanger and Las Vegas radio executive Tom Humm, Dave’s brother, present a Nebraska Blackshirt jersey last Sunday night to “The Hummer”. An honorary defensive jersey to an offensive player may be unprecedented in Nebraska’s storied football history that traces its Blackshirt roots to Bob Devaney’s third season in 1964. Humm, of course, was an All-America quarterback in 1974, not to mention Tom Osborne’s first starting quarterback. He has battled Multiple Sclerosis for nearly 25 years.
A month before Melton died, the longtime linebacker coach told me that “Hummer has gone through more in 24 hours than any of the rest of us has gone through in 24 years. Dave Humm deserves that honorary Blackshirt because he’s tougher than any Blackshirt has ever had to be. Everything is great to him. I talk to him all the time, and if you didn’t know he had MS, you wouldn’t even know he was sick.”
First-Ever Recipient from Husker Greats
Well, we know this. Humm’s Blackshirt symbolizes his indomitable spirit – a life-force so tenacious that he steadfastly refused help, even when he desperately needed it. Somehow, David Max, Murtaugh and Osborne helped convince Humm to become the first-ever recipient of the Husker Greats Foundation, a non-profit 501c3 organization that was created to provide medical and emergency assistance to former Nebraska male and female student-athletes who lettered in their sport.
“It was very rewarding to see the joy Hummer felt when everyone gathered in his honor for a banquet and golf event that netted $74,000 for our foundation,” Murtaugh said. “Dave is such a proud man who thinks about everyone but himself. He’s like Lou Gehrig. He feels like the luckiest man on the face of the earth, so it was hard to get him to let us help him. He wants to give, not take, and what he gave this past weekend will help others benefit from our foundation.”
In Vegas, Hummer was surrounded by his family, including his brother, his sisters and his daughter, Courtney, a major force in daily support that also includes Claudette Rullo, his in-home nurse over the past two years. “We all have families, but we’re also part of another family – the Husker family,” Murtaugh said. “Richie Sanger lives in Colorado, but he’s the one who came up with the idea to give Hummer a Blackshirt two months ago. He did all the work to make this a resounding success. It’s just amazing what the Husker family can do for others when we have a plan and execute it, just like we were taught to do in football.”
Hummer Amazed, Happy, Proud, Speechless
“Hummer was totally amazed, happy, proud and speechless at first,” Murtaugh said. “Then, he couldn’t stop talking.” Discussions gravitationally connected to Melton, who spent countless days in Vegas tracking the recruiting radar of Humm, who even drew Bear Bryant and Joe Namath on a simultaneous visit to lure the Las Vegas Bishop O’Gorman superstar to Alabama.
“The presence of John Melton was definitely felt in Vegas, just like it was felt in Lincoln a few days before,” Murtaugh said. “Whenever we had time to sit down and talk, we discussed Dave’s relationship with John. Every time they’d talk on the phone, they’d end their conversation the same way. Coach Melton would tell Hummer he loved him, and Hummer would tell John the same thing.”
Love is at the core of the Husker Greats Foundation, an organization that wants to be more action-oriented, especially now that it has covered its legal bases. “This foundation goes beyond football,” Murtaugh said. “We’ve come full circle to provide financial assistance, emotional support and the kind of care that’s necessary to get Husker athletes on the road to recovery and a chance at a better life.”
Wanted: Husker Athletes in Genuine Need
Murtaugh stressed the foundation he heads wants to help all Husker student-athletes in need…men or women and regardless of sport. “Every athlete that has earned that letter ‘N’ is a part of the Husker family,” Murtaugh said. “Family takes care of family. Throw your pride aside and come to your brothers and sisters for help. We’re going to be there for you. All you need to do is ask.”
Murtaugh couldn’t help but mention how Melton and his widow, Margie, donated to the Husker Greats Foundation to help any Husker letter-winner in need. Because of his own close relationship with Melton, Murtaugh and co-host Gary Java have decided to make Saturday’s 9 to 10 a.m. Legends Radio Show on Omaha AM590 ESPN a memorial dedication to John Melton.
“Mike Knox and Marc Munford are Blackshirt linebackers who will be in studio with us in Omaha,” Murtaugh said. “We’ll also have interviews with four other linebackers who played for Coach Melton – Barry Alvarez, Steve Damkroger, Clete Pillen and Dave Morock. A lot of people are looking forward to listening to this show, so we’re going stream it live all across the country.” The program should be an interesting mix of funny stories, tall tales, poignant memories and decidedly differing descriptions of how a legendary linebacker coach and a legendary quarterback became such great friends, on and off the field.
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