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Tommie Frazier went to a Cub Scout meeting Tuesday night with his 7-year-old son. Thursday morning, he'll jump in the car with a couple buddies and take one last drive from Lincoln to Manhattan, Kan.
"I always looked forward to playing Kansas State because you knew they were well coached, you knew they were going to play hard, and you knew they were never going to bring anything less than their A-game," Frazier said.
High praise, don't you think, from a quarterback who arguably was the MVP of three consecutive national championship games in the mid-1990s?
You remember Frazier outperforming Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward while leading Nebraska within a whisker of a national title in an 18-16 loss to Florida State as a sophomore. As a junior, Frazier came back from a dangerous blood clot in his left leg to help cut down Miami (24-17), giving Tom Osborne his first national championship as a head coach and Nebraska its third. For an encore, as a senior, Frazier lit the torch that blew up Florida, 62-24, for another national title.
What you've probably forgotten is one of Frazier's last games as a freshman quarterback starter - a 38-24 triumph over Kansas State on Dec. 5, 1992, in, of all places, Tokyo, Japan - a mutually agreed upon replacement for a K-State home game, 6,300 miles from Manhattan.
No Comfort between Two Offensive Linemen
"I'll never forget that 13-hour plane ride from Kansas City to Tokyo - the longest plane ride in my life at the time," Frazier recalled. "I was sitting between two big offensive linemen - Zach Wiegert and Lance Lundberg. For awhile, I thought it would take forever to get there."
Fortunately, though, like all good offensive linemen, Wiegert and Lundberg created some extra room for their quarterback and kept him happy.
"Zach wandered off somewhere, and Lance laid down and went to sleep on the floor," Frazier said.
When the 6-5, 310-pound Wiegert and the 6-4, 300-pound Lundberg vacated their seats, that opened things up for Touchdown Tommie, who put the arm rests down, threw a pillow next to the window and spread himself across three large seats for a well-deserved long winter's nap.
Nebraska had left Lincoln on a Tuesday morning before hooking up with the entire K-State travel party in Kansas City. When the plane carrying both teams landed in Tokyo, it was 4 a.m. in Lincoln and Manhattan and 7 p.m. Wednesday in Tokyo.
"It was a long week, a long game and a long trip," Frazier said. "It was different preparing for a game in a foreign country, especially when the fans didn't know anything about football. But it was memorable, and I enjoyed it. I'll miss Nebraska playing K-State, but I won't miss Tokyo."
Frazier's Trip to Iraq was to "Salute the Troops"
For a college freshman, it was the trip of a lifetime, superseded only by a 13½-hour flight to Iraq last December when Frazier was asked to participate in a USO "Salute the Troops" Tour that pitted Barry Switzer against Tommy Bowden coaching flag football teams in Kuwait City and Baghdad.
"I went over there with Brian Bosworth, Bruce Smith, Rocket Ismail, Tony Casillas, Ty Detmer and Joe Washington," Frazier said. "We had a great time, and it felt good to help raise the spirits of our troops."
Frazier couldn't say the same about his flight home from Japan 18 years earlier, even though the win landed the Huskers in the Orange Bowl. "The plane ride home wasn't real friendly," he said. "It isn't very fun for the losing team."
The trip had other awkward moments as well.
"We had some downtime, but mostly we would just hang out with each other because we didn't know where to go," Frazier said."We couldn't stray from the hotel unless there was an event to attend. I mean, we were there to play a conference football game, so there was no time to slack off."
It Was 21-0 Midway Through the Second Quarter
Nebraska won the game in front of 50,000 fans in Tokyo.
The Big Eight's Offensive Newcomer-of-the-Year that season, Frazier staked Nebraska to a 21-0 lead, throwing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Corey Dixon and sprinting 19 yards for another TD in the first quarter. Six minutes into the second quarter, he scored another touchdown, and the game was never really in doubt after that.
Frazier didn't earn his nickname Touchdown Tommie until his last two years as a starter, but he remembers how a Japanese crowd had no interest in touchdowns.
"They applauded more for a fan that jumped over a barricade than they did for any touchdown that was scored," he recalled. "They had music going the whole game, and I remember them broadcasting fake crowd noise so it sounded like they were excited when they really weren't."
Thursday, Frazier will think about playing a K-State team he always respected. "Bill Snyder will make sure they bring their best game in the last game these two teams will play against each other in the Big 12," he said. "It's a sad deal in one way, but you understand where you're going, and it's time to move on."
Like everyone else, Frazier is eager to see how Nebraska redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez will bounce back from the South Dakota State game 12 days earlier.
A Freshman's Brain Can Get Overcrowded
"That's part of the game when you play a freshman quarterback," Frazier said, recalling some of his own challenges that included a 19-10 mid-November loss at Iowa State - the Huskers' only loss in the Big Eight that season.
In its first four conference games before that upset, Nebraska had beaten Oklahoma State, Missouri, Colorado and Kansas by an average score of 47-9. Let the record show that after that stunning loss, Nebraska had nearly two weeks to prepare for Oklahoma, a team the Huskers thrashed, 33-9, in Norman.
"Taylor got off to a great start in his first three games, and he hit a wall when he didn't expect to hit one, just like I did," Frazier said. "His brain became overcrowded, and when you don't have that experience to rely on, sometimes it's hard to think straight."
In Frazier's opinion, the tendency for great athletes is to try to do too much. "That's the mistake all young guys make," he said. "You over-think and try to do more than you should when you're better off letting your teammates pick up the slack."
Iowa State taught Frazier that lesson, and in his next game against Oklahoma, he distributed the ball to teammates Calvin Jones (137 yards rushing), Derek Brown (84 yards) and Lance Lewis (51 yards), all of whom finished with more rushing yards than he did.
Frazier puts his own spin on the Forest Gump expression that life is like a box of chocolates. "Freshman quarterbacks are like a box of chocolates," he said. "You never know what you're going to get until you see what the other team throws at you."
That's why Frazier encourages Nebraska fans to be patient with Martinez as he adapts to a variety of defenses.
Don't Forget the Beauty of College Football
"The reason everybody loves college football is because you can never predict what's going to happen," Frazier said. "With 18 &19 and 21 & 22-year-old kids, you can't take anybody lightly, and you have to play every game like it's your last."
The best thing about Martinez, Frazier said, is his speed and the respect he commands from a defense. "With a guy like him, you can't focus on the other backs," he said, "because he can take off and score. I love it when we put points on the board - on the ground or in the air. It doesn't matter to me."
Frazier finished his career with a remarkable 33-3 record as a starter. He won nearly every award imaginable except the Heisman, finishing second his senior year. A member of Sports Illustrated's All-Century Team, Sport Magazine went one step beyond that, naming Frazier one of the 10 greatest college football players of the century.
A quarterback with those credentials wouldn't think of putting any more pressure on Martinez than he already has.
"I'm looking for our defense to force the pass in this game, and I like the way our secondary can shut people down," Frazier said. "I know K-State will bring their A-game, and I know the crowd will be loud and crazy, but I'll be surprised if Nebraska doesn't win."
Voices from Husker Nation
It was nice to hear from a Husker great. I grew up in Oklahoma (my parents are from Omaha) and enjoyed watching Tommie and the rest of the Huskers dominate throughout the 1990s. Most of my early Husker memories involve Tommie. It was great to read about him on the "Salute the Troops" tour. Our men and women who sacrifice so much deserve whatever support we can provide them, and I am sure Tommie, along with Switzer and Bowden, was a great treat for them. As for the team, I hope the players listened to his words. As Tommie said, they will bring their A-game. KSU, along with every other Big 12 school, would love nothing more than to say good-bye by handing us a loss. I'll be making the short road trip to provide my support. Go Huskers! Bryan Altman, Derby, Kansas, UNL Alumni 2004
Tommie Frazier's run against Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl blowout of Florida is still the greatest run I've ever seen in college or pro, live or on television. He literally broke through eight tackles on that one run, and it will always be my personal favorite. If Taylor Martinez can match Tommie's will to win, his incredible toughness and his leadership by example, we may just have another national title in our sights. Go Big Red! We will be watching and cheering tomorrow night. Steve Miller, Scottsdale, Arizona
Thanks for writing about a game I had forgotten even happened. Thanks, too, for using a legend to remind us of how complex this game is that we all think is so simple. It never has been easy, and it never will be, especially when you combine all the mental preparation that has to be there to support the physical preparation. Kirk Nelson, Overland Park, Kansas