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Greatness is a tricky word, and no one knows that better than some of Nebraska’s greatest athletes. When they leave the playing field or whatever competitive arena that drew them in, they begin to realize that great men and great women face great tasks and experience great trials, and when they do, real greatness sets in. They are moved in completely different ways. They search for meaning. They take charge. They start from within. They create a dream and more important than anything else, they team with others so they can help friends and “family” overcome adversity. That, in a nutshell, is the inspiration behind the “Husker Greats Foundation,” which Wednesday afternoon took the veil off what they’ve been planning for nearly a year … a foundation that can provide medical and emergency assistance to former Husker athletic letter winners.
“As former players and athletes, we consider all Huskers to be family,” said Jerry Murtaugh, an All-America linebacker and Big Eight Player of the Year on Nebraska’s 1970 national championship football team. “We’ve all spent countless hours with each other, and we’ve formed a lifetime bond that remains strong and proves that we really are a family – the Husker family – and we share that bond with fans that have followed us because we’ve created some great memories for them. Some see us as memory makers, but even memory makers fall on hard times. We experience life’s lows. We need help and assistance and encouragement and hope. That’s what the Husker Greats Foundation does. We come full circle and help our brothers and sisters in need. We use our amazing, one-of-a-kind foundation to provide financial assistance, emotional support and the kind of care that’s necessary to get Husker athletes back on the road to recovery and a chance for a better life.”
“Dave Humm has multiple sclerosis. He’s been in a wheelchair for 24 years,” Murtaugh said. “He hasn’t been able to use his legs for 15 years. He’s in dire need of 24-hour care. He has a lovely daughter who does as much as anybody can possibly do to help him, but he needs more help. He can’t shower or shave by himself. He’s been working from home doing a radio show for years for Raiders’ fans, but he’s losing his voice and his last source of income is about to dry up. He has big needs, but he’s too proud to accept help. We had an argument when I told him we formed a foundation to help him and other Huskers like him. He was a memory maker for all of us, and now we want make a memory for him. We want to help him. We want to step up for him. We want to show him how much we care.”
Humm resisted help repeatedly until Murtaugh got tough with a tough-minded man. “Life is about taking care of each other,” he told Humm. “Those of us who love Husker athletics love you. You’re part of our family. We’re athletes helping other athletes. We’re fans supporting memory makers. When we say there is no place like Nebraska, we mean it. When we help pay your bills, we take the stress out of your life. We pay the medical providers directly, so you don’t have to worry about it. We’re your brothers and sisters, your helping hands. We’re loyal to you like you were loyal to us. Please, please, let us do what we’ve set ourselves up to do.”
A quarterback who’s been facing the real-life version
of third-and-long for at least a quarter century finally, lovingly, tearfully,
humbly and gracefully, accepted the generosity of the Husker Greats Foundation.
It’s the first great gift emerging from a great concept that has a great future.
Murtaugh is the president of the foundation, which is a 501C3 non-profit
organization that qualifies for tax-deductible donations. Former Husker fullback
Joel Makovicka is the vice president, and Dave
Hoppen, Nebraska’s all-time leading basketball scorer, is the
treasurer. Other board members are former Nebraska baseball outfielder
Shawn Buchanan, CoSIDA Academic All-American basketball player
Karen Jennings, All-American gymnast Renee
Reisdorff-Poulos and Denny Walker, a three-year Husker
letter winner in track and field in the mid-1960s. Every board member except
Makovicka, who had a previous conflict, attended Wednesday’s press conference
announcing the Husker Greats Foundation in Omaha. Two Omaha TV stations are
producing stories on the Husker Greats Foundation, and one of them used Skype to
interview the 60-year-old Humm in Las Vegas. (The link to that interview is
at the top of this column, along with Steve Sipple’s column explaining how
Andra Franklin’s tragic death inspired Murtaugh to make sure
something like that doesn’t happen in the Husker “family” again).
“Coach Osborne advised me to get the best board members possible and once he saw who all was on this board, he told me I must have worn my helmet more than he thought I did,” Murtaugh said. “Our goal was to build a foundation that would invite all Husker letter winners to participate as donors, and let them know at the same time that all letter winners are eligible to apply for medical grants. We have a thorough application process. It’s been researched and reviewed, and the financial awards will be based on need. Now that everyone knows what we’ve been working on, why it’s important and how it will be run by a voluntary board, we will accept donations. That will be the bedrock of support for our past, current and future Husker athletes who may be in need.”
In researching such non-profit groups, Murtaugh believes Nebraska supporting Husker athletes is the second of its kind in the U.S. “Based on our research, Alabama has the only other non-profit like this one,” he said. “Coach Osborne’s position (as athletic director) doesn’t allow him to actively promote our cause, but he believes in our concept that ‘family takes care of family.’ I think that’s why he wrote the first check we received. The message this foundation sends is something that goes full circle. Former athletes who are overwhelmed by medical issues can rely on our assistance through this foundation. We’ve learned over the years that some of our favorite memory makers have struggles just like we do, and we just want them to know that they can count on their fellow athletes, their coaches and the fans who watched them compete. This cause is important, and we like to tell people that no donation is too small. Every hour is voluntary. Every dollar counts.”
Interested donors can get more information at huskergreatsfoundation.org.
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Voices from Husker Nation
Always so sad to hear how these horrible diseases affect us humans but the impact seems greater when our heroes such as David Humm are the victim. We want to always remember them as that young, healthy, Saturday afternoon memory maker. Jerry Murtaugh’s words to Dave made my eyes leak more than they have in a long time. What a great story and organization. Patrick Sullivan, Eureka Springs, Arkansas