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Tom Osborne has had several opportunities to be honored with the Walter Camp Football Foundation's "Distinguished American" Award, and Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, seemed as good a time as any to accept the accolade. He will, after all, be retired from his Nebraska athletic director duties for all of 11 days when he accepts the award in conjunction with the 2012 Walter Camp All-America Banquet at the Yale University Commons in New Haven, Conn.
Talk about Nebraska history intersecting with one of football's biggest postseason stages. Walter Camp is "The Father of American Football" and the organization that bears his name has selected All-America teams since 1889. A former Yale University athlete and coach, Camp is credited with developing play from scrimmage, set plays and even the restriction of play to 11 men per side.
It only makes sense that one of the most innovative coaches in football history will be honored by an all-volunteer organization that will host its 46th national awards banquet and present its 35th "Distinguished American" recipient.
Will Join Red, Eddie, Bob and another Tom
Osborne will join a cavalcade of previously named Distinguished Americans that include such legendary football coaches and players as George Halas, Red Grange, Eddie Robinson, Tom Landry, Steve Young, Bo Schembechler and Len Dawson, plus a host of other legends, including Bob Hope, Paul Tagliabue, Dick Ebersol, Pat Summerall and Keith Jackson.
Who knows? If some magic carpet ride ends up pairing Nebraska with Notre Dame in a possible Husker-Irish Rose Bowl, Osborne will be in the same fast company with three Walter Camp-named Distinguished Americans from Notre Dame - TV personality Regis Philbin (2002), longtime school President, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh (1993) and "King of the Marathoners" James Crowley (1978).
This much is certain. Tom Osborne fits the Walter Camp Award criteria to an absolute T, making it easy for most Nebraska fans to fill in the blanks themselves: 1) Use talents to attain great success in business, private life or public service; 2) Accomplish something no other has done; 3) Have a record of dedication to mankind; 4) Live a life dedicated to the preservation of the American ideal; 5) Understand the football-related lessons of self-denial, cooperation and teamwork; 6) Be a person of honesty, integrity and dedication; 7) Be a leader, an innovator and even a pioneer who has reached a degree of excellence that distinguishes the honoree from contemporaries; and 8) Lives within the principles of Walter Camp.
Camp Leader: Osborne Made a Difference for Many
"We are honored to recognize one of college football's all-time greats," Walter Camp Foundation President John Marks said in a press release. "Coach Osborne's passion, integrity and commitment to excellence have allowed him to make a difference in the lives of many."
The press release also stated that The Foundation is offering a "Holiday Ticket Promotion" for its National Awards Dinner: Buy two tickets for $400 before Dec. 31 and save $150. Those interested in attending can call (203) 288-CAMP (288-2267) for more information.
Even though Osborne is never that comfortable receiving an honor, he's had to warm up to the challenge. Last month, Northwestern presented Osborne with a new set of golf clubs as a retirement present. Last weekend, Michigan State presented him with a book about Mackinac Island, an historic spot on Lake Huron, where certain Spartans have reserved a spot for an avid fisherman to enjoy his favorite hobby.
Osborne is always humbled when others reach out to honor him. He's also always appreciative, but continues to approach each day with a sense of purpose guided by one of his staunchest principles - doing something for someone who can't do anything in return.
If the Walter Camp Foundation ever decides to expand its criteria for Distinguished Americans, that might be a good principle to add ... a meaningful legacy from its latest legend who voted like everyone else yesterday, privately and without fanfare.
T.O. Describes Proof Points, Lessons Learned
Osborne did one more thing this week that distinguishes a Hall-of-Fame coach, a successful athletic director and a three-term Congressman who is willing to share whatever wisdom he can when asked. An NCAA reporter was seeking a relevant election-related story, and Osborne accommodated that request. The online headline for her story: Osborne is proof that athletics and politics can live together.
The last two paragraphs in that story help define why the Walter Camp Foundation is honoring Osborne as a Distinguished American. Reflecting on his time in Congress and at Nebraska, Osborne cautions young people with this advice: "There's a lot of emphasis in our culture on what appears to be success, and that may have to do with how much financial success you have or how many awards and trophies you have won, and I don't know if in the long run that's all that productive. Something I always thought was really critical was the issue of character, not so much what your trappings and visible signs of success might be, but rather, who you are as a person."
Osborne sees lessons learned through athletics. "You can't always control circumstances and you can't always control what an official does or if the ball bounces a certain way," he said. "There are a lot of chance factors you can't always control, but you can control your own character and your own sense of worth, and you can always decide to be a servant rather than someone who's going to be served. That makes a huge difference."
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