Randy York's N-sider
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Tommie Frazier has gained a pound or two, and he can’t possibly be even close to as fast as he was when he carried the entire Florida Gator defense on his back in the Fiesta Bowl, but make no mistake, “Touchdown Tommie” still has plenty of lightning-quick speed in his mind.
In a nearly hour-long question-and-answer session for 328 fans from 18 states for Bo Pelini’s Football 202 class Friday, Frazier warmed hearts and triggered laughs with his fast-moving, straight-forward candor at the Hawks Championship Center.
The standing ovation he received when he was introduced was followed by even longer and louder applause when he left the podium.
“I was really struck with how open and how honest Tommie Frazier was,” said Omaha’s Lou Caniglia. “I think the laugh of the day was his comeback to Warren Sapp in the (1995) Orange Bowl.”
Sapp, Miami’s All-America defensive tackle, kept baiting Frazier, who was making his first start in the national championship game after missing the previous seven games with a blood clot.
In that game, a 24-17 Nebraska win, Tom Osborne had decided that Frazier would play the first quarter, and the late Brook Berringer would play the second quarter. Second-half action would be determined by whichever quarterback was moving the team the most effectively.
A Quiet Leader Had Finally Had Enough of Sapp
“When I came back in for Brook, Warren Sapp kept saying, ‘Where you been, Tom? . . . where you been?’ I told him my name was Tommie. So the next time I came in, he said, ‘Where you been, Tommie? . . . where you been?’ Finally, I turned around, looked at him and said, ‘It’s not where I’ve been . . . it’s where I’m going, fat a _ _!”
Frazier’s punch line brought the Football 202 house down, and there were more to come.
Brett Bunney, who traveled from Redondo Beach, Calif., to Lincoln to attend the 10-hour session, thought Frazier’s funniest line was his description of playing for Tom Osborne and Turner Gill at the same time.
Frazier gave animated impersonations of both coaches. For Osborne, the mock conversation was understatedly slow. For Gill, the dialogue was fast and inspired.
“It was almost like Coach Osborne was on No Doz for four years, and Coach Gill was on Red Bull, the energy drink,” Frazier said. “Try putting up with that for four years.”
Frazier gave similarly polar-opposite impersonations of two talented teammates – Aaron Graham, the soft-spoken All-America center and Christian Peter, the fire and brimstone-breathing defensive tackle.
When the laughs died down, Frazier was on to his next question, followed by another insightful observation and equal bits of candor.
Frazier’s Wife Also Knows How to Fight Fire with Fire
Papillion teachers Heather Messer and Heather Klassen thought Frazier was funny, too. But they think his wife, Andrea, must be every bit as funny as he is, especially when they heard her response to a question from Tommie over the most recent Fourth of July weekend while the family vacationed in his native Florida.
When Frazier asked Andrea what she thought about moving their 6-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter from Nebraska to Florida, she told him that if they moved, she’d cut her hair and not wear makeup. “That pretty much settled the issue right there,” Frazier quipped.
Arguably the best player in three straight national championship games (which produced two Husker wins and a two-point, last-minute loss), Frazier was asked about his fondest memory at Nebraska.
“Graduating!” he said to loud applause, explaining later that his mother and father both came from unusually large families and he was the first person in either family to receive a college diploma.
Asked about his favorite win at Nebraska, surprisingly it had little to do with conference or national championships.
“Beating Colorado every year,” Frazier responded immediately, explaining how unimpressed he was with the way the Buffs recruited him as a quarterback, then changed their mind. When he called CU with the idea of a possible commitment, Buff coaches told him they were now recruiting him as a defensive back. Their loss, for sure. Nebraska beat Colorado four times by an average score of 35-13 when Frazier was wearing red.
Tommie Said No to Game’s Biggest Winners
Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, who have won more games than any other coaches in college football history, both recruited Frazier. So did Lou Holtz, who was at Notre Dame at the time.
Frazier said there are two reasons he came to Nebraska – 1) head coach Tom Osborne and 2) assistant coach Kevin Steele. He said their leadership, philosophy and honesty convinced him and his parents to head to the heartland. Nebraska, he said, was the only team that made him feel like he was part of a family – a culture that has returned under second-year head coach Bo Pelini.
In an hour-long presentation, Pelini explained his philosophy of academic and athletic accountability. The biggest laughs came when he described the experience of going right into classrooms to check on players in his second month as Nebraska's head coach. Six players who were forced to join him for a 5 a.m. workout cured attendance problems in a real hurry, Pelini said.
Bo Pelini's no-nonsense approach and his blue-collar philosophy "are what sold my son on Nebraska in the first place,” Rick Burkhead said of incoming Plano, Texas, freshman running back Rex Burkhead.
Asked Friday about the Huskers' most promising newcomers, Nebraska tight end Mike McNeill mentioned Burkhead as a player who "has really caught my eye."
"Rex has been in Lincoln since June and really loves the culture here," said Rick Burkhead. An FBI agent for 13 years, he made the trip to Nebraska to get another inside look at the program that made such an impression on his family. “We’re a blue-collar family,” he said. “We like Coach Pelini’s black-and-white approach to hard work and how that determines every part of something special. We don't think stars have anything to do with what's in the hearts of recruits. Nebraska's commitment to walk-ons is great. The best players play, and that's the way it should be.”
Daryl Howard, a 34-year-old former Peru (Neb.) State College defensive tackle and now a mental health therapist in Omaha, also enjoyed listening to Pelini describe his defensive philosophy.
“I think Bo’s going to make a lot of progress in a conference that’s not playing a lot of defense these days,” Howard said. “If you listen to everything he says, you can see why he’s going to set Nebraska apart in the Big 12. He’s straightforward, and he makes a lot of sense. He doesn’t hide behind a veil of words. He knows he can scheme with anyone, but he also knows that defense in college football shouldn’t be so complex. It needs to be fundamentally sound, and he’s taking us back to our roots.”
Even an OU Professor Made the Journey to Lincoln
Every other member of what Pelini called the best coaching staff in the country gave 20-minute presentations at Football 202. Prince Amukamara, Alex Henery, Menelik Holt, Zac Lee and McNeill participated in a player panel, and the last formal session of the day was a popular, war-story presentation by former Husker coaches Milt Tenopir, Charlie McBride and Dan Young. When Pelini wrapped up the day, he was given a third and final standing overation.
Fans came from California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.
Mike Kaspari, who holds a master’s degree from Nebraska but has been a biology professor at Oklahoma the past 14 years, felt compelled to return to his hometown, so he could soak in the Pelini philosophy.
“It’s great to be around so many fans who want to learn more about the game and share an emotional connection with the team and the staff in equal portions,” Kaspari said.
“It digs so much deeper than just the team and the staff, really,” he added. “When I started to travel years ago, I was struck by how much the Nebraska football team and its coaches reflect the value system of the entire state. That’s why I came back – to give them the same fundamental support they give to all of us who care so much about what happens with them almost every day of the year.
“Today,” Kaspari said, “was everything I hoped it would be.”
Others seemed to share his opinion.
No wonder attendance nearly tripled from Year 1 to Year 2 for Football 202.
Sounds like a much larger skid of chairs may be in order for next summer as well.
Voices from Husker Nation
"I live in Jacksonville, Florida, but I was living in Tampa, directly north of Bradenton (Tommie's hometown), in 1995 when we played Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. I had listened to the Gator trash for too long before the game and was looking forward to the game being played. My co-worker and good friend was a Florida grad and loved the Gators. After the game, the riddle here in Florida was this: How many Gators does it take to tackle Tommie Frazier? Answer: Nobody knows!!! I went over to his office the morning after the game, and his door was shut with a note taped to it. It said: "Make it stop. Nebraska just scored again." To this day, whenever Gator fans get mouthy, I just bring up this game, and it stops any bad talk about Nebraska immediately." Tom Myers, Jacksonville, Fla.
"The Fiesta Bowl in 1995-96 was the greatest weekend of my life. Ten of us took a mobile home and drove through Las Vegas and spent a night there. We parked a block from the stadium and really enjoyed having some fun with all the Gator fans we met. A news camera came and kept showing Florida’s run-and-gun offense and our smash-mouth ground game. We sat on the side of the stadium of Tommie’s greatest run and watched every move as if it were in slow motion. We still remember how Florida fans started leaving the stadium after that run. They couldn’t take any more of it. All I heard from them was WOW! They could not believe how we stomped them. GBR!!!" Kim Fandry, Grand Island, Neb.
"Man, I remember Steve Spurrier having the strangest look on his face when we destroyed his Gators. Hopefully, we get some new stuff to talk about because that was 14 years ago. I live in Southern California, so I have to hear all the trash talk from Trojan fans. All I can say is, that was someone else's team, so give me a break." Justin McGill
"Great article! I loved Tommie’s memories about the coaches as well as other players (Tom and Turner, and Warren Sapp, were very funny!)." Cindy Bethel, Plattsmouth, Neb. "As a lifetime Husker stuck in Florida, I look forward to all news concerning the Huskers. Hope to get information soon about next year's session with Coach Pelini. I would love to attend that event. I am an Omaha North grad of '73 and still bleed Husker RED 24/7. I look forward to future articles just like this." Brad Blackford
"Great article! I loved Tommie’s memories about the coaches as well as other players (Tom and Turner, and Warren Sapp, were very funny!)." Cindy Bethel, Plattsmouth, Neb.
"As a lifetime Husker stuck in Florida, I look forward to all news concerning the Huskers. Hope to get information soon about next year's session with Coach Pelini. I would love to attend that event. I am an Omaha North grad of '73 and still bleed Husker RED 24/7. I look forward to future articles just like this." Brad Blackford