Nebraska 2012 Hall-of-Famer Dale Klein holds three NCAA individual kicking records.
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‘Rocket Man’ Klein Knows NU Degree’s Value

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York’s N-Sider

Anyone ever wonder why Nebraska student-athletes grin from ear-to-ear when they get their college diplomas and move the tassels on their graduation caps? Here’s one theory: No one knows the value of that sheepskin better than University of Nebraska Cornhusker student-athletes. From the minute they arrive on campus to the second they get that diploma in their hands, they know what they’ve achieved ... their No. 1 goal,  and no one knows that better than Dale "Rocket Man" Klein, a Nebraska kicker who still holds three NCAA records related to his 7-for-7 field goal performance at Missouri in 1985.

Surely, you remember Klein, the Seward (Neb.) walk-on who almost single-footedly beat Missouri in Columbia 27 years ago, but we’ll get to that later. There are three much bigger headlines in his life right now: 1) His induction into the Nebraska Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame Friday night in Lincoln;  2) Standing with fellow 2012 Hall-of-Fame inductees Steve Manstedt, Bill Weber, Josh Heskew and DeJuan Groce Saturday when they’re introduced to another Memorial Stadium sellout crowd that also will honor Frank Solich and Ahman Green in absentia for the same honor; and 3) Well, let’s put it this way ... how many former football players are checking on things on another planet the night before they become a Hall-of-Famer at Nebraska?

Let the record show the likely answer to that question is zero, meaning that Klein, a certified lead engineer for the structural design of space rocket nosecones, just may be in a league of his own, athletically, academically and in life.

We all know how certain people say “this isn’t rocket science” when they talk about simplifying solutions. Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne referenced that wisdom Friday night, acknowledging how Klein flies in the face of such discussion. He is, after all, celebrating year No. 25 as a rocket scientist for the United Launch Alliance, the main space launcher for the United States, and believe it or not, he was tending to some rocket science issues late Thursday night so he could enjoy this weekend’s historical celebration.

Helps Launch Spy Satellites, Planetary Probes

Who would have thought an NCAA record-holding walk-on kicker would work for the combined space divisions of Lockheed Martin (the Atlas V Rocket) and Boeing (the Delta IV Rocket)? Who would have guessed that a Cornhusker kicker would play a role in launching military payloads (spy satellites), NASA satellites and planetary probes, and commercial satellites (TV, weather, and communication).

“Yes, we've been launching the Mars probes, including the rover that's currently sending back all those cool pictures of Mars,” Klein said, taking us to our primary point when I ask him about the value of his University of Nebraska education ... the one that helped him compete at an institution which has won more football games than any other Division I school over the last 50 years,  the only university that has sold out every game over the last 50 years and, I’m taking a leap of logic here, probably makes Dale Klein the only NCAA individual football record-holder with a meaningful role that helped NASA’s latest explorer, a huge robot aptly named Curiosity, land on the surface of Mars after a nine-month journey.

Since one Martian year is roughly the equivalent of two earth years, I ask Klein for a quick quip, and he does not disappoint.

“That mechanical engineering degree from Nebraska sure is paying off,” he said, satisfying my curiosity about the relationship between his diploma and the life he now lives. Since space is the central theme in his daily business life, why not play off Curiosity’s two robotic predecessors – Spirit and Opportunity – and see how a bright walk-on that we call Rocket Man can relate football to science.

He Can Still Hear Bremser’s Voice Growing Up

Spirit, in Dale Klein’s brain, goes back to his "growing up days" when imagination was every bit as important as watching football live. “I really loved listening to Lyell Bremser call the games on the radio,” Klein said. “Back in those days, we weren’t on TV all that much, so just his voice describing the Huskers was very memorable.”

In Klein’s mind, Spirit is nothing more than Jim Pillen recovering Billy Sims’ crucial fumble in the waning moments of a titanic Nebraska-Oklahoma game inside Memorial Stadium in 1978. It is John Ruud “absolutely clobbering” an Oklahoma kickoff returner in that same classic matchup and causing a fumble that the officials refused to rule a fumble. Spirit waxed and waned until it finally rewarded Osborne with his first win over Oklahoma after five straight losses. The No.1 Sooners left Lincoln a 17-14 upset victim, only to be rematched with the Huskers in the Orange Bowl five weeks later.

Opportunity? That’s an easy one for a walk-on rocket scientist. Opportunity depends on “teamwork, discipline and perseverance,” Klein said. “As a walk-on, I knew I needed to work hard for every success out there. I knew not to give up or quit when I didn’t obtain my goal. You just persevere and get after it harder."

Klein beat out scholarship kickers at Nebraska. He earned his job, and that experience helped him learn how to get a real job a few years later. “At Nebraska, coaches are not just going to give it to you,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest life lessons I learned, right there.”

As Freshmen, Performance was Measured Daily

Evaluation was a daily process at Nebraska, even for the freshman team. “They charted us every day,” Klein recalled, “and after looking at all the data, I started as a kicker on that freshman team. I believe I made six of my eight field goals. I redshirted the next year, and the rest is history. I so appreciated my coach’s fairness about playing the best player, no matter who he is or where he came from.”

Klein is especially proud that his seven field goals and one extra point accounted for 22 of Nebraska’s 28 points in that 28-20 escape at Mizzou. “They weren’t just a bunch of chip shots,” he said. “It was a tight game, so each field goal was needed for the team to win. I broke a lot of records that day that still exist, so I am very proud of that achievement.”

One of his field goals that day was 44 yards. Three others split the uprights from 43 yards. His other conversions were from 32, 29 and 22 yards, and we probably should point out that Klein said Friday night that his kicking job was on the line before that game. Somehow and in some way, Klein's performance proved that lead engineers for rocket launches thrive under pressure. All three years (1984-85-86) that Klein started as Nebraska’s kicker, the Huskers finished among the nation’s final top 10 teams.

Klein’s three NCAA records are for most field goals in a half (5), most field goals in a game and best field goal percentage for the highest number of converted field goals in a game. Only four other Huskers own individual NCAA records. Three of them are Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier (yards per carry for both a single season and career); Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch (career rushing touchdowns); and Detroit Lion defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (career blocked field goals).

Henery: Most Accurate Kicker in NCAA History

Big Red loyalists know the other Husker NCAA record-holder ... another kicker ... the best kicker, in fact, in Nebraska history. Alex Henery, the most accurate kicker in NCAA history, has a grand total of seven NCAA individual kicking records.

Incidentally, Klein predicted that Henery would break those NCAA records early in his junior year. He also believes the Huskers are blessed with “our next great kicker in Bret Maher” and thinks if Maher continues to deliver like he has, Nebraska might become known as “Kicker U” with a steady succession of successful kickers he’d like to think he’s a part of.

“I didn’t even know kickers could get into the Hall of Fame until I checked and saw Paul Rogers was the first,” Klein quipped at Friday night’s induction ceremony. “Some don’t consider kickers part of a team. When I was told I was in the Hall of Fame, my wife, MiMi, said: ‘What? You’re in the Hall of Fame? There are a lot better kickers than you out there!’”

From the smile on his face while delivering the punch line, you get the impression that Klein, Nebraska’s No. 16 all-time leading scorer, does not necessarily disagree. He knows that his performance at Missouri was his signature moment that framed a career of being part of teams that played in two Orange Bowls and a Fiesta Bowl. “You hear how Michael Jordon would always get in a zone,” Klein said. “Well, I was in a zone that game. Football is a team game, and I did something for the team that day.

“Overall, I like where Nebraska is going, especially in this era of college football where there are more good teams and a reduced number of scholarships,” Klein said. “That makes it harder to go 10-1 or 11-0 like the glory years.”

Kickers are from Nebraska; Records from Mars

Records like Klein’s are important, but not nearly as important as getting that college diploma. Especially when you think of Elton John’s lyrics and how they can apply to a lead engineer and an NCAA record-holding kicker:

And I think it's gonna be a long long time
Till touch down brings me round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I'm a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it's cold as hell
And there's no one there to raise them if you did
And all this science I don't understand
It's just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man

Indeed, Nebraska’s version of Rocket Man is in Lincoln this weekend with his wife, two sons, a daughter, his mother, an older brother, a father-in-law, plus sisters-in-law and brothers-in-laws and their families ... 21 supporters in all.

Career Performance Gets Lost in the Shuffle

Too bad Klein couldn’t get one more supporter to sit at one of his banquet tables in a room that reached its capacity of 240. One more would have given Klein 22, so he could metaphorically match his NCAA record-breaking 22-point, zoned in effort at Mizzou ... a day when it seemed he truly was on another planet.

Who knows? Maybe Oct. 19, 1985, was the impetus for Klein to help make the impossible possible and therefore help Curiosity reach Mars.

Ask Husker running back Doug DuBose, who rushed for a career-high 199 yards in that same game, only to get upstaged by a kicker, a Rocket Man, an NCAA record-holder and now, finally, a Hall-of-Famer.

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