By Randy York, The N-Sider
The starting center for Bob Devaney’s first three Nebraska football teams – and first three teams that launched the Huskers' national record of 354 consecutive home football game sellouts – died last week at age 74. Lyle Sittler, a native of rural Martell, Neb., earned a full football scholarship after graduating from Crete (Neb.) High School in 1960.
Sittler went on to become a Husker co-captain in 1964, a Nebraska Football Hall of Fame inductee in 1999, a first-team All-Big Eight Conference selection and an honorable mention All-America honoree. He also earned the coveted Tom Novak Award for exemplifying courage and determination despite all odds.
“I was saddened to hear of the passing of Lyle Sittler, who’s a true Husker legend,” said Keith Zimmer, Nebraska’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Life Skills and the N Club. “Lyle and his wife, Alice, enjoyed many of our N Club events. He was a proud Husker alum and a very proud grandfather who attended many youth sporting events to support his grandchildren. Lyle is synonymous with the core values we embrace with Nebraska Athletics….Integrity, Trust, Respect, Teamwork and Loyalty.”
Sittler's Celebration of Life service begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, at Grace United Methodist Church in Crete. Family will greet friends from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10 at Grace United.
Family members will wear red in Lyle's honor and encourage others to follow suit, if desired. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the family for future designation. Contributions can be sent to the family or to the Lincoln Memorial Funeral Home at 6800 S.14th Street.
Nebraska's 1964 Homegrown Co-Captains Were Lyle Sittler and Bob Hohn
Sittler (52) and Beatrice native Bob Hohn (18) were homegrown Husker co-captains in 1964. They became close friends at Nebraska, after being rivals during their high school careers.
Hohn, the state’s prep athlete of the year, was the offensive player of the Shrine game and went on to play five seasons in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers following his Husker career.
Sittler never forgot how Hohn fell victim to ALS and died on Thanksgiving Day, 2003. The two became close friends at Nebraska.
Before his death, Hohn wrote a farewell to friends to be read at his memorial service. Among those in attendance was Sittler. “I smile because I knew a man named Bob Hohn, but yes, I do have tears in my eyes,” Sittler said in What It Means to Be a Husker, a book published in 2004.
Sittler was slowed a little by Parkinson’s, but John Mabry said the disease did not touch his smile or sense of humor. Mabry wrote a definitive profile for Hail Varsity magazine last year. “The Husker Hall of Famer can still take you down memory lane without missing a turn,” Mabry said.
KU's Gale Sayers (48, Omaha Central), Ron Marshall (67, Omaha Tech) and Sid Micek (10, Scottsbluff) met NU's Lyle Sittler (52, Crete) and Bob Hohn (18, Beatrice) in 1963 Big Eight game at Lincoln's Memorial Stadium. Omaha World Herald Photo
Sittler Remembered Having Good Angle on Sayers' 99-Yard Touchdown Run
Mabry led his Legends of the Fall feature with one of Sittler's favorite stories – a hopeful but mostly futile chase against Kansas star Gale Sayers in November of 1963. The Huskers won the game 23-9, but Sittler lost a foot race with Sayers, as most opponents did.
"Sittler was a center, but because of limited substitution rules at that time, he was asked to play both ways quite often," Mabry wrote. “We were playing KU up here, and I was forced because of the exchange rule to be in on defense. I had a good angle on him on a run, and I thought ‘I think I got a shot.’ Got around to about the 40-yard line and thought ‘I might have a shot.’”
Truth is, he didn’t have a shot. "The Kansas Comet blew by Sittler and a bunch of other Huskers on his way to a 99-yard touchdown run," Mabry wrote. "Sittler ended up close to the KU sideline, where former NU coach Bill Jennings, with Kansas at the time, said, 'Nice try, Lyle.'
“Gale was very congenial,” Sittler said. “He said 'there wasn’t anyone else trying to catch me. At least you were in the area.'” That 99-yard sprint is the longest touchdown run against Nebraska in its fabled 125-year history. So whoever attends Saturday's memorial service in Crete, wear something red and enjoy a good chuckle in honor of the late Lyle Sittler, who embraced his faith and loved his family, farming and football...in that order.
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Voices from Husker Nation
What a surprise we had when we became aware of your article about Lyle. Thank you for recognizing him and his personification of core Husker values. He was truly a team player in all that he did in his life and work. We appreciate your time to let others know of his many talents, his big heart and the way he demonstrated how to live a life well lived. Being a Husker was an incredibly important piece of his life, and we will honor that this weekend. Our kindest regards, Alice Sittler, Lyle’s wife (Martell, Neb.) and family; daughter Jana Sittler (Auburn, Neb.) and family; daughter Kristen Eggerling (Martell, Neb.) and family; and Meghan Sittler (Lincoln, Neb.) and family.
Thank you for a very nice article about my dear Uncle Lyle. Since you mentioned the Gale Sayers’ story, I thought you might like to know that Lyle really liked Gale. They played in the All-American Game together in June of 1965. Alice and Lyle were on their honeymoon so we didn't get too many details of their trip, but they did tell about going out to dinner with Gale and his wife. I was only a 6th-grader at the time, but impressed enough to remember. Thanks again for telling these stories. Debra Parson, Independence, Mo.
Nice job in personifying Lyle Sittler’s great Christian life. He was a Christ-like role model and made us better to have known him, showing us all the right way to live. Roger Douglas, Crete, Nebraska