Huskers Illustrated writer/editor Mike Babcock, left, has known Tom Osborne for 34 years.
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BTN Captures Why Osborne’s a Big Ten Icon

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider 

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If you happened to miss Tuesday night's Tom Osborne feature on BTN's Big Ten Icons series, we have good news. You can see a replay on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. CT, on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. CT or on Sunday at 10 p.m. CT. If you're not a subscriber check this 5-minute highlight to see what you're missing. You can also use BTN2Go and leverage one of six cable TV providers to view the series online. Or you can go to the Osborne 'Big Ten Icon' show and use your user name and password through your local cable provider.

I offer that up without reservation because the Nebraska Athletic Department is part-owner of the Big Ten Network (BTN), and we have a vested interest in wanting to promote an ever-evolving network under the creative leadership of Mark Silverman.

For Nebraska, the beauty of BTN is simply this: Nebraska brings great value to BTN, and BTN delivers great value to Nebraska, not only in terms future revenue, but also in terms of national recruiting interest.

Remember, BTN is a network that reaches 75 million homes and has 45 million subscribers, so viewers across the country see Nebraska as an integral part of the oldest and most stable conference in intercollegiate athletics. Now that you know that, let me just say that I thought the Nebraska segment in the Big Ten Icons series was very well done and captured the essence of why a Hall-of-Fame football coach and now your athletic director became a Big Ten Icon.

Osborne Joins Bo, Woody, JoePa and Barry

In this Big Ten Icons series, Osborne joins fellow football legends Bo Schembechler of Michigan, Woody Hayes of Ohio State, Joe Paterno of Penn State and Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin. The series also includes basketball legends Bob Knight of Indiana, Gene Keady of Purdue, Jud Heathcote of Michigan State and Lou Henson of Illinois. Most fans know that Iowa's Dan Gable is a wrestling icon and that Minnesota's Herb Brooks became a hockey icon when he coached the Americans to the 1980 Miracle on Ice against the Russians. Brooks was killed in a car accident in 2003. The last Big Ten icon you may not know is Kelly Amonte-Hiller. She's led Northwestern to six NCAA lacrosse titles in seven seasons and has a 29-2 NCAA Tournament record and an overall mark of 162-10.

I mention all 12 Big Ten Icons because this series might do for BTN what 30 for 30 (30 films for 30 years) has done for ESPN ... become a consistent staple for its viewing audience. If you miss a show this week or next month, you still will have chances to view that same show later. The point is, they're all good and all worth watching.

That's the unique impact of being an equal partner in a trailblazing network. Big Ten Icons will be seen by recruits and their parents in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and they will learn who the Huskers are, understand what this state stands for and appreciate why our tradition has few peers.

They also will see Bo Pelini defend the honor of why Nebraska would attempt a 2-point conversion instead of kick an extra point to back its way into a 1983 national championship. Three decades later, they will see Nancy Osborne tell us why her husband would make the same decision "100 out of 100 times", even if he knew that decision would end the only unbeaten season in college football that year.

I was happy to see that Mike Babcock, this state's foremost authority on Nebraska football, was prominently featured in the Big Ten Icons film. Osborne, after all, has used excerpts from Babcock-written books that helped him describe his motto of doing things "The Right Way" - the same three words Keith Jackson says personify Osborne and his unparalleled quarter-century of college football excellence. Former Osborne assistants Ron Brown and Bill Myles are particularly eloquent in describing Osborne's 255-49-3 record over 25 years.

Babcock Applied for Lincoln Job Sight Unseen

In the film, Terry Connealy said hard work, character and integrity were hallmarks of Osborne's philosophy, and I couldn't help but think the same three traits describe Babcock, now in year No. 34 covering Nebraska football on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. I consider it a privilege to have worked with Mike for seven years at the Lincoln Journal-Star and to collaborate with him and help launch what is now called Huskers Illustrated, a magazine that still delivers his unique insight.

I remember being asked to review Mike's work before the Journal-Star hired him. He was teaching composition and introductory literature at Parkland Community College in Champaign, Ill., at the time, and working half time at the Champaign-Urbana Courier. More than 100 writers  applied for that Nebraska sports writing job in 1978, but in terms of grammar, style, punctuation, perspective and passion, Mike was in a league of his own, and he was the best teammate anyone could ask for.

Babcock has not lost his perspective or his passion. Last Friday night, when I was listening to him being interviewed by Jeff Culhane on the Husker Sports Network at the Nebraska Bookstore, he commented how much he enjoyed watching ex-Huskers Larry Asante and Zac Bowman sign autographs for fans. "That's why I've done what I've done for the last 34 years, because of guys like those two," Babcock told Culhane.

I was getting gas in my car at the time, but waited to get out, so I could listen longer to my longtime good friend who still inspires me. For this column, I asked Mike why his roots dig so deep. "If I could live anywhere I wanted, I would live here in southeast Nebraska," he said. "If I could do anything I wanted to do, it would be what I've done for the past 33 years, write about Husker athletics. I probably got into it for the games, but that quickly changed. I've continued for all these years because of the people, coaches, athletes, support personnel, administrators and fans ... people ... that's the attraction."

Babcock is a firm believer that everyone has a story worth telling, and he's written, edited or contributed to 10 books on the Huskers, all but one on football (the other was Husker basketball). If you count Huskers Illustrated's Silver Celebration Tribute to Tom Osborne, published in 1997, Babcock has written 11 books, and that's the figure I favor because it was a magazine-book that was rather exceptional, especially considering it was turned around in a couple of months and is long since sold out. Babcock's most recent books are the Nebraska Football Vault and Heart of a Husker, edited interviews that Osborne often carries with him to drive home a speaking point. Incidentally, both books are still relevant and would make great holiday gifts.

Covering Nebraska Football is Still a Privilege

"I have a great respect for and interest in Husker history," Babcock said. "I've tried to approach every game I cover as if it would be my last. In other words, I've never taken the opportunity to do what I do for granted."

The places Babcock has most enjoyed visiting are Owen Field in Norman, Okla., and Notre Dame Stadium because of the tradition at both places. "By my recollection, the first Husker football game I ever attended was against Kansas State in 1956," said Babcock, who has a brick from the old North Fieldhouse when it was demolished, and a paperweight piece from a goal post at Memorial Stadium the day Nebraska snapped Oklahoma's 74-game conference unbeaten streak in 1959. A champion for accuracy, Babcock points out that he was not there in 1959. He just has a reminder of what happened.

Babcock senses that we're getting too much information on him and tries to talk about some of his other favorite Husker sports, like basketball, baseball, track and field and volleyball before admitting that he's become more focused on football as the years have passed.

And thank goodness for that because as great as the Big Ten Icons show on Tom Osborne is, we have something from Babcock that could have merited inclusion in BTN's snapshot of history. As one of the game's greatest offensive innovators, Osborne designed, developed and honed one of the most creative option attacks in college football history. In this inaugural Husker season in the Big Ten, we offer a bonus Babcock column ... a look back at Bob Devaney and the relationship he had with Duffy Daugherty, an icon himself.

Since Nebraska just beat Michigan State and will play at Michigan in mid-November, consider Babcock's column as another important piece that helps you understand why Nebraska is very proud to have its own iconic presence in this iconic league.

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