After Giving Nebraska His Blood and Sweat, Big Suh Now Leaves His Tears
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No one saw it coming ... not his coaches, mom, dad or sister, not even Ndamukong Suh himself.
But there Big Suh was on a starry, starry Thursday night in Omaha, pausing abruptly the second he tried to share some private thoughts in front of 700 people who were hanging on every word he was saying while accepting his Outland Trophy at a crowded downtown hotel in his adopted state.
Yes, a man named Suh, whose first name means "House of Spears", was moved to tears when he made his fifth and final stop in a more than month-long journey that turned into the biggest award-winning tour for a lineman in college football history.
It's hard to describe how so much emotion unfolded so fast and so unexpectedly.
In my mind, Suh got to a fork in the road of his last speech while accepting his last college trophy, so he took it.
And did he ever pay for that extra-emotional decision.
This column, therefore, is dedicated to Suh's countless fans, who would have enjoyed seeing him open his heart and take that risky walk down memory lane. Once you see how deep his love is for his coaches, teammates, the state, the program and Big Red fans everywhere, you might just want to give Big Suh a big hand of your own.
It all started when Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini set the table so perfectly that a legendary player could deliver whatever last words he still carried inside.
Bo Recommends, Then Leads One More Chant
Never one to go overly emotional in public or off the sideline, Bo couldn't resist striking the match that lit the fire for one final chant of "Suuuuuuuuuuuhhhh" before giving the podium back to the 6-foot-4, 300-pound block of granite that he visited and re-recruited just one year ago this month.
Pelini knew Suh would be a first-round choice in last year's NFL draft, and he knew his prized pupil was trying to weigh whether it was best to leave Nebraska early or stay one more year.
Instead of picking up the phone, Pelini jumped on the quickest flight to Portland so he could sit down with the family and look them all squarely in the eye.
In his own living room, Suh told his head coach that he wanted to "have an impact on the University of Nebraska forever" and that he wanted to become the type of player that people "would be talking about forever."
Pelini listened quietly and then resorted to his usual black-and-white approach. "Do what you've got to do," he told Suh. "But to be at your very best, you need to stay at Nebraska."
Suh listened to his head coach just as intently as Pelini had listened to him. He found it easy to envision improving by leaps and bounds if he truly locked into learning the finer points of the game from Carl Pelini, an older brother that Bo called "the best defensive line coach in the country" in his final introduction of the evening.
Who knows? Maybe Suh, who agrees wholeheartedly with that assessment, was trying to make the same point when he began to break down.
One Look at Carl, and Tears Started to Come
"This coaching staff and Coach Carl ..." Suh said as looked at Carl before trailing off, choking up and falling completely silent.
Suh tried to go on, but he couldn't, so he bowed his head and shielded his face, putting his big right thumb over his right eye and his right index finger over his left eye.
His giant right hand may have pulled Colt McCoy and Blaine Gabbert down to the ground like they were nothing more than rag dolls, but that hand could not stop the tears from rolling down Big Suh's face.
Who would have thought that college football's most physical player in 2009 would become an emotional marshmallow in front of his most loyal followers?
Thankfully, Nebraska fans reacted with the same kind of support they always do. They applauded and let #93 know loud and clear that it was okay to wear his emotions on his sleeve, especially on this special night.
Guy Rozier, an assistant director of Development in Nebraska's Athletic Department, instinctively stood for a second or two and said, "It's okay man. It's okay". It seemed to show Suh that he had just transcended to a level Husker fans hold dearest.
Suddenly, the room felt eerily connected to Big Suh when he needed it most. At that very moment, the eyes of Bonnie Novak sparkled more than they had all night. The widow of Nebraska legend Tom Novak smiled contentedly and gave a writer sitting across the table from her the ultimate approval sign - a gracious nod of the head as if to say this guy breathes the same kind of passion that her late husband had, or Matt O'Hanlon had, or Phillip Dillard had.
Two long shot Blackshirts who were sitting at the head table with Suh, O'Hanlon and Dillard won the Clete Fischer Native Son Award and the Tom Novak Award, respectively, so they were already well woven into the emotional fabric of the evening.
O'Hanlon was a walk-on who had gone from a night-time security guard at Target and 3 a.m. weightlifting sessions to make the team, become a starter and have a three-interception game against Oklahoma, not to mention intercepting a pass that set the tone for the entire Holiday Bowl.
Dillard didn't play a minute in the first two games of his senior season, but he never quit working, stayed as positive as a Sunday School teacher and seized an injury-afforded opportunity that put him back on a field that he would never leave again. The next field you might see the Second-Team All-Big 12 linebacker on just might be an NFL field. He's that good.
One, Two, Three Standing Ovations for Big Suh
Those are inspirational stories in their own right, and Suh sat there listening to them before getting the second of his third standing ovation (the first came when he won the Guy Chamberlin Trophy and the third after he finished his emotionally charged Outland Trophy acceptance speech).
When you know everything that's going through Mr. Suh's mind, at warp speed no less, you begin to understand why he couldn't complete his first sentence when he looked at the position coach who took him where he wanted to go and beyond.
Fortunately, someone handed Big Suh a white hankie that might have come in handy for Longhorn fans whenever Suh started tracking McCoy in the Big 12 Championship game at Cowboy Stadium.
Suh took the handkerchief and promptly wiped away his tears, blew his nose and, almost heroically, went on to tell Carl Pelini how much it meant when he would shut his door, just so the two of them could sit and talk about football in his office or about life in general.
There are undoubtedly other things that can influence emotions that become so raw and yet so real.
Perhaps it was Suh subconsciously thinking about the high school band playing the Nebraska fight song one last time, just for him, on his special night.
Then there's his flat-out confession that the video he'd never seen - one that included pictures of him in a soccer uniform when he was little. That footage hit him hard because they made him realize how far he'd come and how long that road is from chubby childhood and total anonymity to chiseled Division I athlete and household name.
Suh said the video also made him remember how physical he was and how he seemed to fall victim to cheap officiating calls. It made him wonder just where he'd be now if he hadn't discovered a game where he could actually hit people and not get in trouble for it.
Another thought flashing through the mind of a December NU Engineering grad in Construction Management was his mom's heavily enforced edict that he could only play football if he earned the grades that she demanded. When a parent cares that much, it charts a productive course and enables you to play in a value-driven football program and, at the same time, get the academic and life skills benefits that inspire you to settle for nothing less than the very best.
No wonder the tears hit Suh so fast and so hard. You'd cry, too, if all that happened to you.
A columnist has isolated thoughts of his own while watching the drama unfold and play itself out.
It's hard to believe, for instance, how Suh could turn a locker room interview about him and his remarkable career after the Holiday Bowl win over Arizona into an instant analysis about Nebraska and what could be coming the Huskers' way soon.
National Player of the Year Sees a National Title
"I wish I could play one more year here and win a national championship," the 2009 AP National Player of the Year told me before catching himself and amending his statement to ease any unintentional pressure.
"If Nebraska doesn't win next year, they'll win a national title the year after that," Suh predicted. "Those dudes coming back on that defense know how to play. There will be no drop-off on defense. They WILL be better than we were because they'll have one more year in Coach Bo and Coach Carl's system. Man, I'd like to have one more year in that system."
Sorry Big Suh. Those coaches have done all they can do for you. Besides, they see bigger and better things happening for you in the NFL after you spent the last two years rebuilding the foundation of a proud program.
And here's one last thought. With all the blood and the sweat that you gave to put Nebraska back together again, the only things left for you to give the Huskers were your tears.
Now that we have those, too, you can leave Lincoln with everyone's blessing and, rest assured, we will remember you forever, and we will talk about you forever.
Voices from Husker Nation
It is amazing with the legacy and rich history of Cornhusker football that we continue to experience another outstanding part of that history with a Man named Suh. From all the trials and tribulations of Tom Osborne winning a National Championship to a coaching era that took us to the lowest level in half a century. Now we have a coaching staff that has revitalized our program from the past into the future we have come to expect. The players will continue to energize and bring the program to its glory days. Thank you, Mr. SUH and company, for the outstanding year. I know the tradition has been returned to the Husker Nation. Good Luck in the NFL. Rick Hanus, Columbus, Nebraska
As a true fan of Nebraska football, it has been a wonderful year to see this team, and especially Suh, help bring the Huskers back from the brink. Suh has more than paved the way. He is the epitome of what a football player for the Corhuskers stands for. Not just the hard work, dedication, and selflessness. It comes from your heart. From your soul. It is the understanding that you represent every man, woman, and child who loves and cares for Huskers football. You are the embodiment of what this state can do if you work hard, and are as tough as nails. Suh showed all of us what can be possible when the right coaches and the right players, who have the right attitude, can do when they ingrain themselves in the Scarlet and Cream. It is not just the wins or losses. It is the how the spirit of Husker Nation, and of past glories, get into your body and soul. Thanks Suh, and the coaches and team, for leading us home. Chad David, Albion, Nebraska
Not only did I take in every word in your emotional article, I also took in the heartfelt words of the Husker Nation in the comments below. It became apparent to me that not only did "Our Son" Suh take home every award known to defense ... he also took home something so much more - "A Huge Tear from the Heart of the Husker Nation." I believe this incredible man is the first Nebraska Cornhusker to have ever achieved such genuine gratitude. I can't think of another. Suh truly achieved his goals and much more. Forever, SUUUHHHH. Lisa Miller, Pittsburg, Kansas
I'm responding to your piece on Ndamukong Suh's acceptance of the Outland in Omaha. First, job well done. It was excellent. I have to say that I was never much of a Nebraska football fan until my daughter became a Husker last year. Okay, to be honest, I hated them. It dates back to the Game of the Century, and I won't go into details. Last year though, I began to pull for the Huskers as I could see the transformation that was taking place with Coach Pelini at the helm and Mr. Osborne's leadership. I have always been one to support the underdog. After all, I am a Cleveland Browns fan. This year, I am admittedly Husker Red to the bone. I am a 53-year-old man, but I felt like a kid again as I was inspired by the never quit efforts of O'Hanlon, Dillard, Helu and many others. I'm still not sure they are as good as they played, but I have always believed that the focused collective efforts of a well-coached team can overcome better individual talent possessed by the opponents. This leads me to Mr. Suh. I hope someday, I will meet this young man. As I watched his stock rise each week of the season, I would not have been surprised to see him become more about himself than being a Husker. After all, after only a few weeks, it was apparent the Huskers wouldn't be title contenders. However, quite to the contrary, Ndamukong seemed to become more about the team than himself. Character is a quality that will serve a man throughout his life. I believe Ndamukong possesses it and that he has helped build it in is teammates. I honor him for his example and wish him well. Marty Guindon, Pierre, South Dakota
I am responding to Suh's final walk in Omaha for his award. We as Husker Nation are so blessed to have watched and shared such a dedicated and heartfelt season with Ndamukong Suh. He will never know how much he impacted the state as a whole. He is an awesome role model as well as a thrill to watch on the Blackshirts. My kids loved him so much. My son Logan, 5, always sported the #93 Jersey every game and my daughter Kaylen, 8, cried so hard after the Holiday Bowl knowing we wouldn't get to watch him play as a Blackshirt anymore. But I know his talent and great education will take him far, and we are not done watching him yet. He will be a force to reckin' with in the NFL but will be greatly missed by Husker fans everywhere. We love you Suh and will follow you career and wish you the best. One last GO BIG RED and SUHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! Laurie Streeter, North Platte, Nebraska
I wish I could have been one of the 700 who got to experience Suh's final acceptance speech. He has been a joy to watch, all the amazing things he did, the tackles he made when double- and triple-teamed. He truly is one player I will remember for a long time. Our fans were able to watch greatness on the field and humility off the field, every week. The players who follow him have had a wonderful role model. Lennae Seevers, Omaha, Nebraska
Ndamukong Suh makes the state a special place where special things happen in all walks of life. Only here can "There Is No Place Like Nebraska" flower, inspire and get sung from the heart. Outstanding student Suh has carved his niche in Cornhusker football tradition and contributed strongly to the University's stature in education. His name will be remembered alongside Chamberlin, Weir, Novak, Reynolds, Rodgers and many others we watched soar to greatness. There's a new chapter in Husker lore! Only in Nebraska. Charles Beal
I just want to respond to the article on Suh. When someone has given their whole heart to something - and to people they love - there is nowhere else to go but to let those tears come and show the emotion it took to play with the heart and intensity he played with. I am just sorry I never got to see him play in person. This year, 2010, our family is going to try and watch the Husker-Huskie game in Seattle. Suh will be in our minds and hearts forever, and we will look forward to watching him in the NFL. GO SUH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Your legacy will live on. Thank you. Susan Odell, Roswell, New Mexico
I could write thousands of words describing how much Ndamukong Suh has meant to this Husker family. However, two words will have to suffice as they hold all the sentiment in them as thousands of words: "Thank you!!! Mr. Suh." Ed, Penny, Eddie, Jason LeGate (Spring,Texas; Lantana,Texas; McKinny, Texas)
With the emotions I felt just reading this moving article, one question remains for me. Was there a dry eye in room? It must've been an unforgettable night for all 700 attendees. I was in tears just reading the article. I only wish I was one of the 700. Steve Schuh, Whittier, California
How much does it say about Ndamukong to mention that he brought tears to my eyes? He'll never really know how much he has done for everyone in Nebraska, and what he'll continue to do. What a great young man. My heart swells with pride to call him a Husker. Haley Cox, Eaton, Colorado
To have the kind of coaching staff and players that the University of Nebraska has at this time and moment makes everyone in the state of Nebraska - as well as the entire nation - very proud, not to mention how proud we are of the accomplishments of a defensive tackle named Suh. We have Dr. Tom Osborne and the school to thank for bringing Bo Pelini to Nebraska football. Living in Colorado since 1973, I love to show everyone that I am from Nebraska, where we have great sportsmanship and the passion for who we really are as fans and citizens of the great state of Nebraska. No one understands that unless they have lived in our state. They do not understand our passion and our pride for our state. It is my hope that Bo and his staff will be part of Nebraska for many years to come. He is a true example of what Tom Osborne was - and still is - to this entire state. Bob Feldman, Coloradoans for Nebraska, Thornton, Colorado
Once again, your words and descriptions took me right there! Thank you for the great article on Suh. We have been blessed! Tammy Dean, Bridgeport, Nebraska
Great article. It's a pleasure to read your stuff about the Huskers. And it's especially nice when you write a fantastic account of what I think is a pivotal moment in the Husker football legacy. Ron Sinclair, Chicago, Illinois
Maybe it is just an emotional day for me, but I just read your article titled "After Giving Nebraska His Blood and Sweat, Big Suh Now Leaves Nebraska His Tears", and I literally had to wipe my own tears. Someone like Suh, with his special character and outstanding physical ability, does not come around often. To read and see about his determination and love for both the sport and the wonderful state of Nebraska just makes someone born and bred Big Red a little emotional. We will be losing a GREAT one, but we have gained our pride back, and we have great faith in the ones left behind. I also believe, as Suh does, that we WILL be National Champions once again - if not in 2010, then in 2011. Thanks for your wonderful articles throughout the year. I read them all. A loyal and faithful Husker Fan. Christal Rose, Arapahoe, Nebraska
Great article. Lots of Husker fans live in our area, and we have cheered for Mr. Suh with enthusiasm. The guy simply exudes what's good and true about the Huskers. Wish I could have been there!! Tim Schwan, Appleton, Wisconsin
Makes me wonder how long it will be before we see #93 along the "ring of fame" in Memorial Stadium. Scott Anderson, Thornton, Colorado
You hit the nail on the head by putting us in the emotions of the moment. Now, one more request of Mr. Suh: Come back often. You're always welcome. John Rownd, Lincoln, Nebraska
Great article on SUH. He'll be remembered always by the Husker Nation, and it'll be awesome to watch him get even better (if that's possible) in the NFL. Todd Mousel, US Navy, Hampton, Virginia
What a great article describing a young man who is indescribable! It wasn't just his athletic ability that got him where he is today. His humble heart and love for the game itself is what put him in our hearts forever. John DeCecco, Lathrop, Missouri
Your story on Ndamukong Suh was very emotionally filling and moved me to tears. Thank you! GO BIG RED! Robert Cookson, Salina, Kansas
What a wonderful story on Suh...brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing. Karl Kratzer
Way to go! This is an awesome article that I will share with all my family. Keep up the good work. Marcia Vogel, Alliance, Nebraska
Wow . . . great tribute to a great player. Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the article. Larry Paxson, Beaver Crossing, Nebraska
Right on. GO BIG RED! AND GO BIG SUH!! Dave Stoker, Des Moines, Iowa
Suh has provided Nebraska fans a young, very talented and responsible football player that doesn't come along very often. Good luck in your pro career. You made Nebraska proud of you!! Rose Edwards