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American Astronaut Clay Anderson shows why he's a Husker fan, 236 miles above the earth.
Courtesy: NU Media Relations
          Release: 04/10/2010
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Did Clifford Hardin Help Fuel the Passion for Nebraska’s International Heroes?

Randy York's N-sider

To "Respond to Randy" click on the link below and choose "Randy York's N-Sider" under "Area of Interest" on the new screen. Please include your name and city/town/state and share your thoughts on the late Clifford Hardin's decision to hire Bob Devaney or your thoughts on Warren Buffett's, Clay Anderson's and Curtis Tomasevicz's passion for Nebraska football.

This has been quite a week for Nebraska. 

Astronaut and Ashland native Clay Anderson is 236 miles above the earth, holding a red cap with a white N on it, not to mention a pair of gloves used by Olympic gold medal bobsledder Curtis Tomasevicz.

A former Husker linebacker and special teams player, Tomasevicz did something that only a walk-on player with high character would do. On Wednesday, in a special ceremony in his hometown, Tomasevicz shared his Olympic gold ring with all 690 residents of Shelby, Neb., giving them a piece of something special because they all gave him something special growing up.

Then there was Warren Buffett. On Tuesday, his Berkshire Hathaway company emerged from a national Harris interactive poll owning "the best reputation" of America's 60 most visible businesses. 

Yes, it was something to see three Nebraska natives embellish their reputations as international heroes.

Who else could claim an astronaut, an Olympic gold medalist and America's best known businessman making national headlines in the same week?

Is Nebraska a great state or what?

Before we answer that question, let's mention another Nebraskan who commanded national headlines this week - Clifford Hardin, a former University of Nebraska chancellor and U.S. secretary of agriculture. He died last Sunday at his home in Lincoln, and his funeral was Friday. He was 94.

Hardin Brought Devaney to Lincoln, and He Stayed

You could argue that Hardin may have been one of the most important historical figures in Nebraska state history. Without question, he made one of the most popular decisions, if not the most popular decision in state history when he convinced Bob Devaney to leave Wyoming and resurrect Nebraska football.

University of Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman called Hardin "the founder of the modern University of Nebraska," and NU President James B. Milliken said the Indiana native "was a wise transformational leader, and more than any other person shaped the modern, multi-campus University of Nebraska."

Hardin helped Nebraska quadruple its enrollment in his years as chancellor (1954-68). He also led a bipartisan effort to pass the historic 1970 farm aid bill as secretary of agriculture.

Those achievements were incredible, but they are not what forever endeared Hardin to Nebraskans.

It was his behind-the-scenes troubleshooting to hire a head football coach that could transform the way the world looked at the University of Nebraska and the way the university looked at itself.

Hardin was able to make that happen because he shared the same values as Nebraskans, and he had a fundamental goal to create something great in a state not exactly known for its greatness.

He was your classic dreamer whose devout belief fueled his enthusiasm, and that, in turn, exploded into a passion that fired people's souls and lifted their spirits.

Duffy Was the Link between Hardin, Devaney

That was the almost immediate outcome of Hardin's aggressive pursuit of a relatively unknown football coach. Owning three degrees, including a Ph.D. from Purdue, Hardin became a professor of agriculture at Michigan State, where he met Duffy Daugherty, Devaney's mentor and confidant.

When Bill Jennings was fired as head football coach at Nebraska, Chancellor Hardin contacted Daugherty about his interest in taking the job. Daugherty said no because he wanted to stay at Michigan State, but he told Hardin that he should consider hiring Devaney from Wyoming,

Daugherty's word then was like Tom Osborne's word now. You could pretty much take it to the bank, so Hardin pursued a perfectly content Devaney with vigor.

The two shared a history of growing up in hard times. They both knew what it was like to experience the Depression and learned the value of hard work at an early age. To supplement the family income, Hardin's father worked on agricultural ventures in Florida for half the year, leaving Clifford, then a teenager, to manage the family farm during his absences.

In The New York Times' obituary of Hardin, the newspaper quoted from an interview it did with him in 1983 - the same year Nebraska set the NCAA football record for scoring.

Hardin explained his effort to hire Devaney and to seek national football prominence this way: "The (Nebraska) people came through the Depression. They came through the drought years. I felt the state needed something to rally around. If we could pull this off, it could be the difference. I think, in retrospect, it probably helped us get more money to build the university."

In there somewhere is a certain "a-ha" moment - Hardin's vision to hire a football coach who could galvanize the university, fire up the state and create at least some kind of national impact.

You know the rest of the story. Devaney arrived with a bit of fanfare and remolded an amazing amount of returning talent. He and his staff, which came almost intact from Wyoming, couldn't believe the athletes who were mired in the depths of one losing season after another. They shortened practices, strengthened relationships, used a rare unbalanced line on offense and became ferocious on defense.

In his First Year, Devaney Kick-Started the Program

The Huskers won their first bowl game ever in Devaney's first year as head coach. They filled the stadium against Missouri that same season and have filled it for every game since. A year later, they were in the Orange Bowl.

It was unbelievable, but true. Hardin's decision to hire a future Hall of Fame coach transformed Nebraska from chronic loser to national prominence. And sure enough, almost as quick as an overnight delivery, an entire state started looking at itself differently than it ever had in the past.

Players and fans alike couldn't help but marvel at what happened when vision met venture. They were amazed at how different everything looks when you actually step up the stairs instead of stare up at the steps. The Huskers did something no one else in the country was doing. They skipped "good" and went from "mediocre" to "very good". You better believe they started dreaming about that next step called "great".

It makes you wonder, though, doesn't it? Did one Hardin telephone call really influence the likes of Buffett, Anderson and Tomasevicz?

I don't think it's far-fetched at all to say that the greatness of Nebraska football fired the souls and lifted the spirits of Anderson and Tomasevicz, but we'll wait to present the case for Buffett later.

Watch Anderson Meet Osborne for First Time

Hit the play arrow above and check out Anderson meeting Osborne, his childhood hero, for the first time. Watch the short highlight from a beautifully crafted Nebraska Educational Television documentary, Hometown Astronaut: The Clay Anderson Story. You'll see why an inspired Anderson had no problem taking apart the ammonia lines on a 1,700-pound tank outside the International Space Station on Friday and got a new one ready to put in its place.

The tank got hung up a bit when Anderson had to remove the tank out of space shuttle Discovery's payload bay. But with the help of his spacewalking partner, he got it done.

Interestingly, at last year's Governor's Premiere for his television documentary at the Strategic Air and Space Museum near his hometown of Ashland, Anderson unabashedly admitted that one of his favorite possessions ever is a football signed by Osborne and Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini.

We've written three columns on Curtis Tomasevicz this year, so you know how Nebraska football influenced his pursuit of gold in Vancouver's Olympic Winter Games. After his record-breaking run at Whistler, Canada, Tomasevicz now goes where everyone knows his name.

Anderson and Tomasevicz share the bond of perseverance. For 14 straight years, Anderson applied to NASA for a chance to be an astronaut. He decided his 15th time would be his last, and, lo and behold, he was finally accepted. Tomasevicz, similarly, waited patiently for five years to get his chance in football. Even though he never started, he finally lettered as a senior linebacker in 2003.

Buffett, of course, is in a league of his own. And America's most famous investor, as well as one of the world's most notable philanthropists, makes no bones about his favorite thing to do besides buy railroads and create value.

In an MSNBC documentary three years ago, Buffett was asked what he enjoyed most, and here's what the Oracle of Omaha said: Put on my sweats, pop some popcorn and sit down and watch my beloved Cornhuskers play football on television.

You should have seen Buffett on Nebraska's sidelines last November as a guest coach for the NU-OU game. He was celebrating like the Dow hit 11,000 that weekend instead of on Friday for the first time in a year-and-a-half.

Like Everyone Else, Buffett Loves a Winner

Okay, it's a bit of a stretch to say Hardin's decision to hire Devaney in 1962 helped fuel the passion of Buffett, who grew up sitting in the customers' lounge of a regional stock brokerage near his father's own brokerage company. At age 10, on a trip to New York, Buffett made it a point to visit the New York Stock Exchange. According to his bio, about the same time, he purchased shares of Cities Service for his sister and himself.

While in high school, Buffett invested in a business owned by his father, and he bought a farm worked by a tenant farmer. By the time he finished college, Buffett had accumulated more than $90,000 in savings, if you measure that number in 2009 dollars.

Buffett's passion was well documented early on in life, and he didn't need five national football championships to make him more passionate.

But I ask you this: If Hardin didn't hire Devaney, and Devaney didn't hire Osborne, and Osborne didn't hire Pelini, would Buffett have camped out in Memorial Stadium all these years? Better yet, if Nebraska wasn't one of the top five programs in college football history, would the world's third richest man still put on his sweats, pop his popcorn and watch his beloved Huskers like he has for the last 48 years? 

I think not, and I rest my case.

Respond to Randy

Voices from Husker Nation

Thank you so much for your wonderful article. I just now received it via email from one of my high school coaches. I am so proud to be a Nebraskan and represent the outstanding people of this state. Some of my fondest memories center around the ups and downs (mostly "ups") of Nebraska football and the legacy left by Coach Devaney and Coach Osborne. To be able to meet men like Coach Osborne only drives me to be more successful. I look forward to meeting Mr. Buffett one day! Best wishes always and GO BIG RED! Clayton C. Anderson, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas

Chancellor Hardin's decision to pursue Coach Devaney was huge, and you can't help but wonder what we would have been if Coach Devaney didn't accept Hardin's and (AD) Tippy Dye's challenge to turn everything around. Frankly, I ask the same question about where Nebraska would be right now if Tom Osborne hadn't come back. I really do believe that his losing the governor's race may have been the biggest win Nebraska's ever had. Fred Duda, Chicago, Illinois

There is no Nebraska State. There is no professional football team in Omaha.  All we have are our beloved Cornhuskers, and yes, Chancellor Hardin had a vision that has set the tone for this state for the past 47 years. People plan their vacations around Nebraska bowl games. Nebraska football is the common bond between white-collar workers in Omaha and the ranchers in Western Nebraska, between 21-year-old college students in Lincoln and 83-year-old grandmothers in Fairbury, and between 15-year-old Nebraska walk-on hopefuls in Elkhorn to scholarship athletes from Texas, and beyond. "There is no place like Nebraska", and that is why we still love the state, even when we leave it and move elsewhere. Our loyalty still runs deep and true. As always, great article, and the pride swells deep from within once again! Tom Gunlicks, Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Wow, we've been great for so long, you almost forget what we were before Bob Devaney came to town. Thanks for the history lesson, Randy. We should appreciate what Clifford Hardin did for this university and this state, and his family deserves to be in the hearts and minds of all Nebraskans, whether they're football fans or not. Chancellor Hardin's decision to influence the hiring of a championship-caliber coach really did change the mindset of Nebraska. Devaney was a miracle worker. He built the program and people came, and they haven't quit coming to fill the stadium since 1962. Who knows what we would have been if Devaney had not arrived at the right time under the right administration? Thanks again for putting it all in perspective. Jim Gillespie, Chicago, Illinois 

Chancellor Hardin was a man of character. Any administrator who wouldn't let an athletic team leave Lincoln until a certain community in our conference assured him that black players would have equal rights to dining and lodging gets my respect. He was a great leader because he represented all the values that are important to this state. Steve Harris, Overland Park, Kansas

When Bobby Bowden came to Lincoln to speak, he talked about how great Nebraska is and how great our fans are. Thanks for getting to the heart of when that greatness started. I had forgotten that a chancellor was the one who wanted to hire Devaney and get this train on a different track. As a retired railroader, I'm sure glad he did. Lonnie Irvine, Cheyenne, Wyoming

I really enjoyed reading this N-sider and loved watching the video of Astronaut Anderson meeting Tom Osborne for the first time. You could see what it meant for him to meet his idol and his role model. When I read that Clay Anderson had been turned down 15 straight times by NASA, I understood why he identified with a man who loved walk-ons and developed a system to make sure they got their chance to be part of something great. Susan Henderson, Des Moines, Iowa

I remember meeting Hardin when I was a boy. He was a good friend of my grandfather and came out to see their ranch in Cherry County and talk about the things Nebraskans seem to love most: removing unnecessary administration, improving the general working conditions for regular people, and Nebraska football. I remember that he did not brush us kids aside as did many "important grown-ups", but took a genuine interest in what we said. That speaks volumes about his respect for all people. I hope that parents of today can take the same time and genuine interest in their kids to keep Nebraska built on the same respectful foundation. Charles Hughes

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