College Football Hall-of-Famer Says His Motor Was Always Running
Randy York's N-Sider
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With thousands of college football fans descending on South Bend, Ind., this weekend for the National Football Foundation's Enshrinement Festival, we found Nebraska's Grant Wistrom at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Thursday night waiting for a plane.
Through a series of what seemed like constant airline desk announcements, we asked one of 24 new members of the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010 if we could ask him 10 questions.
No problem, he said, so we both dealt with the irritating noise and made it happen.
1) At Nebraska, you were a two-time unanimous All-American, a two-time Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a Lombardi Award winner. You played on teams that won 49 of 51 games and three national championships. Every coach, player and media member I've ever talked to says you were successful because you had a motor that never stopped. Is that something you're born with or something you developed?
"I think I was born with my motor running. My parents tell me that I was so active that by the time I was 3 or 4 years old, they couldn't get me to sleep. They said they couldn't stop me from constantly talking and walking around my little crib. When they couldn't get me to sleep for like five days straight, they called a doctor, and I guess he gave me something that just knocked me out. Melissa and I have a 5-year-old son (Wyatt) who has the same problem, but we don't worry about it because karma is a beautiful thing."
2) Jason Peter, the All-American and fellow first-round NFL draft choice who played next to you at Nebraska, says you were the most intense player he ever saw in college or pro football. Since no one can be born with that kind of intensity, where does it come from?
"That's the way I've always approached football - like a job, whether it's high school, college or pro. I've always believed if you're going to do it, do it right, play together and play every play as hard as you can. If you're not going to focus and sell out every play for your teammates and yourself, why even bother? I went to Nebraska because I wanted to win every game, and the two I remember most were the two we lost (Arizona State and Texas). I'll be honest. I never felt I was ever a great enough athlete to take a play off, and the way we were coached, we couldn't take a practice off either, not even a walk-through."
3) How did you motivate yourself, day after day, play after play?
"It was easy. I played for Coach Osborne, Coach McBride, my dad, my brothers, my teammates. That was enough for me to practice hard every day and to play hard every Saturday. I would visualize how much I was willing to give for people I loved and teammates who were like brothers. I was always twisting something into motivation. I don't want to name the team, but there was one that had an All-American left tackle, and I had his picture posted on my wall all week. I was kicking his butt all over the field until I got injured right before halftime. Whether it was a quote, a picture, whatever, I could manipulate it and use it to my advantage. Once, all week long, I just thought about the color purple, and it worked on Saturday."
4) I remember seeing you get off the bus one Saturday morning when Nebraska played Washington in Seattle. I was a few yards away and stayed in my tracks when the bus pulled up outside the stadium. The second you stepped off the bus, you went straight to your dad. You hugged him, told him you loved him, kissed him, then headed for the locker room. How strong is that relationship with your dad?
"In my four years at Nebraska, my dad (Ron, retired from the trucking business) never missed a game, home or away. He'd watch my brother (former Husker tight end Tracey) play high school football in Webb City (Mo.) on Friday night. Then they would drive to Texas Tech to see me play the next day. When you have a family sacrifice like that to see you play, I'm going to sell out for them as much as my teammates."
5) Tracey was an All-American and Academic All-American at Nebraska just like you were. You lettered in 1994-95-96-97, and he lettered the next four years. Jason and Christian Peter were brothers who played together. Did you ever wish that you and Tracey could have shared the field?
"I would have loved to have been able to play more with Tracey. I have a good relationship with my brother, but if I could go back in time, I would do some things differently. I don't think I appreciated him as much as I should have. I'm really proud of him."
6) What's your fondest memory playing at Nebraska?
"Surprisingly, it wasn't any of the national championship games. It was the last home game of my junior year - the day after Thanksgiving against Colorado. At the time, I wasn't sure if it was going to be my last game at Memorial Stadium, so I did something I'd never done before - told myself that this game was so special, I was going to take the time to absorb everything I could. I soaked up everything. It's funny. I was always so focused that I'd never really heard the crowd before. That game was the first time in my life that I really heard the crowd, felt the crowd and reveled in the crowd. I was so tuned in. It was a great day, and we played a great defensive game (holding Colorado to 51 yards rushing on 32 carries and 12 completions in 38 passes with two interceptions in a 17-12 win)."
7) That (10-2) 1996 season was your worst in four years, yet you beat Virginia Tech 41-21 in Miami. Since both you and Jason were considered likely first-round NFL draft choices as juniors, did either of you think the Orange Bowl was your college swan song?
"Maybe, but we weren't sure. We were both so disappointed that we didn't win a third straight national championship that the thought of coming back to win another one was really appealing. I think Coach Osborne was expecting us to go when we went to his office. He never once tried to persuade us to stay. We asked him to call some people he trusts in the NFL, and he put the phone on speaker and called a couple of people. We both might have gone in the first round, but we weren't going to be top 10 picks. I got the information I needed and knew immediately what I was going to do. I was coming back, and so was Jason. I don't know if anyone's ever seen Coach Osborne shocked, but I think he was very surprised that day. We caught him off guard, but you could see the sparkle and the twinkle in his eye when we left."
8) A year later, after winning a third national championship, the St. Louis Rams made you the sixth pick in the first round of the NFL draft. You spent six years there and played on a Super Bowl champion. You also started on a Super Bowl team in your three years with the Seattle Seahawks. Was winning the Super Bowl your favorite memory as a pro?
"There is absolutely no question about that. In the NFL, it doesn't get any better than winning the Super Bowl. It was pretty darn cool, an awesome feeling really. I will never forget the feeling on the field after that game, and yes, my family was there to share the experience. I'm fairly certain if we hadn't won, I never would have been asked to judge the Miss America Pageant."
9) Any thoughts you'd like to share about Bo Pelini or Nebraska going to the Big Ten Conference?
"Coach Pelini gets what Nebraska is and can be. I've never heard a bad thing about the man. He took a team with some talent and instilled pride. He and his staff made the players take ownership in themselves, on and off the field. They would not tolerate anything less than your best. Coach Pelini completely turned around the entire attitude of the program. You can tell how much harder they play for him, and that means everything to me. As far as the Big Ten goes, I'm excited just like everyone else. I can't wait to watch Nebraska play at Ohio State or Michigan or Penn State, but we have a big season coming up in the Big 12, and I'm definitely looking forward to that."
10) Last question. How much fun will you have Friday and Saturday in South Bend, and what all will you be doing?
"They have the whole weekend planned out. I don't really enjoy golfing, but I'm playing in a scramble Friday. Then there's a downtown block party and fireworks show. Saturday, we're part of a downtown parade. There's also a fan fest, a pep rally, an autograph session and a youth football clinic. Saturday night is the enshrinement dinner and show."
I think I speak for all Husker fans when I say congratulations!
"Thanks. It's an incredible honor, and I appreciate you asking about my motor because I don't see it stopping any time this weekend."
Voices from Husker Nation
The two things I remember about Grant Wistrom are: 1) when Grant and Jason Peter returned for their senior season and led Nebraska to a third national championship in four years, how utterly unselfish it was to turn down all the NFL money. Husker fans will never forget this; and 2) I remember after moving to Texas and listening to all the negativity about Nebraska, Wistrom won the Lombardi Award in Houston. He showed up with a big black-and-blue mark around his eye when he was sucker-punched while eating pizza with his girlfriend. He could have gotten into a big brawl, and it would have created more negativity, but Grant just walked away. I was so proud of him as I watched him accept the Lombardi Award. Grant Wistrom is a true Hall-of-Famer. He epitomizes all the positive things that Husker fans expect from their teams. Allan Vorda, Sugar Land, Texas
Just wanted you to know that I usually don't respond to things like this, but your 10 questions with Grant Wistrom were very much appreciated and enjoyed. Thank you for all that you do. Brad Delcamp, Thornton, Colorado
Grant Wistrom epitomizes the mindset of a Nebraska Blackshirt. It was entertaining reading all 10 of his answers to what I would call very good questions. I've read about Grant for years and found this to be a great read because I learned so much more about how he thinks and competes. Thanks for honoring one of our all-time greats at one of his pinnacle moments. John Henderson, Amarillo, Texas
How cool is it when a player who is about to be enshrined in College Football's Hall of Fame talks about how much he appreciates his brother and how proud he is of him? All I can say is he's the product of two great families -- his own and the Nebraska family. All Husker fans appreciate what both Grant and Tracey Wistrom gave our program -- their hearts and their souls. We will always view them as smart Missouri kids who knew there would be no place like Nebraska. Bill Anderson, St. Joseph, Missouri
You just made my day with your Grant Wistrom interview. He is just the coolest Blackshirt of the last 15 years. Thanks for your great questions. Grant's motor was revving once again in his answers, so thank you for bringing that to us loyal Huskers fans. Reid Wiersema, Mundelein, Illinois
When you go back and look at the accomplishments from the four years Grant Wistrom played at Nebraska, you can't help but ask a simple question -- how does any team win 49 of 51 games? Obviously, because of leadership from great athletes like Wistrom, who, if you carefully read what he says, never once put himself ahead of anyone. Can you imagine being as tough as he is and backing off from some idiot who sucker punches him? I think this was a leader who took to heart everything Coach Osborne said. That makes me want to expand the answer to the question. Nebraska won 49 of 51 games with unbelievable chemistry and maturity and what I would call a single-minded focus exemplified by Wistrom and Peter. I've never been a betting man, but I'm fairly confident that we will not see another four-year run like Wistrom's and his teammates in a fairly long while. Joel Schmidt, Phoenix, Arizona
I actually played with Grant Wistrom in the College Hall of Fame Scramble. What an honor to spend some time with the guy just before his enshrinement. He is total class and put up with us diehards and could not have been nicer. We had a great time hearing his stories. He is what makes us all proud to be part of Husker Nation. Congrats Grant! Bill Henderson, Amarillo, Texas