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"... on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness. So I got that going for me, which is nice."
- Carl Spackler (Bill Murray), quoting the Dalai Lama in Caddyshack
This is K-State Week, and nowhere is that bigger than inside the heart and mind of Mike Ekeler.
The former Wildcat football captain/Nebraska linebacker coach is woofing down a sandwich at 2:45 on Tuesday afternoon, hoping to find something he's been seeking since Sean Fisher and Will Compton were lost to injuries and South Dakota State exited Memorial Stadium - total consciousness.
Don't feel left out if you have no context for Ekeler's favorite line from his favorite movie, Caddyshack, which is still so popular that Sports Illustrated made the film's 30th anniversary a cover story two months ago.
Too bad the nation's foremost sports publication didn't ask Ekeler for his input on what many believe is the funniest sports movie ever made. SI would have had a case study like nowhere else ... Mike Ekeler, energetic, entertaining father of four and an assistant coach who played for a perfectionist (Bill Snyder), works for another (Bo Pelini) and idolizes still another (Tom Osborne).
Snyder took such a liking to Ekeler when he walked on and played in Manhattan that he broke one of his own rules and appointed the National Special Teams Player of the Year a team captain in 1994.
Pelini was so enamored working with Ekeler at Oklahoma and LSU that he promised him he would become a full-fledged assistant if he ever became a head coach.
Ekeler Puts in More Miles in Practice Than Anyone
And Osborne, well, what can a stoic athletic director who missed out on a legendary walk-on in his home state think about a Husker assistant who now resembles a human pogo stick whenever the Black Shirts produce magic in a routine practice or on an important game day?
"Mike is a very positive guy," Osborne said. "If you watch him in practice, he'll run up to the linebacker involved and pat him on the back, say something to him and then run back to his coaching spot. He undoubtedly puts in more miles in practice than any single player out there."
Osborne gets a kick out of Ekeler's whimsical, self-deprecating humor that helps him cope with a pressure-packed job.
"He's always energetic, upbeat and positive," Osborne said. "That's why he's a good recruiter and a good speaker."
There is a footnote to that kudo. "You just never know for sure what he's going to say," Osborne said, "but people still enjoy listening to him."
If you read no further than that sentence, take the time to check out Ekeler for yourself. Watch the video imbedded into his leaping lizards photo at the top of this column when he figured out the Black Shirts would indeed shut out Arizona, 33-0, in the Holiday Bowl last New Year's Day - Nebraska's first shutout ever in 45 bowl games.
Ekeler Featured Guest on the Bill Snyder Show
After that, you are invited to hit the link at the top of this column, instructing you to watch a wild and crazy player who was featured on the Bill Snyder Show for Senior Day in Manhattan.
Last, but certainly not least, get some insight from Ekeler through a Husker Sports Nightly audio last Thursday when Greg Sharpe, the former K-State play-by-play man turned Husker play-by-play man, interviewed Ekeler, the former K-State player turned Husker assistant coach.
Ekeler, the player, is just like Ekeler, the coach. He idolized Carl Spackler when he wore purple, and he still pays tribute to that Caddyshack character -- an improvisational Bill Murray -- now that he wears red.
In college, Ekeler said Bill Murray was his idol and Caddyshack was his bible. Now, particularly in times of high stress, Ek doesn't mind reverting back to something that worked in his younger years..
How, you might ask, can a spirited college football player look every morning at a poster of Murray/Spackler's sad sack face and draw any kind of relentless energy from it?
Don't ask me. I still don't quite get it. But I do know this. When Ekeler insisted that he's seen Caddyshack perhaps as many as 500 times, I called him on it.
I asked him if he really was immersed in the life and times of Carl Spackler, an assistant greenskeeper in Caddyshack. Ekeler eschewed the simple "yes" answer and instead said: "I started as a shag boy at Indian Hill outside Chicago when I was 10, which means a guy would hit balls and you'd run out and collect them. You were basically a human target. Eventually, you worked your way up to caddie."
Impromptu Impersonation Almost Impeccable
Okay, I said, shaking my head, telling Ekeler "thank you very little" and trying to imagine if he really could recite big chunks of the movie without a cue card. For a challenge, I asked what Spackler thought when he met the Dalai Lama, and Ekeler launched right into an almost impeccable impersonation without the benefit of any rehearsal. I actually had to ask Ek to stop, so I could go upstairs and get Jake Brokaw, who would gather up his high-definition video camera and meet us in the Hawks Championship Center.
The video imbedded in Ekeler's picture above really was that impromptu.
I should point out this spur-of-the-moment opportunity came a week before fall camp, so Ekeler was as loose as a goose after what he calls "living by the rules of the wild west, where you get up and go, even though you don't know where you're really going."
I'm not making this up. The Ekeler family vacation this year was something straight out of Carl Spackler goes to Wally World and on his way back, meets Robin Williams in an RV Park.
"We would get up and go every day with nothing particular in mind," Ekeler said. "That's the fun part about having an RV. You don't have to have plans. You just get up and go and all of a sudden you're halfway to Colorado, so you pull your 42-foot, 2000 RV bus into a Wal-Mart parking lot and catch some shut-eye."
A few days later, the Ekelers are at Mt. Rushmore, and the first night is a little warm, so his wife asks if they can open the windows.
"No," Ekeler/Spackler says.
"Why not?" his wife asks. "We're camping, aren't we."
"No," he answers. "We're vacationing, and I want to make sure we're sleeping at 72 degrees with the air on."
A Worthy Job Waiting in the Wings
If Ekeler ever gets fired as a football coach, as he's claimed is possible in the last two weeks, he would make a great RV salesman.
"RVs are awesome. This is my third one," Ekeler said, giving me a tour in the shadows of the North Stadium just a few stair steps away from the Osborne/Berringer statue.
"I have tag axles with two tires on the back," Ekeler said. "This tracks on the road. The other kind will blow you all over. This drives like my F150 truck. It just cruises and is safer. I would not want anything else. You just need to buy them at the right time - used. It makes a nice investment, and we've had more fun and experienced more things than we could ever imagine."
The Ekelers put 8,000 miles on their RV over the summer, just roaming through Colorado, the Black Hills, the Badlands and catching every nook and cranny in Nebraska and Iowa.
"Next summer, we're going to get a boat and put it on stacker trailors and take it with us," Ekeler said.
Are you as crazy as everyone thinks you are, I ask?
"No, I'm normal, and everyone else is crazy," he says. "When we vacation, we do more in two days than everyone else does in a week. I look at it as family time you never get back."
Kind of like football where Nebraska tries to cover more ground in two days than some programs cover in a week.
It's Time to Put Everything on Film
"We're into the most important part of the season where we're asking our players not to talk about what they're going to do, but to put it on film," Ekeler said.
"When we recruit, we tell our prospects that if they're not ready to compete athletically, academically and socially every day all year long, Nebraska is not the place for you," Ekeler said. "Our coaches work as hard or harder than any staff in the country, and we ask our players to have the same kind of work ethic."
Family balance, of course, is part of the equation.
"When we first got here, Bo told us we're going to feel an enormous amount of pressure because it's on us to restore the traditions of all the great coaches and players who have come through here before us," Ekeler said.
"It really hit me. We do have a lot of pressure," Ekeler said. "Our fans, our alumni, our athletic department - everyone expects us to win them all and be perfect. So that's what we strive for. A national championship is the goal every year. That's who Bo is. That's who we are, and if we didn't feel that way, we wouldn't be here."
Yes, Thursday night is big for Nebraska football and especially for an older, more mature Carl Spackler wannabe, who is convinced that injuries and inexperience are giving him gray hair.
A win, of course, would give Ekeler what he craves most -- total consciousness.
And wouldn't it be nice if he could get that going for him again?