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The captains of Nebraska's first national championship football team in 1970 were, in many ways, surprising choices, with one exception: They epitomized Nebraska's penchant for physical dominance and helped set the standard for what you still see today.
Consider these three shared facts about linebacker Jerry Murtaugh, a 6-3, 212-pound senior from Omaha North, and fullback Dan Schneiss, a 6-2, 222-pound senior from West Bend, Wis.:
1) Neither was a talker. Each would stand in front of the team before the game, say a few words, including one or two incisive ones, and then bolt from the locker room onto the playing field, where they preferred to do almost all of their talking;
2) Even though they were arguably the two toughest players on that 1970 team, neither ended up playing pro football - both seeing that dream start and end with the New England Patriots; and
3) Murtaugh and Schneiss accepted the cold, cruel reality that the NFL was not their calling, and they chose to stay in Nebraska where, 40 years later, they are still flourishing and working with youth in Omaha. Murtaugh has his own non-profit organization to eradicate childhood obesity, and Schneiss is an elementary teacher and a high school assistant coach in football and track.
1970 Team Put Nebraska on the National Map
Today, 40 years after leading the charge to put Nebraska football on the national map, Murtaugh and Schneiss don't look much different than they did when they posed with their head coach, Bob Devaney, for the cover of the Sept. 26 official program of the Nebraska-Army game.
You could say that Murtaugh and Schneiss look both sweet and innocent in that photo with Devaney, but let the record show they were neither. Both, however, thrived on being fundamentally sound, inherently tough and driven by the techniques they were taught.
"I know this," Murtaugh said. "Schneisser would have made a great fullback in the pros, and I think I would have made a pretty good linebacker. But it was not meant to be, and we both accepted it and moved on."
Murtaugh made the New England Patriots as a free agent, but blew out his left knee. The next year he came back and blew out the same knee. The Patriots drafted Schneiss as a tight end in the 11th round, and to this day, Murtaugh wonders why they didn't give his fellow captain a try at fullback.
As Nebraska's second leading all-time tackler behind Tampa Bay Buccaneer Barrett Ruud, Murtaugh would rather have hit just about anyone than Schneiss.
Teammates Nicknamed Schneiss 'Baby Bull'
"He was so strong, we nicknamed him 'Baby Bull' because you just couldn't knock him down," Murtaugh said. "In all of his carries, even deep into his career, he never lost a yard with the football in his hands. Ask Joe Orduna and Jeff Kinney how physically intense Schneisser was. They know who delivered the crushing blocks that put them in the open field (and helped Orduna rush for 897 yards and score 90 points while Kinney, just a sophomore, rushed for 694 yards and scored 30 points in '70)."
Murtaugh had huge numbers of tackles himself, especially in big games against physical teams. Not surprisingly, he doesn't remember any of those games being more difficult than Nebraska's iso practice drills where a middle guard, two tackles and two linebackers would go straight up against a center, two guards, a fullback and a running back.
"I had to run that iso drill for four friggin' years," Murtaugh said. "I got tired of being hit by Dan Schneiss every day. I couldn't wait for Saturdays because they were a lot easier than getting pounded by him on those isos."
The everyday pressure of going against Schneiss enabled Murtaugh to finish the 1970 season with 142 tackles, including 80 solo stops. Nebraska's next two leading tacklers - middle guard Ed Periard and linebacker Bob Terrio - each had 63 fewer tackles than Murtaugh.
Schneiss was a determined blocker and runner, and he's even more determined now in a quieter way because he's doing what he feels he was meant to do when pro football didn't work out.
He figures that missed opportunity, in effect, forced him to come back and finish his degree, so he could teach and coach - his two lifelong loves.
"I lived the dream when I played for Nebraska, but I'm living an even bigger dream now because I've worked 36 years at one of those special places anyone could imagine," Schneiss said.
Baby Bull Fell in Love with Boys Town
"Every day is a big day when you teach and coach at Boys Town," Schneiss said. "It's big for the kids, and it's big for the kids' family. We have more than 500 young people from all over the country, and they come in all ages, shapes and sizes."
Usually, Boys Town students begin their stay in Omaha behind both socially and academically. But people like Schneiss help them narrow the gap with love, caring, kindness and a proven system of discipline.
"We all have the same mission - to help kids learn how to do things right, so they can be as successful as they can be," Schneiss said. "My wife brings me down to earth and reminds me daily how much each kid is depending on me as a role model."
Dan and his wife, Kristine, have been married for 31 years. They have two children and four grandchildren. They also have two godchildren - a Native American goddaughter and an African American godson.
Schneiss figures he benefitted from a proven formula at Nebraska, and he's made it his life work to help provide hundreds of others at Boys Town to get the same opportunities he's had.
Murtaugh is in his 15th year as a volunteer linebacker coach at Nebraska prep power Omaha Creighton Prep. He makes almost every practice and has never missed a game.
Murtaugh Saw a Need to Motivate and Educate
It was at Creighton Prep, walking the halls and seeing overweight kids, where Murtaugh saw a need, so he decided to motivate and educate kids to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Eleven years ago, Murtaugh started a non-profit organization, called GOAL, to strengthen the future one student at a time.
"Childhood obesity is taking over this country, and it has become an epidemic," Murtaugh said. "As a whole, teenagers today are more overweight and obese than at any other time in history. What we're trying to do with GOAL is educate the kids about the benefits of proper diet; help motivate them to increase physical activity; and to instill solid moral values. We do this by working with schools, primarily high schools, to hire Lifestyle Mentors. Lifestyle Mentors are strength and nutrition experts that have a strong desire to educate and motivate the kids."
Murtaugh takes great satisfaction in seeing an overweight, under-achieving shy kid come into his program and after a couple semesters, "he is becoming a more confident and successful young adult," Murtaugh said. "The effects GOAL has had on some of these kids is amazing."
Above all, GOAL's Lifestyle Mentors provide positive role models for students. "Our program is designed to serve the whole student body, faculty and staff with a focus on cardiovascular, nutrition, flexibility and strength conditioning," Murtaugh said. "Our hope is to help them all make a positive lifestyle change."
He Now Hosts a Husker Legends Radio Show
Murtaugh the father of two boys and two girls that range from age 32 to 40 and all still live in Omaha, also hosts a weekly radio program called Husker Legends.
"We try to get Husker men and women back in the fold and back in the family," Murtaugh said. "A lot of them feel like they're forgotten. When I ask some of them to come on, they say: 'Oh, no, not me. People won't remember me.' But they find out that people do remember them, and we just enjoy making them feel like a part of the university again, a part of the tradition like no school in this country has.
"Over the last two years, every single person I have on that show mentions that Nebraska has the greatest fans in the country," Murtaugh said. "I don't bring it up. They do. These legends live all over the country, and it doesn't matter - there are Nebraska fans everywhere."
That's why Murtaugh can't wait to see his 1970 teammates walk out on the field in front of 85,000 fans and be the objects of everyone's affection for the Red Out Around the World celebration Saturday when Nebraska hosts Texas.
"The old players like Joe Blahak will be in awe," Murtaugh predicted. "We never really soaked in that kind of love because we were part of the show. But everyone will appreciate it now. I mean, every player that wore that N on their helmet, starters and non-starters alike, deserve to be on the field and hear how much Nebraska appreciates what we all did together 40 years ago."
Voices from Husker Nation
I moved to Nebraska in 1970 when I was 10 years old. My 10-year old neighbor was already a huge Husker fan, so I watched or listened to every game that season. I was hooked right away. It was pretty exciting that the Huskers were national champs the first two years I was there. I have Lyle Bremser's call of the Johnny Rodgers punt return on my cell phone. I live in Western Pennsylvania now, and I am really glad we will be in the Big Ten. I wish I could be in Lincoln for the Texas game. Looking forward to celebrating Red Out Around The World, and I think it's awesome to honor the 1970 champions! Alan White, Somerset, Pennsylvania
I just want to say how much I enjoyed reading about Murtaugh and Schneiss. I am a Husker fan living in Texas and appreciated the story about these two former Husker players and what they're doing now. Thanks. Marilyn Scheffler, Houston, Texas
Dan Schneiss was my pledge father and a great mentor to a walk-on from Alliance. Our offense threw the ball to Dan in 1970 and was very successful doing it. That's why he was used as a tight end. He had great hands. It will be fun to see all of the boys at the 1970 reunion this weekend. Randy Borg, Lincoln, Nebraska
I appreciate your articles, including the one on the 1970 captains. I was born and raised in Nebraska and still like to keep up-to-date on the Huskers. Thanks again for writing these articles. Judy Kuenzel, a Nebraska fan now living in Arizona