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Hall-of-Fame Coach Tom Osborne has fond memories of Ahman Green, the All-America running back and new member of Nebraska's 2012 Hall-of-Fame football class. Green had innumerable signature moments for two of Osborne's three national championship teams, and two come quickly to mind when Nebraska's athletic director is asked to frame the context of Green's contributions. The first flashback was Green's 1995 freshman season and a critical road game at Colorado. The second signature moment was the 1998 Orange Bowl. We all remember Nebraska's 42-17 thrashing of Peyton Manning-led Tennessee in Miami. No one knew it at the time, but Osborne's final game was also Green's last hurrah as a Husker. A couple months later, the junior All-America running back decided to declare early for the NFL draft.
Let's rewind the clock back to Green's freshman season first. "We had a lot of great backs in '95, and Ahman had to step in as a freshman because Lawrence Phillips had been dismissed from the team, and we had a lot of injuries," Osborne said, recalling how Green scored on a 57-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage to set the tone in Nebraska's 44-21 win at Colorado. As a freshman, Green rushed for 1,086 yards, averaged 7.7 yards a carry and scored 13 touchdowns. "Ahman had excellent strength. I remember watching him do curls in the weight room in high school," Osborne said. "He was lifting a lot of weight for his size. Of course, he also had excellent speed and excellent balance. The thing I probably remember the most about Ahman was his running angle. He could run very low so it was difficult to get a good shot at him. And once he broke open from the front seven, he was hard for anyone to catch. He had all the tools of a great running back."
Never was that more apparent than Osborne's final game as a head coach. Green scored the game's only first-quarter touchdown and broke that memorable game open with a 22-yard scoring run in the third quarter. He finished with 206 yards rushing on 29 carries in Nebraska's mastery of Tennessee. He became the Huskers' No. 2 career rusher with 1,877 yards that season. He also averaged 6.8 yards a carry and scored 22 touchdowns in his final collegiate season. Green's decision to declare early for the NFL proved wise. He became the career rushing leader for the fabled Green Bay Packers and earned Pro Bowl honors five times. "Ahman played well in the NFL," Osborne said. "You never know how long a running back can play in the pros. It's a pretty high-risk profession, and it's pretty hard to last even 3, 4 or 5 years." Let alone 10.
Green's final season at Nebraska was pivotal because he helped the Huskers carve out an important piece of college football history in the process. Following his dazzling Orange Bowl performance, engineered by senior quarterback and post-game designated lobbyist Scott Frost, Nebraska produced overwhelming evidence to share the 1997 national title with unbeaten Rose Bowl champion Michigan. Osborne's third national championship in four years tied two other coaches with the same achievement - Minnesota's Bernie Bierman in the mid-1930s and Notre Dame's Frank Leahy in the late 1940s. Nebraska was the first team in 48 years to duplicate that feat, and this fall the nation's eyes turn to Alabama to see if the Crimson Tide can pull it off 15 years after Nebraska did.
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