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Pro Big Red: '97 Team Made Mark in NFL

By Brian Rosenthal

Twenty years ago, the Nebraska football team hoisted a crystal ball in Miami, sending their veteran leader, Tom Osborne, into coaching retirement with a third national championship in four seasons.

One of the most dominant runs in college football history included a fascinating 1997 season that featured many blowouts, a couple of comebacks and, yes, some good fortune.

To be certain, Shevin Wiggins’ foot and Matt Davison’s soft hands will be among the memories shared this weekend as coaches and players from that team reunite in Lincoln for a 20th anniversary celebration.

But it’s what many of those players did after pouring their blood, sweat and tears into Nebraska football that, in hindsight, also prove the 1997 Huskers stamped their names among the best ever to come through this storied program.

To wit, 27 players from the 1997 Nebraska football team eventually played in the National Football League.

Yes, we’re going to name them, so take a deep breath.

Running back Dan Alexander, kicker Kris Brown, safety Mike Brown, cornerback Ralph Brown, running back Correll Buckhalter, safety Clint Finley, linebacker Jay Foreman, quarterback Scott Frost, running back Ahman Green;

Offensive lineman Russ Hochstein, tight end Sheldon Jackson, tight end Vershan Jackson, linebacker Eric Johnson, defensive end Chad Kelsay, punter Bill Lafleur, fullback Joel Makovicka, defensive tackle Jason Peter;

Linebacker Carlos Polk, offensive lineman Dominic Raiola, defensive end Mike Rucker, defensive back Erwin Swiney, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, cornerback Joe Walker, safety Eric Warfield, defensive tackle, Steve Warren, defensive tackle Jason Wiltz and defensive end Grant Wistrom.

It’s no wonder, then, that this group put the finishing touches on a 13-0 season with a 42-17 trouncing of Peyton Manning-led Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.

The NFL players combined for 171 years of service in the league, including eight players who played 10 or more seasons in the league, and 15 players who played at least five years in the NFL.

Six players from the 1997 team were on Super Bowl teams during their NFL careers – Mike Brown, Ralph Brown, Russ Hochstein, Eric Johnson, Mike Rucker and Grant Wistrom. Three players from the 1997 team earned All-Pro honors in the NFL – Kris Brown, Mike Brown and Ahman Green – and four players appeared in the Pro Bowl, including Kris Brown, Mike Brown, Ahman Green and Kyle Vanden Bosch.

Fans will see many of the aforementioned players during Saturday’s 7 p.m. game against Wisconsin at Memorial Stadium. Four coaches from the team – Osborne, defensive coordinator Charlie McBride, defensive backs coach George Darlington and graduate assistant Jon Bostick – will also attend and participate in a special version of the Tunnel Walk before the current team also takes the field in the Huskers' traditional pregame entrance.

Other coaches of the 1997 team include assistant head coach/running backs coach Frank Solich (now head coach at Ohio), rush ends coach Nelson Barnes (high school coach in Texas), linebackers coach Craig Bohl (head coach, Wyoming), receivers coach Ron Brown (assistant coach, Liberty), quarterbacks coach Turner Gill (head coach, Liberty) and offensive line coaches Milt Tenopir and Dan Young, who are both deceased.

Among players attending are Outland Trophy winner Aaron Taylor, second-team All-American running back Ahman Green, first team Academic All-American Joel Makovicka, Lombardi Award winner Grant Wistrom and first team All-American Jason Peter.

Of the 34 players listed on the starting depth chart for the 1997 team (yes, a few ORs), 28 are returning for weekend events, which includes a reunion dinner on Friday night. Former players and coaches are also invited to attend the Nebraska walk-through on Friday afternoon.

Fans can also meet Jason Peter and Aaron Taylor from approximately 4:30-6 p.m. Saturday along Stadium Drive, where the former players will available for pictures with this season’s AFCA Coaches’ Trophy, which is making a stop in Lincoln over the weekend.

Nebraska is the sixth stop of a ten-city tour throughout this college football season, during which fans will have the opportunity to see and take photos with the Trophy, beginning Friday morning at the North Stadium lobby, from noon-3 at the Union and from 3-9 in West Stadium Lobby.

The AFCA Coaches’ Trophy, presented by Amway, will be awarded to the No. 1-ranked team and national champion in the Amway Coaches Poll following the conclusion of the college football season. 

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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