They were both Republicans, and they both understood the essence of leadership.
The Huskers celebrated the 10th anniversary of their last national football championship last weekend. We asked Coach Osborne to sit down with us and recall what laid the groundwork for that 13-0 season, which ended with a 42-17 pasting of Tennessee and quarterback Peyton Manning in the Orange Bowl.
Osborne took about two seconds to get to the heart of the accomplishment.
“I had two players, (juniors) Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter, come into see me. They were probably going to be first-round draft picks,” Osborne recalls. “That was the general rumor that they were at that level. I thought they were going to tell me that they were going to do what was best for them and their families . . . the usual speech (when players leave school early and declare for the draft).”
But Osborne’s instincts were wrong. “They said they wanted to let me know that we were going to stick around because we were disappointed that we lost two games (in ’96), and we are going to finish it up right, and we are going to win them all next year.”
Osborne knew then – nine months before the season started – that his top two players were more motivated about ‘97 than anyone. Before Wistrom and Peter ever walked out his door, he knew he was seeing the very essence of leadership. He didn’t have to create a vision. Two accomplished, driven players were doing something that needed to be done because they wanted to do it.
“They had been on two national championship teams (in ’94 and ’95), so they knew what that was all about,” Osborne said, adding that without Wistrom’s and Peter's leadership and talent, 1997 would not have unfolded like it did.
"They really set the tone for that 1997 team,” he said. “It was a very, very good team.” Later, Osborne said the talent level was “obviously pretty good, but the dedication and commitment was exceptional.”
The ’97 championship team wasn’t created in the weight room or on the field. It was made from something that Wistrom and Peter had deep inside them, and their desire and their dream became the vision for everyone else.
Take a few minutes and listen to Osborne’s comments and the snapshot of his career through the years. Check out the 10 players from that ’97 team who are still playing in the NFL.
Then tell us why you think leadership is so important in sports and what you consider to be the best examples of leadership in Nebraska’s storied athletic history.
The Voices of Husker Nation
"I enjoyed your column about leadership. And as much credit as Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter deserve for stepping up, Tom Osborne and his staff deserve at least that much for providing an environment where such leaders could grow and feel comfortable enough coming in to basically tell their coach that they are going to take over the team. As far as who I feel have been the best leaders in Husker history, that is a tough question. I think of guys like Terry Conneally and Cory Schlesinger; Aaron Graham and Dean Steinkuhler; Danny Noonan and Christian Peter. The thing that ties them all together is Tom Osborne. Tom created great leaders--or at the very least, fostered an environment where such leaders could thrive." - Todd Jess
"I believe the four decades of leadership began with Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. Never accept failure, look within yourself for improvement, create a competitive environment week by week for the players to be at their best, etc. Jerry Tagge, Jeff Kinney, David Humm, Vince Ferragamo, Turner Gill, Steve Taylor, Tommie Frazier, Scott Frost, Eric Crouch to name a few on offense, all the Outland winners on both lines, our defensive leaders too many to name, all emulated and passed on this legacy." - John Primm
"As a former leader of Scouts for over 50 years, you see how leadership can bring young boys from ages 7 and up into young men who work hard to earn awards and eventually earn their God and Country and then Eagle Award. It takes leadership to show the boys the way just like it takes leadership in football to show the young men the proper way to win." - Len Hoskins
"Really enjoyed the article about Tom Osborne and the leadership and commitment that was so obvious on the ‘97 team. Being retired military, I learned early in my professional career how very important leadership and commitment really are to a successful team and a great effort." - Chris Wilkerson, Jefferson City, Mo.