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For Ruuds, Family Pride Shines Through
A Hall of Fame football coach, now Nebraska’s interim athletic director, wrote a book called “More Than Winning.” He wrote about the process – the preparation, the effort, the strategy, the players and the game – being more important than the championships and the trophies.
In his book, Tom Osborne talked about his experiences, his values and his faith and how they mean more to him than winning.
For the Ruuds, described by some as the “First Family of Nebraska Football,” Saturday’s game against Kansas State is about more than winning.
It is about character and courage and sacrifice . . . and about family pride shining through the dark clouds on and off the football field.
Nebraska All-America linebacker Tom Ruud will watch son Bo Ruud play his last home game at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Joining his dad in the stands, because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a bye week, is brother Barrett Ruud, Nebraska’s all-time leading tackler.
Wednesday, in his 30th consecutive season of hunting pheasants in the Nebraska Sandhills with five ex-teammates, Tom Ruud hiked up to the top of a hill on a 120-year-old ranch between Bassett and Taylor to talk on his cell phone.
He was asked about the meaning of Bo’s last home game in this most challenging of seasons. The mediocre phone connection was apparent, but so were the words that came out of a proud father who was obviously choking up.
Despite the struggles of the season, including a leg injury that has sidelined Bo for all but one series of the last three games, Tom Ruud called Saturday’s game “an exciting time” for Bo, one of Nebraska’s three 2007 co-captains.
“He’s been around five years, and it’s been kind of an up-and-down ride,” Tom said. “But Bo has played awfully well, and he’s awfully proud of his teammates. He really wants to get a win Saturday. Every one of those kids is going out there to do the very best they can, and I believe that they can pull together and play well enough to win. Personally, this last game in Lincoln is a little emotional for all of us.”
Bo’s late, great-grandfather, Clarence Swanson, is in the College Football Hall of Fame. His uncle, John Ruud, is still on the Nebraska Tunnel Walk highlight reel for his vicious hit in the Huskers’ 1978 upset win over top-ranked Oklahoma and Billy Sims. Bob Martin, former Husker All-America defensive end, is another Bo Ruud uncle. That means Jay Martin, Bob’s son and a freshman walk-on linebacker from Waverly, will be cheering his cousin on at field level.
Someone else will be there, too . . . in spirit. Jaime Ruud, Tom’s wife and the mother of Barrett, Bo and sister Kim, died of a heart attack on June 30, 2006, at the age of 52.
For Tom, the patriarch of this proud and productive clan of Ruuds, it takes a few seconds of silence to gather his thoughts on a long-distance call.
“Jaime and I tried to raise our kids to be good people first,” he said. “I’m proud of their athletic accomplishments, but I’m even prouder of how they treat people – just like they want to be treated themselves.”
A former first-round draft choice of the Buffalo Bills, Tom admits he never “pulled any punches.” He always insisted that when his kids did something, “they did it as well as they possibly can.” When you give it your all, Tom said, “you don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Barrett took that philosophy with him to the NFL, where he now ranks second among all NFL tackle leaders halfway through the season. Barrett and Bo, who played on the same state championship team at Lincoln Southeast, never got that kind of chance in college.
But they’ve stayed close, as friends as well as brothers. For the Ruuds, family pride shines through every day, every phone conversation and every game day opportunity.
Saturday, Bo Ruud will take one last pre-game walk through the tunnel. He will sprint through those familiar swinging doors one last time. He will look up and see the words “I Play for Nebraska” and then, a second or two later, he will hear another sellout crowd of 85,000 people give him the most thunderous roar he has ever heard.
A tear or two might well up in the eyes of his tight-knit family, and, I’m betting, in the eyes of countless others who wish Bo – and 28 other Nebraska seniors – nothing but the very best.
Editor’s Note: Let us know what you think about the rich family traditions in Husker football. Which families do you think could be considered the "First Family" in Nebraska football history? Your responses may be included among the "Voices of Husker Nation."
The Voices of Husker Nation
"I could not agree more on the first family of Husker football than the Ruud family. In one way or another there has always been some form of kin to the Ruud family streaming out of the tunnel of Memorial Stadium. The Ruud family has wore the Nebraska jersey with pride and dedication for over half a century now. I personally will be waiting to see who the next of the great Ruud family members grace the field of Memorial Stadium. GO BIG RED!" - Cip Palacios (Austin, Texas)
"I think the Ruud family is the epitome of what all true Nebraskans hold near and dear. The ability to hold one's head high no matter how bad things get, and the selflessness to treat others with dignity no matter where they come from or who they are. That is why I believe true Nebraska Cornhuskers will always have heart in everything they do." - Dennis Frederick
"The Ruud family is a shining example of the pride and tradition at Nebraska. This example also shines through other families such as the Williams, Greens, Browns, and Wistroms to name a few. Although they are not as deep-seeded in the Huskers as the Ruud family, they too reflect our pride and tradition." - Lisa Miller