The writer is a former Nebraska football player. He is the author of the book, “A View from the Bench.”
I attended Tom Osborne's retirement dinner for lettermen on April 5 in Lincoln.
Having been a member of Coach Osborne's first three teams, I thought I knew everything there was to know about him, but throughout this special night, I was able to learn more.
Former Defensive Coordinator Charlie McBride told a story about Coach Osborne's speech before a big game. Osborne told the team, “Don't worry about winning or losing.” McBride said he wanted to yell, “No, Coach! Wrong speech.”
But Osborne proceeded to tell the players his philosophy on coaching and, it turns out, on life.
He said, “Just go out there and give 100 percent effort on every play and everything will take care of itself. If we're the best team, we will win. If not, then we can say we gave it our best and walk off the field with our head held high.”
Coach McBride would have preferred a rah-rah speech ending with “let's go kick their butt,” or something even more colorful. But Coach Osborne always stayed true to his core beliefs, even in the heat of battle.
Basically, he was very religious, but I think he was even more spiritual than what he ever showed. As an example, McBride said Coach Osborne spent quiet time before each game praying for each player.
When it was Coach Osborne's turn to speak, he pointed out that since 1962, Nebraska had won the most football games and had the highest winning percentage of any program in America. And they did it without any major rules violation, unlike some other big-name programs.
Osborne said that when Bob Devaney took over as head coach in 1962, he brought with him an attitude that he passed on to players and coaches that they could beat any team in the country.
As players, seeing Coach Osborne up there talking, we were all reminded how hard he worked and how meticulously he prepared us for games.
Some of the players I sat with jokingly remembered how Coach Osborne would methodically read the names of every player on the depth chart for offense, defense and the kicking teams before each game, which drove them nuts because they just wanted to get out onto the field.
Coach Osborne also pointed out that Nebraska was one of the first schools to have a strength coach, an offseason training program, a nutritionist, an academic counselor, to name a few of the many innovative ideas that Nebraska had pioneered.
Over the years, Osborne observed that, in order to succeed, players had to be athletically talented, motivated, mentally tough and hard workers in the offseason. He said he saw many players with those attributes who went on to do well professionally.
But because they lacked a spiritual presence in their lives, Osborne said, they had problems after their playing careers ended. He said players needed a spiritual presence to stay grounded.
Coach Osborne ended his talk by thanking everyone for attending. As a keepsake, we were all given a medallion. On one side was a likeness of him with the words “an era of excellence” and the number 255, which is how many wins he had during his career. On the other side, he used a quote from Mother Teresa: “Unless a life is lived for others it's not worth living.”
To me, that was the most amazing thing of the night. Coach had a blank side of a medallion to use whichever inspirational saying he wanted, and he chose a quote from a small frail nun who spent her life serving the poor.