LINCOLN — There are a lot of Tommie Frazier stories. This one's my favorite.
Sometime in the past year, I ran into Tommie at a local restaurant. We watched a game and talked football.
A patron got up the nerve to approach Frazier. He told him how much he admired Frazier and thanked him for all he did. Then he popped the question: What was the run against Florida like?
Frazier gave me a look and rolled his eyes. He gave the guy what he wanted, retold the story, how he ran, Florida Gators kept missing, he kept running, all the way down the sidelines. The guy thanked him and left.
Then the Nebraska legend turned and said, “People ask me about that run in the Fiesta Bowl all the time. But it's not my top play. Not even close.”
“There was a pass in the Colorado game, my senior year,” Frazier said.
Then he told the story. I remembered the play. It came in the first half, but as Frazier recalled, it was a big third down. The game was at Folsom Field in Boulder, and first-year coach Rick Neuheisel had orchestrated a pre-game ritual designed to fire everyone up for an upset of No. 1 Nebraska.
“We needed to stomp on them early,” said Frazier, in true Frazier fashion.
It was a third-and-long, just inside CU territory. Frazier went back to pass and was hit on his blindside by Colorado linebacker Matt Russell. It was a vicious hit, and Frazier didn't see it coming.
But he not only held onto the ball, he kept his feet. And managed to throw a pass to Ahman Green to the NU sideline, and Green ran 34 yards inside the Buffs' 10.
Pride washed over Frazier's face as he told the story that night. He talked about how the play defined his career and the kind of player he was: Tough. And a player who never gave up on anything.
I'll never forget what Frazier said next: “I don't even like talking about the Florida run. Florida had already quit in that game. They weren't even trying to tackle me. It was no big deal.”
That was Frazier. He always had high standards. And he left the highest bar when he left NU.
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That standard was finally rewarded on Tuesday, when Frazier made the College Football Hall of Fame class of 2013. The day's emotions were part celebration, part relief. Frazier had been on the ballot twice before. For various reasons, he had to wait.
“The journey's over, isn't it?” Frazier said at a media gathering at Memorial Stadium.
Yes. But that journey, for validation, began some 18 years ago. In 1995.
In the sport of football, a quarterback's greatness, or legacy, is often tied to winning championships. Frazier won two national titles and came within a field goal of a third. A lot of Heisman winners would take that in a heartbeat.
Frazier was defined by those national titles. The straw in the drink. A winner who won big.
And yet, national titles are a team goal, accomplishment and pelt.
During his time, Frazier was recognized, by many, as the best player in college football. A transformational player. He defined the era he played in.
But he never got the Heisman Trophy that would have validated that status. Instead, Frazier was known as the “best player who didn't win a Heisman.”
On Tuesday he got the validation that put his career, and his impact, in its proper place.
“Anytime you get an honor like this, it validates your career,” Frazier said. “I'm in the Nebraska Hall of Fame and the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame. But the national hall of fame says you were one of the greatest ever.”
The validation came with a long overdue twist: the outcry by the national media each year Frazier fell short of the college football hall. Oh, the injustice.
“I was surprised by how the national media talked about it,” Frazier admitted.
What it said was, they were paying attention — they remembered him — even though it sometimes seemed like Frazier fell through the cracks of history.
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He entered his junior season as the Heisman frontrunner and backed it up with a strirring performance off Broadway — in the 1994 opener over West Virginia at the Meadowlands. It was all set up for Touchdown Tommie. Then came the blood clots.
Months later, he returned in the national title game and recaptured the stage in the fourth quarter, saving the day. He was set up for another Heisman run in 1995.
This time the Lawrence Phillips story fell out of the sky. This is my opinion, but it's based on many conversations with national media and Heisman voters that there was serious backlash against Phillips and against how Tom Osborne handled that incident.
Meanwhile, Frazier and the Huskers were building a resume as the greatest college football team in history, and Frazier made it look easy.
Generally, the best player on the best team has a great shot at the Heisman. But not this time. Few voters were in the mood to support or “reward” Nebraska that year.
Interesting thing, though. I remember clearly many writers in that Fiesta Bowl press box saying “I should have voted for Tommie” after watching his signature run.
They still remember. And for a middle-aged legend, a guy who's playing baseball with his 10-year-old son when he's not working a couple of jobs, that's what matters most.
It was fun listening to No. 15 tell all the old stories and bring up the old names on Tuesday. That's so much of what we love about football, and sports. The history. And putting our heroes on a proper pedestal.
At least one bar debate is over, in my opinion. Frazier became the first Nebraska quarterback in the College Football Hall of Fame. That makes him the greatest in school history, if he wasn't already.
You can argue that point, if you choose, the next time you see Frazier. You can probably still ask him about the Florida run. He'll probably still talk about it.
Just make sure you do one thing: Address him as Hall of Famer Tommie Frazier. From now on, he's a hall of famer. But then, we already knew that.
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