Touchdown Tommie just got a new ring.
It's a big one. It doesn't just sit on that ring finger, it draws attention. It says, “This guy played the game and he was somebody important.”
The stone is a deep, royal blue. On one side of the ring it reads “Frazier.” On the other, “Nebraska.”
Frazier picked it up last Tuesday night, when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, in New York City. Frazier took his family — wife Andrea, son Trey, 10, and daughter Ava, 7 — and several friends with him, and they all went back in time.
It was 1994-95 all over again last week. Touchdown Tommie was the center of attention, the quarterback, the guy. He rubbed elbows with important people from all over college football, and everyone knew him, everyone remembered what he had done. They could all still see him galloping down that Fiesta sideline, like it was last night.
He hung out with Archie Manning. Steve Spurrier conceded how Tommie and the Huskers kicked his tail. Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst lauded his accomplishments, and asked him politely to stay off Twitter.
This is Tommie Frazier today. He's the legend a generation remembers, the no-brainer hall of famer, the shoulda-been Heisman winner. And he's a guy others know as the guy on Twitter, the former player who some say isn't a loyal Husker, the guy who ruffles feathers.
What the Twitter generation should know is that Tommie tweets like he played quarterback: with a purpose and without apologies.
I caught up with the legend on Friday. We made the rounds, from his experiences last week to the Twitterverse to his life now, his battles with Crohn's disease (and the blood clots), lessons learned from Brook Berringer, that 1995 Heisman voting and how he's changed. He's learning to enjoy life more.
View from the top
Hanging out at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel last week, he found the view stunning.
Frazier isn't easily impressed, but he was taken aback by the power of the event. Manning inducted the class at a dinner. The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, spoke. Turner Gill and Tom Osborne were there. This is your life, Tommie.
Then there was the classic moment, when Frazier and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier chatted in a corner. Guess which game came up?
“He said he didn't know how good a (Florida) team he had until they played us (in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl),” Frazier said. “It made him change his thinking on how you have to run the ball in order to win.
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“He was very complimentary to Coach Osborne. He remembered everything. He said we kicked their butts.”
Another memorable conversation was with Eichorst.
“He's a rock star,” Frazier said. “The few times I've talked to him, he's been very complimentary. He told me to keep being a great ambassador for the university, and don't worry about what people say. He also said to stay off Twitter. I think he was joking, but he might have been half-serious.”
Ah, yes. Twitter. Frazier is an entertaining follow on the social media site. He's not afraid to criticize Bo Pelini or his staff. But the idea that he's all negative is wrong, too. There are plenty of tweets on Frazier's timeline that show support. He won't back down from anyone who wants to challenge his opinion.
To read his Twitter timeline on Nebraska football is to get a taste of what Husker football was all about from 1992 to 1995. But Tommie has a new coach. He jokes that his wife recently gave him a “Twitter timeout.”
When asked if it bothers him that some now view him as the disloyal guy on Twitter, Frazier didn't blink.
“I've lived long enough to know that you are going to say things that some people are going to agree with and some will disagree with,” Frazier said. “I'm not going to be one of those guys who hides behind a fictitious name. If I say something, I'll have my stamp on it. To those who say I'm disloyal, that's their opinion. A lot of people support things I say.
“Am I being disloyal because I'm a former player? We still have opinions. We still have passion for the program. People say you should support the program, support the staff. One thing I know is I will always support the University of Nebraska. But the person who is coaching there now, he might choose to move on. People come and go, but the program will always be there.
“I want to see the program in top shape, competing year in and year out. If not, I'm not the only former player who has come out and said that.”
After the UCLA game, Frazier, via Twitter, called for the firing of NU's entire defensive staff. Later, Pelini responded at his weekly press conference by saying in part, “if he feels like that, so be it. We don't need him.”
With three months to reflect, what does Frazier say about the exchange now?
“I don't think he does need Tommie Frazier,” Frazier said. “I'm not God's gift to the program. He had a right to say that. He's the head coach there and he knows what he needs. He's right. It didn't bother me. I'm a big boy. I can handle criticism.”
But there was something that did bother Frazier — the people who started attacking his 3-17 record as the head coach at Doane College.
“Someone wrote that I shouldn't be saying anything (about Pelini and his staff) because I don't know anything about coaching,” he said. “I'll put my football expertise against anybody.
“I didn't get the job done at Doane. When they asked me to step down, I did. But did that take away from my football expertise? No. All the people who jumped on that, I will sit down with them in a room and watch football tape all day and we'll see what they say.
“The people who say I'm disloyal, they don't know me. They don't know where my heart and my loyalties are. My whole thing is to challenge (Nebraska) to be better.”
Frazier is a developmental officer for Alegent Creighton Health Foundation in Omaha. Which means he's usually out and about, raising money in the name of good health. As in football, Frazier can speak from experience when it comes to health issues.
Next fall will be the 20th anniversary of the blood clots that took away most of his junior season. Frazier is still taking blood-thinning medication to keep the clots away.
In 2001, he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a disorder that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. He's taking medication to control that, too.
“I had episodes before (2001), but it was misdiagnosed,” Frazier said. “It's very painful. A lot of pain. Blurred vision. You throw up. You can't keep anything down. I was in the hospital for 10 days. I don't have a lot of enemies out there, but I wouldn't wish it on them.
“You can lose part of your intestine. ... I managed it through medication. I still have all of my organs.”
The health scares have changed Frazier. A wife and two beautiful kids do that, too. So does age. Tommie Frazier will turn 40 next year. And how is that possible?
The legend, who searched for a place after the applause faded, has found that place. Go ahead, ask for an autograph. He won't give you the Frazier stare, the one he saved for fourth-quarter huddles.
“I'm happy with my life now,” Frazier said. “I have no worries. I'm at the point now where I don't let things bring me down.
“There was a point where I used to try to please everyone, worry about doing the right thing. At the end of the day, you have to make yourself happy. Your family and the ones you love, that's who you have to focus on. Not the ones who want to be around you because of who you are, or judge you by what they read in the paper.”
One of Frazier's most influential teachers, it turns out, was Brook Berringer.
“People thought our relationship was rocky,” Frazier said. “But it's two guys from different backgrounds, Goodland, Kansas, and the South. Sometimes we weren't on the same page. But I guarantee you, sitting in those meetings with Coach Gill, we were pulling for each other. There was no animosity.
“I learned a lot from Brook. I learned that it's OK to be yourself and be more giving. It's not always about you. Do more things to help people.”
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About that trophy ...
This is Heisman Weekend, and Frazier was in New York, and so the Heisman came up in conversations. People wanted to know if Frazier was going to stay. Maybe they forgot he didn't win. Time can blur the lines that way, and No. 15 was a guy you figured won that trophy at least once.
He didn't, and some of us are still more upset, or obsessed, about it than Frazier. He says he'd gotten over it long ago. I asked him if he ever runs into Eddie George, the 1995 Heisman winner to Tommie's runner-up, and he said, sure, all the time.
So does the Heisman ever come up?
“No, not really,” Frazier said. “There's no place for it. We talk about life, and other things. One time he did say he would rather have a championship than a Heisman Trophy. Because he's a team player. Like me, team goals are more important than individual goals.”
Did you believe him? Or was he just saying that to you?
“No, he meant it,” Frazier said.
I believe Frazier, too, when he says the rings are the things, not the Heisman. But I think he was still waiting for a validation, or recognition, for his career, outside of your neighborhood Big Red Shop. That's what last week was about, and the emotion of the moment finally did what 10 Florida Gators couldn't do: stop him in his tracks.
“It's hard to put anything into words,” Frazier said. “It makes you speechless, and I'm the kind of person who's never speechless. It's very humbling to be in such a prestigious group. These are the very best to play college football.
“It's good to see people valued how I played the game and what I brought to the game, not just how many times I threw the ball or how many 200-yard rushing games I had.
“It's even more enjoyable when 10-year-olds come up and say how much they enjoyed watching me play. I say, 'How? You weren't old enough.' ”
Frazier laughs at that, and I ask him about another 10-year-old boy, the one closest to his heart. Does Trey know all about what put his dad in the hall of fame?
“Not really,” Frazier said. “And that's something I've never told him. A couple months ago, he came home with a library book and said, 'Hey, how come Dad is on this football book?' I've never sat down and told him about my career.
“To him, I'm just Dad. I want to be Dad. I don't want to be a football player. He'll figure it out.”
This summer, Frazier will take his family to Atlanta for the induction at the College Football Hall of Fame site. He can show Trey where his dad will live forever. There will be a lot to talk about.