He wakes up most mornings around 6:15 at an assisted living facility in the Arizona desert. He can’t see much and you’ll have to speak loudly enough so he can hear, but former Nebraska football coach Bill Glassford is just about as independent as a 101-year-old man could be. Still keeps his own checkbook.
Right after Glassford awakens, he scoots to the edge of the bed, lies down and puts his feet up on the wall. That gets the blood flowing — moving south to north, if you will. He does leg and stomach exercises, followed by some deep breathing.
The NFL’s oldest living player — nearly 80 years removed from a brief stint with the Cincinnati Bengals — Glassford receives some help from the assisted living staff at The Springs of Scottsdale when he gets dressed, but he walks on his own down for breakfast. Oatmeal and raisins, usually. He might pass the room where he plays poker three times a week. He eats three meals — whatever’s on the menu for lunch, soup and salad in the evening — and goes to bed around 9 each night.
“I have a routine, and I exercise every day,” he said.
That’s the secret to a long life, according to Glassford, whom you might have forgotten, or don’t even know.
After all, the Huskers’ new coach, Mike Riley, was all of 2 years old when Glassford was last head man at NU.
Glassford stalked the Huskers’ sideline from 1949 to 1955. He ran famously tough training camps and had exciting offenses for his time. He did not fare well against Oklahoma — not many coaches did — losing all seven games. His best squad was the 1950 team that finished 6-2-1 with halfback Bobby Reynolds, but Glassford’s 1954 team played in the Orange Bowl. One more season after that, Glassford chose to resign. He was 41.
“I had enough,” he says frankly. “I was burnt out.”
He sold insurance for 20 years and retired from that field in 1976. He lives in Scottsdale now, and his son, Gary — who walked those sidelines as a teenager with his dad — lives 10 minutes away. Gary’s helpful; when Bill can’t hear a question over the phone, Gary repeats it for him.
But once Bill hears the question, he has plenty to say. And he still knows what’s going on in Nebraska football. He’s been back a few times in the last 15 years — one of them was in 2002, when he was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. He’s still a booster, giving money to Nebraska’s program. And even if macular degeneration in his eyes has rendered most of a televised football game a blur, he’s still watching and listening to Husker football.
“I think they’ve had good coaching,” Glassford said of the program recently firing Bo Pelini. “The people of Nebraska get upset because they’ve had some troubles. But that’s natural. All the Big Ten teams have troubles. Some are good and some are bad. But I believe they had good coaches. It’s just one of those things that happens in the business.”
Glassford says that line like he knows it. He never went back to coaching after the Nebraska job.
But a few times a month, Nebraska football keeps coming back to him.
Glassford gets notes from fans. Cards to sign. Memorabilia collectors. He signs whatever he gets, from whatever far-flung location it’s sent.
“All over the world,” Glassford said.
“We got one from Australia the other day,” Gary added.
“Australia, England, Singapore, India,” Bill said.
“The Internet is something else,” Gary said. “It spreads the word. They find out he’s still alive. How do they find his address? I have not a clue. I assume they look it up.”
When Glassford turned 100 last March, a few of his former players — tackle Pev Evans and halfback Dirkes Rolston among them — met up with him in Las Vegas. Glassford planned to make the trip this March but couldn’t make it.
Generally, he’s in great shape.
“As soon as you have a sickness, it’s sort of miserable,” Glassford said of being 101. “But you have to take what the Big Guy upstairs gives you. I hope I’ll go another year. I think I can. My health is good.”
So good he has outlived most of his players. He’s outlived by many years the three All-Americans he coached — halfback Reynolds died in 1985, tackle Jerry Minnick died in 1996 and two-way star Tom Novak died in 1998. He might have been closest to all-conference quarterback John Bordogna, who started on the 1951, 1952 and 1953 Nebraska teams.
In recent years, it was Bordogna, who grew up in Pennsylvania but remained in Lincoln as a businessman after his playing career, whom Glassford chatted with after Nebraska games.
“He was very nice about staying up with me,” Glassford said. “Sometimes he’d call me, sometimes I’d call him. After each game, we’d discuss it and talk about it. Every year.”
On March 4 this year — four days before Glassford’s 101st birthday — Bordogna died. He was 83.
“Now that John’s gone, I don’t have anybody,” Glassford said matter-of-factly.
“Tell Mike Riley to call him!” Gary joked.
“What?” Bill said.
“I said, ‘Tell Riley to call you,’” Gary said.
“Oh,” said Bill.
“Would you like to hear from Mike Riley?” Gary asked. “He’s the new coach at Nebraska.”
Bill said he’d heard from Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst recently, and that was pretty good.
But maybe Riley, with his fondness and memory for the game’s history, gives Glassford a ring one day. He’d probably like Glassford’s two mottoes on life.
The first: “The most important thing is to treat people like you would like to have them treat you.”
The second, which he borrowed from some coach he met in Chicago before most of us were born, is a familiar one from those days: Don’t explain and don’t complain.
“Your friends don’t need it,” Glassford said, “and your enemies won’t believe it!”
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