There they go, the old guys, lining up down on the field, waving to the crowd. History teachers with bum knees and scars up to here.
The 1965 Nebraska team comes back to take a bow. Another reunion for Barry Alvarez and he wouldn’t miss it.
The Wisconsin athletic director and former Husker linebacker will leave after his game in Madison on Saturday and head for Lincoln.
“Fifty years — that’s unbelievable,” Alvarez said, and this reminds him of a story.
A couple of years ago, Alvarez, a former assistant for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame, went to South Bend for a 25th anniversary of the 1988 Irish national title team. The school was also honoring its 1966 team.
“One of the (former Irish players) turned to me and said, ‘Get these old guys off the stage,’ ” Alvarez said, laughing. “Now, we’re the old guys.”
You gotta love the old guys. Where would we be without ’em?
Here are a few thoughts about history and Nebraska, yesteryear and today:
All that you see and hear this week, the expectations and angst and all that, began with this 1965 bunch.
They were Bob Devaney’s fourth team, coming off a Cotton Bowl loss to Arkansas. Many of them were in Devaney’s first recruiting class to Nebraska, the first to buy in on the dream.
Freeman White. Harry Wilson. Tony Jeter. Walt Barnes. A fullback named Frank Solich. On and on. They were pioneers for all that began with Devaney.
Those Huskers were the first to sit at No. 1 in the polls. The first to go undefeated in the regular season. The first to play for a national championship, against Bear Bryant’s Tide in the Orange Bowl.
The Huskers would lose 39-28, but if it was any consolation, the Bear tried three onside kicks (Bama recovered all three) because he didn’t want NU’s offense to have the ball.
“We were bigger and stronger than (Alabama),” Alvarez said. “I thought we were the better team.”
Devaney would hit pay dirt five years later. But this 1965 bunch showed what was possible.
There was another first in 1965: first Sports Illustrated cover.
Solich was the cover boy, splashed with a photo of him running through Arkansas in the previous season’s Cotton Bowl. The magazine was dated Sept. 20, 1965 — five days before Solich’s signature game at Air Force.
The fullback rushed for three touchdowns and 204 yards, which broke Bobby Reynolds’ old mark. It’s still a single-game record for NU fullbacks.
He got the record on a 41-yard touchdown gallop where he was stopped at the line and spun out and ran away untouched.
Unfortunately, the old SI cover boy won’t be here on Saturday.
Yes, he was fired as Nebraska football coach after the 2003 season. To the knowledge of NU staffers, Solich hasn’t been back to a game or an NU event in which he was invited.
That’s not necessarily hard feelings. Solich has a team to coach.
Fearless Frankie turned 71 this week. He has an Ohio University team that’s one of his best. Who among us thought Solich would still be coaching at 71?
He’s outlasted Steve Pederson here, Bill Callahan and Bo Pelini, too. Did he get the last laugh? I’m not sure Solich would think of it that way.
But I know this: History will be very kind to ol’ No. 45.
There’s no reason to dredge all that up again. Solich wasn’t perfect, but he looks better and better as the years and NU head coaches pass.
Good for him. Solich was one of Devaney’s first recruits, an important cog on that 1965 team, and the loyal assistant who followed Osborne — an impossible task a lot of coaches would have taken a pass on.
It can’t happen this weekend, but hopefully one day, when he’s finally ready to hang up the whistle, Solich can come back to Lincoln and wave to a standing crowd.
One question I ask myself: How many more teams will Nebraska bring back?
The 1995 national title team will be honored later this season. Down the road, 1997 will get its due. You could make the case for 1999 and the last conference title. But after that?
Are they just going to keep bringing back the “old guys” over and over?
History says there will be more. Someday.
It’s hard to see now, isn’t it? NU hasn’t been ranked in what seems like forever, and the Mike Riley era starts as a project. Another one.
This is what can happen, often happens, when you fire coaches. The more you fire, the more impatient you grow. But this isn’t like tearing up lottery tickets.
It’s the sort of quicksand that happened everywhere else, not Nebraska. But now it’s here and it’s hard for some people to have hope.
History is your light. Every college football dynasty has gone through this. Notre Dame, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, USC, all of them. Some went 10 years, 12, 15, 20 between national relevance.
Even Miami has gone through it. And who would have ever thought the Hurricanes would find a drought in that paradise?
It happens because you hire the wrong coach. You get out when you hire the right one. Bob Stoops. Pete Carroll. Nick Saban.
It’s way too soon to know if Riley is that guy for Nebraska or just the guy who sets it up for that guy.
But all this talk that Nebraska can’t be great again, can’t recruit top players, can’t beat Urban Meyer, I don’t believe it. History says if you care enough, and Nebraska does, you’ll be back.
History also says Nebraska can be anything it wants to be.
Who said that? Those old guys, down there on the field.
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