Anthony Steels, a former Husker and pro football player who overcame drug addiction and spoke often to young people, died Friday of prostate cancer.
His death at 57 came exactly a week after he spoke and sang at a benefit dinner in his honor at the Millard VFW post. About 150 attended, including former teammates and their old Nebraska coach, Tom Osborne.
An accomplished vocalist who often performed in Omaha, Steels sang to the crowd from his wheelchair as a combo played at the VFW post.
Willie Austin of Omaha, his longtime addiction-recovery sponsor, said the song was about “waiting for God.”
“Anthony was very spiritual,” Austin said. “But he also insisted on bringing two physicians with him that night to talk about cancer. He took what he went through and made it a teaching moment.”
Steels grew up in an Air Force family, attended high school in Spain and shaved his head, leading to his nickname, “Slick.”
He walked on at Nebraska as a wingback and earned a scholarship. Before his final home game, he sang the national anthem in front of 77,000. In the Orange Bowl at the end of that 1981 season, he caught a touchdown pass from Mike Rozier.
Steels played four years with the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills, and said a pro player offered him cocaine as a rookie. That, he said, led to his problems.
Later, working as a youth counselor, he hid his addiction. But he ended up at Omaha’s Siena-Francis House homeless shelter in 2006. Speaking at schools in recent times, he wore a shirt that said “Work Hard, Dream Big.”
He is survived by his wife, Harvest, and stepdaughter Sierra. Services are tentatively set for Saturday at Life Church Omaha, 8433 West Center Road.
“Anthony had humility and didn’t care about his accolades in sports,” Austin said. “He was more concerned with how he could help people overcome the disease of addiction.”