Bill Janssen played multiple different line positions for Nebraska and lettered in 1969, '71 and '72. Bill is one of four players from North Dakota to letter at Nebraska. He was the starting defensive tackle on the 1971 National Championship team that went 13-0. Bill was a two-year standout for the Blackshirts and a 1972 co-captain. A fine defender against the run and a tough pass rusher, he was one of the most versatile Huskers, playing defensive end, offensive guard and center before taking over the No. 1 defensive left tackle spot in 1971. There, he played alongside the likes of Outland winners Larry Jacobson and Rich Glover and All-Americans Willie Harper and John Dutton.
After coming to Lincoln from Grand Forks, N.D., he lettered on the 1969 team, then sat out 1970 with a broken arm. He was an eighth-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1973. Bill is one of six 1971 Cornhuskers voted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame this year.
This interview with Bill was done by David Max on May 27th, 2004.
DM Where are you from originally?
BJ I was born in Pasadena, TX. My father was a pilot for the Air Force. I grew up all over the country and I went to school in Florida, Alabama, and Virginia and went to Fort Worth Texas between my 4th grade and sophomore year in high school. That's where I learned most of my football skills playing football in Texas. My dad was stationed at Grand Forks AFB my junior and senior year in high school. I graduated from Grand Forks Red River High School in '68.
DM Who recruited you to Nebraska?
BJ A combination of people. We had friends that raised quarter horses southwest of Lincoln in Denton, NE and a man named Jerry Holland, Goose was his nickname, was a big, big football fan so I got my high school films to him and he had a friend that was a pilot for the coaches who delivered the films for me. Carl Selmer was the primary recruiter, offensive line coach who came up there and then Monte Kiffin and Warren Powers also came to my high school to recruit me out of North Dakota.
DM Were there any other schools that were recruiting you?
BJ Early on the University of North Dakota was pushing and that was pretty much it and after I decided to explore avenues on my own then the University of Minnesota got hold of me after I had the plane ticket and the invite to come down and see the school and I didn't entertain anybody else's overtures after that.
DM So you wanted Nebraska as much as they wanted you?
BJ I really did. I sent my films to that friend and I had a brother that played football for the Air Force Academy and he was a senior in '68 when I was a senior in high school he said "You never want to sell yourself short because you will never know if you can play for a major college if you go to a smaller college. You can always go back but you can never move up." So when Nebraska showed interest in me I was pretty much set to do it.
DM What was your playing weight as a DT?
BJ A lot of people don't believe it but against Alabama in '71 which was for the 13th game in a row I weighed 211 and started at right defensive tackle in '72 when we played Notre Dame down there I was left defensive tackle and I weighed 217 for that game. It was a different game. You've got men now that after 1½ generations these guys are two inches taller and 30, 40, 50, or 100 pounds more than we were. And they're quick. It's amazing for me to go into the west stadium and see how big and thick they are and how quick they are. How they handle that mass. They're big boys.
DM Is there a particular regular season game that sticks out in your memory?
BJ The Texas A&M games in those days were TOUGH. We beat them usually but we didn't beat them by much. On Sunday morning we had more guys being mended up after Texas A&M then most any other games because they were tough and they played to the whistle. K-State was a lot like that also. K-State had the attitude. They played clean football but you better not count your change or you'd get knocked down. You're going to get hit hard. They don't let up until the whistle. Those were the main ones that I remember from the standpoint of keeping your eyes wide open because someone was going to take your head off. Usually we were on the delivering side of that. We had some pretty tough men and some nasty players who were fair and clean but were also tough and you'll go up against other teams that were good. The Oklahoma game in '71 was a tough game. They were probably the only team that believed that they could beat us. I think in those days we had won so many games by so many points that teams came into our back yard or we went into their back yard and did not honestly think that they could beat Nebraska. Once a team comes onto the field and believes that they can then you've got your work cut out for you.
DM So Oklahoma was the only team that felt that way?
BJ I believe so. K-State in those days was tough but there would be a play or two or three that would break their back and they would kind of let off. They'd kind of back off. I think the best example was Minnesota and I was not in the game. I was a graduate assistant and it was at Minnesota and John Dutton, a friend of mine who played many years in the pros, tells the story about during the third quarter the lineman across from him came up to the line of scrimmage and John was getting ready to get into his stance and this big guy said "Why don't you guys let up? You're going to win anyway!" That was kind of a recurring theme except when you played teams like Oklahoma. Oklahoma played from start to finish. It didn't matter if we were ahead or behind they felt that if there was still time on the clock they could score points and beat us.
DM I see that you lettered in 69, 71, 72. What happened in 1970?
BJ I hit a guy in practice before the first game practicing kickoffs and broke my arm. I was a center. I started as a defensive end in '69 and then they had an offensive guard get hurt so I played offensive guard the second half of that season and in the Sun Bowl and then came back after Glenn Patterson graduated in '69. He was the starting center so they changed me to center in spring ball and in fall camp I was at center and Carl Selmer told me to have a good scrimmage because you're going to start against Southern Cal so I was pretty pumped and I went out there and while we were practicing live kickoff returns I hit a kid I was supposed to block and I knocked him out and broke my left arm so the rest of that year I was red shirted so I didn't play in '70. Doug Dumler probably would have beaten me out anyway. Doug and I were freshmen together and then Doug stepped in as center from the Southern Cal game on and he started every year '70, '71, and '72. He was drafted right before Tom Brahaney from Oklahoma was drafted in the draft that year when Chuck Fairbanks went to New England. It was New England's pick and they needed a center and Doug Dumler and Brahaney was available and Fairbanks picked Doug over Brahaney. We were so proud of that. Fairbanks said "When the money's on the table you've got to go with the talent." Doug's out in Colorado now. He's an attorney and a good guy.
DM Do you have a favorite Bob Devaney story?
BJ Well, you can print it within reason, I guess. There are a couple of them.
As a recruit you're in his office and he wasn't a very tall man and every chair in his office was lower than his so you were always looking up to him. Wherever you sit in his office you were looking up to him.
The other one that you'll get a kick out of was against Army in my senior year. The game was 77-7 as a final. Before the game we're all eating the meal and all the coaches usually sit together and he was up there and had a coat and tie on and an empty plate in front of him. He did not have a meal. About half way through the meal he stands up and starts to leave and someone said "Where are you going?" and he said "Oh, I've got to go hobnob with the Generals." Somebody said "Give them the Peace sign." He said "I'll give them the #%^@!$# Peace sign." and he holds up his hand with a different symbol than the Peace sign and that room just went crazy. Completely crazy. We were going to kick their rears and that's our man. That's our coach. That's the way he was. He could motivate you with a little thing like that and you go out there the next day and play hard.
A memorable play in that game was the first play from scrimmage and they ran a fullback dive on offense and there were several big hits and a snap. You heard this crack like a dry stick and I think Jimmy Branch did it but he hit the guy and dumped him in the ground and broke his wrist. When you hear that snap you know a bone's broke and you hear the screaming and you get off the pile in a hurry. This guy's lying on his back with his forearm on the ground and the palm of his hand is on the grass closer to his body so the wrist is shattered. Their team stood up and looked at that and thought "OK, we want to go home NOW! We don't think we want to play the rest of this game. Can we go to the buses early or what?" That got out of hand in a big hurry. The game was on national TV. Devaney was so upset. How do you stop your team from scoring? Bill Sloey intercepted a pass and ran it back for a touchdown and Devaney's upset with the defensive back coach.
Another story was during my red shirt year in 1970 when I had the broken arm. I could punt the ball. I could kick the ball really, really well and I'm over there kicking the hide off the ball and Devaney sees me doing it and comes over during practice and says "Why don't you kick a few for me? I didn't know you could punt." I kicked three of them and I shanked two of them and one of them went straight up in the air and he said "Thanks a lot Bill. Forget it." and he turned and walked away. When you're under pressure you've got to perform and I didn't.
When I broke my arm and I was in bed at the dorm that night and I knew we had a great team. And with a broken arm I knew I was going to be red shirted. Cletus Fisher was doing bed checks in the dorm that night and he came by and said "How's that feel?" I said "It's aching but it will be all right." He said "Bill, you're going to play a lot of football here. Get healed up. I'm sorry that happened but you're going to play a lot of football here." I mean, I was on cloud 9 after that.
DM Do you have a favorite Tom Osborne story?
BJ Oh, he was an assistant coach all the way through my graduation and he became head coach the year after I left. Just a quality individual that set an example as a player and as a man both. He lived it. He coached it. He kept in great shape 365 days a year. Focus on your family. Focus on your children. Focus on your parents. He was such an example and I think he still is with his role in Congress every day. He testifies in front of Congress that way. He's got a theme that is ethical and his integrity speaks for itself. What else can you say? He's just the real thing and I think he brought a lot of kids along that didn't have two parents and didn't have much incentive and didn't have much except raw talent. But he was able to mold those men into a team that was disciplined and supported each other. You've got your share of problems with Lawrence Phillips and some of the other things that have happened. These are men that know better. They just do some things that have consequences. You face your consequences. Devaney always said if you make less mistakes than they do you're the team that wins. If you make more mistakes you lose so we eliminate mistakes here. There are consequences to your mistakes and you've got to clean them up and move on as a better person and I think Osborne lives that.
DM What was your best Bowl Game memory?
BJ I think the Alabama game. Especially when it was over. We beat them 30 something to 6 and went 13-0 and it was over. They couldn't take it away from us. It was in the record books and we had whipped Oklahoma not too many weeks before that and we whipped Alabama soundly in the Orange Bowl and it was one of those great feelings. It's one of those deals where you work so hard for so long that once you've achieved it you can take a deep breath. I think that team knew it. They were loose as they could be every week. If you ever have a chance, there's a kid named Doug Jameil and there's a whole another book to be written about Jameil. He was the court jester. He was a comic. He was an offensive center from Houston and he had some many things and so many outfits and slogans and sayings. He kept that whole team as loose as they could be every week. Every single week. As Kiffin would say "If you don't win the first one you can't win them all. And if you don't win the second one you can't win them all." And so on until we won all 13.
I enjoyed Notre Dame probably better because I'm not a Notre Dame fan. To have a chance to go after them and beat them like we did was very satisfying to me. Notre Dame ranks in the top 10 if they don't field a team. They've got the following which we have now but that was the most fun. The Alabama game was the most memorable one.
DM Do you still stay in touch with teammates that you played with?
BJ Yes, I do. You can catch up so fast. John Adkins, number 57, Spider is his nickname. He's a medical doctor in Silver Spring, MD. I'll be fishing with him the second weekend in June. Jeff Hughes was a punter and an I-Back from Vermont and now lives in St. Petersburg, FL. Jim Carstens, fullback out of Chicago. Glen Ellis, Chicago. Guy Ingles is local in Omaha. Larry Jacobsen and I talk at least once a month. We've hunted elk together and things like that. Blahak, I bump into Joe maybe 4-5 times a year. Johnny Pitts, our monster back. I see him maybe three times a year. There are a lot of these guys that are great people and it's wonderful to stay in touch with them. Tom Ruud. His business runs the cafeteria in our building here.
DM What are you doing now?
BJ I'm a vice president and sales manager for a company called Ameritas Investment Corp. (www.aicinvest.com) and I have about 18 brokers that I'm responsible for as sales manager in Fremont, Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island and we have 11 underwriters, investment bankers, and we underwrite the majority of the Nebraska tax free municipal bonds. My office is in Lincoln and I'm in the south end zone on football Saturdays and I'm screaming with the best of them.
DM Bill, thank you for sharing the memories with us.
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