On Monday afternoon, Sept. 26, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne was talking about what his team's offensive strategy would be without starting quarterback Tommie Frazier, who was in a Lincoln hospital for treatment of a blood clot in his right leg. "Oh, same as always," said Osborne. "You know...[pause for effect] up the middle. Pass every 10th play [tight-lipped smile, wait for reaction]."
Everybody laughed. They all thought he was joking.
Well, Osborne wasn't joking. Last Saturday the second-ranked Cornhuskers tore loose from an ugly 9-3 halftime lead over Oklahoma State with two third-quarter touchdowns en route to a 32-3 victory. A total of 23 plays, two passes. Right according to plan.
October 16, 1994
Is it possible that the dour Osborne had foreseen that his quarterback for the second half of Saturday's game would be a 5'11", 165-pound sophomore walk-on from Wahoo, Neb., a coach's dimpled kid who would look more at home in the woodwind section than behind center?
Not likely. No one could have imagined the damage done to Nebraska's quarterback position in the last two weeks; no one could have predicted that Matt Turman—called the Turman-ator by his teammates for his decidedly un-Arnold-like appearance—would assume the controls of a team designed for Frazier to guide to the national title.
Here's how it happened. In August 1992, Nebraska had live scholarship quarterbacks in camp: senior Mike Grant, red-shirt freshmen Tony Veland and Brook Berringer and true freshmen Frazier and Ben Rutz. Option specialist Veland won the job but broke his collarbone before the first game. Grant stepped in, but Frazier beat him out by the sixth game.
Frazier became a star, so Veland was moved to safety and Rutz transferred to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. Also, Nebraska signed no quarterbacks in 1993, the first time that had happened in Osborne's 21 years as coach in Lincoln.
Frazier, a junior from Bradenton, Fla., started this season as the most dangerous option quarterback in the country. But a blood clot caused him to miss Nebraska's fifth game, a 42-32 victory over Wyoming on Oct. 1, and a second clot formed early last week. Frazier underwent surgery to treat the clot, and because he will be on blood-thinning drugs for several months, his season is over.
Enter Berringer, a strong-armed 6'4", 210-pound junior with a name out of Dynasty and feet about as quick as John Forsyte's—not ideal for running the option. Berringer suffered a partially collasped lung in the Wyoming game, his first start, and a prescheduled X-ray at halftime of the Oklahoma State game showed a recurrence of the collapse. This led Osborne to turn from his chalkboard and say to the Turmanator, "Matt, get ready."
"I wouldn't say I was frightened," Turman said after the game. "I was anxious." For a kid whose high school graduating class had 32 students, Turman came up big, getting Nebraska in the end zone three times. All in all he turned in a respectable performance but with unbeaten Kansas State and Colorado ahead on the schedule, the Turmanator's role could be terminated; Veland may be moved back to quarterback, full time.
Veland? Turman? Berringer? It was Frazier who made Nebraska's offense most effective. "Tommie was the best quarterback in the country for our offense," says offensive tackle Zach Wiegart. "But you can't let the loss of one guy ruin your season. With our offensive line, I don't care if the quarterback is Rudy."
Hey, Zach, your quarterback was Rudy.
"I'd like to get people to think of Youngstown, Ohio, as a place where there's a good football team," says Jim Tressel, coach at Youngstown State. "Not as the place where the steel mills used to be."
That task may prove impossible, but Tressel is making progress. By leading the Penguins to Division I-AA national championships in 1991 and '93, and a 52-9-2 record since 1990, he has generated nationwide respect and unprecedented support for his team. For Saturday's homecoming game against defending Division II champion North Alabama, a school-record crowd of 17,411 turned out as Youngstown won 17-14.
"The program is vital to our community," says Youngstown mayor Patrick Ungaro. "Losing the mills took a tremendous psychological toll. We're starting to regain confidence, and YSU football has been a big part of that."
Between 1977 and '81, nearly 25,000 Youngstown steelworkers, almost 40% of the city's workforce, lost their jobs. Today unemployment holds at 13.6%, and roughly one fourth of the city's 95,732 residents live below the poverty level.
"It's grim," says Thomas Finnerty Jr., senior researcher at Youngstown State's Center for Urban Studies. "But the team gives us something to rally around. Winning can take your mind off other things."
When Tressel took over in 1986, Youngstown State, situated in an area—northeast Ohio—with a rich high school football tradition, was overlooked by local football fans. Tressel set out to turn the situation to his advantage. Emphasizing community pride, he coined the phrase "the State of Youngstown" to refer to the area within a 60-mile radius of the city, where he has done most of his recruiting. It is no accident that the heart of the Penguins' offense—center Chris Sammarone, quarterback Mark Brungard and running back Shawn Patton—grew up within a short drive of campus.
Though the homegrown cast has changed from year to year, Tressel's teams have a continuing reputation for being able to withstand adversity. In 1991 the underdog Penguins used a 19-point fourth quarter to beat Marshall 25-17 and win the championship. And on Saturday, after North Alabama tied the score at 14 early in the fourth quarter, Youngstown controlled the final 12 minutes by grinding out a drive that ended with a field goal and clinched the win with a defensive stand.
"There are tough people in this city and we represent them by playing tough football," says Sammarone. "The people of Youngstown don't give up. Neither do we."
On the Shelf
When Cal quarterback Dave Ban broke his collarbone in the second quarter of the Bears' 26-7 win over UCLA last week, it likely put him out for the rest of the regular season. But you can be sure he'll remain involved in the game, both on the sidelines and in the bookstores.
Bookstores? Barr is a voracious reader, especially of sports nonfiction. In fact, he has provided us with the following list of five must-reads:
1) Bootlegger's Boy, by Barry Switzer with Bud Shrake. "My favorite. It's stuffed with fascinating stories about Switzer and his days at Oklahoma."
2) Goat Brothers, by Larry Colton. "It's the story of five Cal fraternity brothers and takes them from their wild college days of the '60s to the present."
3) Bleeding Orange, a history of Texas football by John Maher and Kirk Bohls. "You can't help but be a Long-horn fan after reading this."
4) Joe: His Fight for Life, by Lena Roth. "Lena's son Joe was an All-America quarterback at Cal in 1976 who died of cancer shortly after his senior year. I couldn't put this down."
5) Audibles, by Joe Montana and Bob Raissman. "Montana was my hero growing up in the Bay Area. Like me, he started out as a fifth-string college quarterback."
Barr also praised Colorado coach Bill McCartney's book, From Ashes to Glory. In this case Barr had the opportunity to meet the author. When he spotted McCartney at Denver's Stapleton Airport in late January, Barr approached him. "Coach, I just read your book, and I loved it," he said.
For his part, McCartney didn't know that his admirer was one of the best quarterbacks in the country. As McCartney walked away, Barr called out the oft-used mantra of McCartney's autobiography: "Keep fighting the good fight!" We trust Barr will now heed those words too.
Players of the Week
Washington senior Napoleon Kaufman gained 254 yards on 27 carries in a 34-20 win over San Jose State, the most yards for a Husky since Hugh McElhenny ran for 296 in 1950.
Linebacker Dana Howard, an Illinois senior, had an interception and 14 tackles, including two sacks, in the Fighting Illini's 24-10 upset of Ohio State in Columbus.
Chris Hatcher, a senior at Division II Valdosta (Ga.) State, completed 39 of 44 passes for 418 yards and five touchdowns as the Blazers defeated New Haven 38-7.