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Saturday, April 25, 1998

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Former Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne, left, gives Jon Zatechka his 1997 national championship ring Friday night, April 24, 1998 in Lincoln. Nebraska athletic officials also dedicated Memorial Stadium's playing surface in honor of Osborne as part of the ceremony.
Husker nation honors Osborne

Last modified at 12:07 a.m. on Saturday, April 25, 1998
By Terry Douglass
The Independent

LINCOLN -- It wasn't a Nebraska Cornhusker football Saturday at Memorial Stadium, but it almost felt like one.

A crowd of 43,197 turned out Friday night to honor the national champion Nebraska football field and rededicate Memorial Stadium. But first and foremost the NU faithful came to pay tribute and wish a fond farewell to retiring Husker coach Tom Osborne.

The two-hour event was capped by a massive fireworks display after the dedication Tom Osborne Field. Osborne retired from the football coaching ranks after 25 seasons as NU's head coach and 36 years with the program.

In his reign as Nebraska's head coach, Osborne won 255 games and guided the program to three national championships in his final four seasons. Osborne's teams never failed to win at least nine games in a season or to earn an invitational to a bowl game.

Osborne, who was recently inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, picked up more honors Friday. Osborne received the Amos Alonzo Stag coach of the year award as well as the Chevrolet national coach of the year award.

Nebraska athletic director Bill Byrne and Husker senior fullback Joel Makovicka were among those wishing a farewell to Osborne.

Said Makovicka of his former coach: "I know the type of guy coach Osborne is and I know that he would like to just step away quietly. But any time the greatest coach in college football history steps aside, it's anything but quiet."

Several other famous names paid tribute to Osborne via video-taped segments shown on Memorial Stadium's giant HuskerVision screens. They included ABC's Brent Musburger, ABC/ESPN basketball analyst Dick Vitale, Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel, Florida State coach Bobby Bowden as well as former Husker players Irving Fryar, Dave Rimington, Kenny Walker, Jason Peter, Grant Wistrom and Scott Frost.

Frost, a Wood River High School graduate who quarterbacked NU to a 24-2 record over the past two seasons, said in his video-taped tribute that when he thinks of Osborne, one thing comes to mind.

"When you talk about coach Osborne, 'respect' is the first word I'd choose," Frost said. "The way he conducts himself, the way he treats you, you can't have anything but respect him."

The dedication of Tom Osborne Field included an address from Nebraska chancellor James Moeser and a dedication statement from NU regent Robert Allen. Members of Osborne's family unveiled a covered portion of the sideline in the northeast corner of the field where red letters spelled out "Tom Osborne Field."

Osborne said he was thankful for the opportunity to coach at Nebraska.

"First of all, I'd like to thank God for the chances I've had," Osborne said. "I've had the great opportunity to coach in one place for 36 years in my home state with people I care about and in front of people I care about."

Osborne also thanked his players and coaching staff as well as his wife, Nancy, and his family for the support they provided during his coaching career. Even with all the victories, honors and national championships, Osborne said it's the relationships with people that he'll remember most.

"It's the relationships that count," Osborne said. "The rings from the championships are nice, but the thing I'll carry with me is the relationships with the players and the coaches. I'll never forget any of you."

Osborne's address was followed by the crowd's fifth standing ovation of the evening. Another video tribute to Osborne backed by the song "The Game," performed by Border Town, and the second fireworks display of the night closed out the celebration.

The championship celebration began with the rededication of Memorial Stadium. The rededication included an address from Moeser, rededication statement from Allen, a 21-gun salute along with the National Anthem.

Members of the undefeated 1997 Nebraska football team were also honored. An address by Gov. Ben Nelson, a video review of the season and the presentation of national championship rings highlighted that portion of the event.

"Last season confirms two of my long-standing beliefs," Nelson told the crowd. "There is no place like Nebraska and Husker fans are the best fans on earth."

The Huskers completed last season 13-0 and shared the national championship with Michigan. The scoreboards in the stadium showed the final score: Huskers 42, Vols 17. The final score of NU's Jan. 2 FedEx Orange Bowl victory over Tennessee.

Nebraska has won five national championships overall with the first two titles coming in the early 1970s under Bob Devaney. Nelson also took time to honor the memory of the legendary coach who died last spring.

"I know his spirit is with us tonight," Nelson said.

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Osborne's Retirement

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