Alexander, Vanden Bosch MVPs on and off the field
January 09, 2001
Fireworks banged. Balloons and confetti showered from the roof of the Alamo Dome. The Husker faithful stuck around to celebrate another glorious, in-your-face bowl win.
In a sense, the post-victory celebration of NU's 66-17 stepchild beating of Northwestern at the Alamo Bowl was a bit ridiculous. You would have thought the Huskers won another national title. It was like watching people go cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs over an NIT Championship.
So NU won the stinkin' Alamo Bowl over a clearly overrated bunch of scared men in purple tights. Big deal.
Well, to the Huskers it was. For all players and coaches, it prevented an embarrassing fall from grace in college football's eyes. For the seniors, it was their last chance to show that at least they had the heart to win a national title ... and a much bigger heart than might have been predicted considering where they were playing - not in Miami.
For Dan Alexander and Kyle Vanden Bosch, it was the last chance to show they were just as solid of football players as they were students and citizens. To unleash the potential to explode we all knew they had but never saw enough of. To show that work ethic and Lifter of the Year awards weren't their only claims to fame.
To show that maybe they deserved a little more respect.
Boy, did they.
They earned enough respect to have the best games of their lives - by far - and win MVP awards. And more importantly, no matter how awful Northwestern was, they left lasting memories and questions as to how good Nebraska could have really been if they played this convincingly every game.
The Incredible Hulks, both known for their off-the-field accomplishments, devotion to the weight room and humbleness, finally broke out of their own skins.
Alexander shattered the NU bowl-game record for rushing yards with 240 - or 12 yards a carry. Vanden Bosch was practically a one-man wrecking crew to Wildcat quarterback Zak Kustok, shutting down Northwestern's supposed Ferrari of an offense before Kustok could even start the engine.
And while glitzy playmakers Bobby Newcombe and Matt Davison went out with a bang and terrier Carlos Polk heroically finished on a crippled ankle, none of them stood tall on the Alamo Bowl's ridiculously towering presentation stage holding up MVP awards.
Instead, the mild-mannered men of stone got the spotlight for once. And for once, neither of them finished a game with pundits, such as yours truly, scoffing at what they didn't do.
Alexander, a 6-foot, 245-pound Goliath, calmly played a four-year career full of devastating injuries and widespread criticism of his un-Huskerlike lack of shiftiness.
He's just a bull with the ball, they'd say. Just a steamroller. He was entertaining to fans when he was a young pup, but frustrating when he couldn't bust out 50-plus-yard touchdowns in big games, a la predecessors Ahman Green, Lawrence Phillips and Calvin Jones.
He was even more frustrating when he'd fumble ... and fumble ... and fumble. This publication summed up such frustration earlier this year with the most poetic jab of jabs - his hands, like his body, were made of stone.
It's amazing Alexander carried the football and stayed cordial with the media through all this, let alone manage seven 100-yard games and a 240-yard encore.
So he had few moves. So some ex-players and experts didn't care for his technique. And yes, even Alexander himself was the first one to admit that any running back in the country could run through the holes the NU line opened for him.
We still should remember Alexander exits NU as its No. 10 all-time rusher and probably best yards-after-contact carrier ever. Linemen can't help you keep running after you've been hit. He did all this after returning to the field from a torn ACL and knee strain that required surgery.
If I tore my ACL, I probably couldn't make it back to the typewriter. All Alexander did was become the only freshman to win Lifter of the Year.
While he wasn't doing that, or earning three Big 12 commissioner Honor Roll awards with a 3.1 GPA in business, he made stops at the People's City Mission, the Food Distribution Center, St. Elizabeth's burn unit, the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Team Spirit Hospital Visitation Program and Dads for Kids with Disabilities. No Husker in the five-year history of the Brook Berringer Citizen Team has made it on four teams except Alexander.
You don't get yards or touchdowns for that, but Alexander deserves a little bit of credit.
As for Vanden Bosch, he never quite became the next Trev Alberts or Jared Tomich or Grant Wistrom as everyone anticipated he would when he was a hulking freshman. He was co-captain of a Blackshirt defense that had one its worst years in the last decade. The line he fought on got criticized for not getting to the quarterback enough.
Yet, without the plethora of bone-crushing sacks we expected, he still managed to lead the team with 17 tackles for losses and 26 quarterback hurries. And he made one of the nation's brightest and most innovative quarterbacks in Kustov look like Mr. Magoo in the pocket.
All this while graduating in three and a half years with a 3.8 GPA in finance and winning too many power lifter and academic awards to list here.
Both of these men, and a lot of athletes who don't get a lot of press, praise or even playing time, deserve more recognition than being brutes in jerseys who are pampered by athletic department pork and a sheepish fan following.
Sometimes we take for granted that it's not a walk in the park to take hits from both brutes and media know-it-alls everyday, then hit the weight room, then hit the books, then stop by a hospital to make someone's day just by your presence.
Yes, there are far too many athletes today who get much more light shined on them than they deserve.
But the light that shined on Alexander and Vanden Bosch in their last game, complete with an overdone, carnival-like atmosphere, was well-earned and fitting.
Take a bow, men.