By now, anyone and everyone is familiar with Jack Hoffman’s 69-yard touchdown run from Saturday’s spring game in Lincoln. If by some reason you are not, just Google Jack’s name and a slew of news stories and videos will catch you up.
That moment, during an otherwise typical spring game, transcended sports. For those 69-yards, every football fan (and every non-football fan) stood together to cheer on “Team Jack” and the special touchdown that unfolded before them.
The cameras focused on Jack and his father. News reporters clamored to hear from the 7-year-old and what the touchdown meant to him. Rightfully so, as the only person that ultimately mattered was Jack.
Behind it all, there was one person that showed great character in supporting the idea. Nebraska fans know about Jack’s friendship with former I-back Rex Burkhead. Fans may also now know that the idea for the touchdown run came from football operations director Jeff Jamrog and fullback C.J. Zimmerer. However, the person whose character really shined was someone hardly mentioned beyond a quote or two in each interview and article.
That person was head coach Bo Pelini.
Pelini has spent the better part of his career at Nebraska battling the stigma that he doesn’t fully love the university. Fans know he loves his players, yet they still question his devotion to the program. When his name is constantly attached to open head coaching jobs, it’s not hard to believe the man may be interested in heading elsewhere. Saturday proved a whole different story.
In the last couple of months, fans have had the opportunity to see a side of Pelini not seen before. From the Harlem Shake video, where he proudly showcased his dancing skills, to Saturday’s touchdown run from Jack Hoffman, Pelini’s layers are starting to peel back one-by-one.
The head coach has dealt with his fair share of scrutiny too, which hasn’t helped his overall image. Cameras are often focused on Pelini during close games, waiting for the perfect moment to capture the coach at his worst. Former athletic director Tom Osborne came to Pelini’s defense many times, and current athletic director Shawn Eichorst has assured the public that the coach is on the right track for Nebraska.
Regardless, the stigma continues to exist. On Saturday, that changed for a large number. National news reporters picked up the story, highlighting the Huskers in a way that brought even rivals out of the woodwork to say they admire Pelini and his crew. The head coach smiled brightly at Jack, who has now gone down in history as the record holder for longest touchdown in a Nebraska spring game.
You can call it good PR for the coach. It wasn’t, though. Pelini’s reactions and feelings behind why the team wanted to do this were genuine. Had the video never gone viral and swept the nation, Pelini’s smile would have still been just as wide. It was never about publicity. It was all about Jack.
It hasn’t been the easiest of roads at times for Pelini. There will continue to be those that doubt him. Regardless, Saturday was a moment worth remembering. It will be hard to deny Pelini’s heart for this team and the community from here going forward.
Not many would probably find it worth questioning now anyway.