To redshirt or not redshirt? That was the question for Tristan Gebbia this season and Patrick O’Brien a year ago. Thirty years before it was the question as well. The answer? “Right now, I wish he would have redshirted,” Coach Tom Osborne said. “But he chose not to.”
Osborne was speaking to reporters following Nebraska’s 42-25 victory against Oklahoma at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 18, 1989. Gerry Gdowski was the “he” to whom Osborne referred.
Two-time All-America center Jake Young had said of Gdowski, also a senior, after the game, “I don’t think there’s a better quarterback in the country.”
Gdowski had completed 12-of-15 passes for 225 yards and four touchdowns, without an interception. He also rushed for a touchdown, on an 8-yard run to open the scoring.
His rushing numbers were atypical, eight carries for a net of 22 yards. He finished the year – that was the final regular-season game – with 925 yards, averaging 7.9 per carry. The touchdown was his team-high 13th rushing. His rushing yards were second to Ken Clark’s 1,196 (with 12 touchdowns).
Gdowski completed 71-of-136 passes for 1,326 yards and 19 touchdowns, and just two interceptions, in 11 games. Bowl games didn’t count in NCAA statistics. He “didn’t have the greatest throwing motion, but he got the ball where it had to go,” Osborne said looking back years later.
“He had speed, excellent runner, smart guy.”
Gdowski started only the one season at Nebraska. His total statistics going into 1989 were 286 yards and four touchdowns rushing (averaging 8.2 yards on 35 carries) and 6-of-10 passing for 72 yards, with no interceptions. He backed up Steve Taylor and Clete Blakeman as a sophomore and Taylor as a junior. His first year, as most Huskers still did, Gdowski played on the freshman-junior varsity.
He led the freshmen-jayvees to a 4-1 record, rushing for five touchdowns and passing for one.
Also, most Huskers still redshirted – Young was unique in that he had played enough with the varsity, at guard, to earn a letter, the first Husker offensive lineman to do so since the NCAA reinstated freshman eligibility in 1972. No one else in the 1986 scholarship recruiting class played right away.
Walk-on Gregg Barrios, the back-up kicker, did play as a freshman, too, in 1986.
Gdowski wasn’t the only one of the 19 in the class to play the next season without redshirting, among them split end Morgan Gregory, defensive end Jeff Mills and offensive tackle Doug Glaser, who also earned All-America honors in 1989. But they filled needs, while Nebraska appeared set at quarterback, with Taylor, a second-year starter, and Blakeman as his back-up.
Gdowski opted not to redshirt earning No. 1 on the depth chart in competition with sophomores Mickey Joseph, who had redshirted, and Mike Grant, who had not, in the spring of 1989.
Gdowski’s starting debut came in the season-opener against, yes, Northern Illinois at Memorial Stadium. He rushed for 75 yards, on only five carries, and completed 6-of-8 passes for 83 yards and one touchdown, with one interception, in the 48-17 victory.
The score was tied at 17 at halftime. The game was played in 2:46.
Gdowski was Co-Offensive Player of the Year, with Colorado quarterback Darien Hagan, in 1989. He was first-team All-Big Eight according to the coaches, second-team AP and UPI. Nebraska ranked third nationally in total offense (513.3), second in points (44.7) and first in rushing (375.3). The Huskers finished the regular season 9-1, the only loss at Colorado (27-21), and ranked sixth.
They lost to No. 5 Florida State 41-17 in the Fiesta Bowl and finished 11th in the AP poll. There was no disgrace in that, however. After losing their first two games, Coach Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles won 10 in a row, and many considered them the best team in the country at season’s end. They finished third in the rankings, behind 11-1 Miami and 12-1 Notre Dame.
Though Florida State shut down Gdowski and the Husker offense – opponents completed just 39.6 percent of their passes – that didn’t change what he accomplished. He “played an outstanding game today,” Oklahoma Coach Gary Gibbs had said. “He’s played outstanding all year.”
Gdowski played “as well as any quarterback I’ve ever had here,” said Osborne.
Had he redshirted after playing on the freshman-junior varsity, Gdowski (now the quarterbacks coach at Vanderbilt) “definitely would have had one more excellent year, probably would have been even better the next year,” Osborne said looking back.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.