The “Pipeline” nickname for Nebraska’s offensive line dates to the early 1990s, originating in 1993, or thereabouts, a designation solidified by the back cover of the 1994 Husker media guide and by the national championships Nebraska won in three of Coach Tom Osborne’s final four seasons.
But the tradition of great Husker lines began long before, even preceding the institution of two-platoon play with NCAA rule changes beginning in 1964. For the purposes of this brief discussion, however, the context follows the national championship lines of 1970 and 1971.
Among the best between those lines and the 1990s lines were the 1982 and 1983 lines, both of which could have cleared the way to national championships, too, if not for situations worthy of “What If?” discussions, as addressed in the latest issue of Hail Varsity magazine.
Dave Rimington, Nebraska’s recently appointed interim athletic director and arguably the most decorated offensive lineman in collegiate history, anchored the 1982 line as a senior, when he won a second Outland Trophy, the Lombardi Award and unanimous All-America honors for a second time, as well as finishing fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy behind teammate Mike Rozier.
The 1982 team led the nation in total offense (518.6), rushing offense (394.3) and scoring offense (41.1), numbers that were eclipsed the next season, even though Nebraska’s per-game average of 546.7 yards of offense was second to pass-oriented BYU’s 584.2-yard average.
The 1983 Huskers averaged 401.7 rushing yards and 52 points to lead the nation. The rushing average remains a school record. The 1995 team broke the other two, with per-game averages of 556.3 total yards and 52.4 points. As in 1983, the 1995 team finished second to pass-oriented Nevada in total offense. The Wolfpack led the nation in passing and averaged 569.4 total yards per game.
Rimington was a three-year starter at center, but offensive line coaches Milt Tenopir and Clete Fischer tried him briefly at tackle during the spring of 1979. “I didn’t go into it with my arms open. I go, ‘There is no future for me in this position,” Rimington has said, looking back.
He lined up against senior defensive tackles Dan Pensick and Bill Barnett, and “I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Rimington. “I didn’t have the range to play tackle. I didn’t really know how to pass-block that well. It was just a disaster. So it was humbling . . . and it was probably good because I was so relieved when they said I could play center, I’m like, ‘Thank goodness. I cannot do this.’”
By spring’s end, he was back at center, and happy.
“Milt and Clete said, ‘Man, you just played that. You didn’t even want to do it.’ I go, “I didn’t, but I did try hard. And I could not do it. I was not sandbagging,’” Rimington said.
History shows where he belonged.
Rimington was among four senior starters in the 1982 offensive line. Right guard Dean Steinkuhler was the only junior. Center Aaron Graham was the only junior starter, also with four seniors, in the 1994 line. And like Steinkuhler, Graham also earned All-America recognition as a senior.
Steinkuhler was Rimington’s successor as Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award winner, as well. “He was just athletic. I mean, he was just a flat-out strong, athletic guy,” Rimington said. “He looked like he could’ve played tight end. He was just a really good athlete.
“Myself, I had to be center because I was 6-foot, so that’s where I had to be. But he had some range on him. He was 6-4 and a good athlete, just looked the part. He looked like a Nebraskan . . . he looked like Herbie Husker, big jaw . . . you look at him, ‘That’s Herbie Husker right there.’”
Mike Mandelko, a two-year starter, was the left guard in 1982, with Randy Theiss, a three-year starter like Rimington, at left tackle, and Jeff Kwapick, who had backed up Theiss for two seasons, moving to the right side to start in 1982. The back-ups included tackles Scott Raridon, Mark Behning and Mark Traynowicz and guard Harry Grimminger, the four new starters in 1983.
Traynowicz, like Grimminger a sophomore, was moved to center in the spring of 1983 and followed Rimington. He earned unanimous All-America honors as a senior.
The line’s job was “to facilitate” the offense, “not screw it up,” said Rimington. “We’re here to make sure they (“skill-position” players) get their yards, get the accolades; that’s fine. I still can’t believe the stuff (awards) I was getting. I wasn’t even the best guy on my offense.
“I’m just a guy getting in people’s way. It doesn’t take that much skill for that.”
Nebraska’s interim athletic director was as humble as he was good, like those lines in 1982 and 1983, as well as many others during the course of Husker history.
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.