Welcome to Tom’s Time, a regular feature that will take a closer look
at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football
that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to
which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne’s 25
years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater
Tom Osborne’s move from a more pass-oriented
offense to the option in the late 1970s was based on the belief that in
order to succeed in the Big Eight a team had to play as Oklahoma did.
The Sooners ran a Wishbone offense, and though Nebraska didn’t go to
that extreme, Osborne began recruiting quarterbacks who could win by
running as well as passing. Jeff Quinn, out of Ord (Neb.) High School in
1976, was the first such Husker quarterback. Osborne has said as much.
interest in running quarterbacks goes back much further, however, if
it’s as a teammate at Hastings (Neb.) College claimed. Osborne played
quarterback for the Broncos, who ran an option offense according to the
teammate, and 90 percent of the time, he kept the ball.
“He thought running plays were for him,” the teammate said with a laugh.
showed some interest in Osborne following his graduation from Hastings
(Neb.) High in 1955. He was the state Prep Athlete of the Year, earning
first-team all-state recognition in both football and basketball as a
senior. He played quarterback, as a back-up his sophomore year, before
directing the Tigers to an 8-1-0 record and starting for a Class A state
championship team as a junior.
He was the only non-senior
starter on the Tigers’ Class A state championship team, which featured a
pair of first-team All-Class A players who stood 6-foot-5. Osborne was a
slender, or skinny, 6-3 guard. As a senior, he averaged 19.2 points per
game for a team that finished 13-4.
The premier Nebraska high school player in 1955 was Omaha Tech’s Bob Boozer.
Osborne also competed in track and field and played American Legion baseball.
football coach Bill Glassford, who was preparing for what would be his
final season in Lincoln, and basketball coach Jerry Bush, preparing for
his first, both contacted Osborne to gauge his interest and offered
scholarships. But neither was aggressive in recruiting him. Wyoming,
pre-Bob Devaney, offered a football scholarship, and Denver University
wanted him for basketball.
But Osborne decided to stay home and
play football and basketball at Hastings College, opting to pay his own
way instead of accepting the scholarship that was offered. His father
and paternal grandfather had both gone there, and son Mike would go
there as well – and start at quarterback for three seasons. Osborne was
as successful in both sports as he had been in high school, enough so to
earn recognition as the State College Athlete of the Year twice.
future, professionally, was in football and was a result in large part
to his play in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, on
Nov. 30, 1957. Hastings College, which had lost to Missouri Valley in
the bowl when Osborne was a freshman, lost to William Jewell that
Saturday afternoon. Even so, Osborne would attract the attention of the
San Francisco 49ers.
The Broncos took a 7-0 lead with 4:15
remaining in the first quarter of the Mineral Bowl after an intercepted
pass at the William Jewell 30-yard line. They would score on the next
play, Osborne’s 30-yard touchdown pass.
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.