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By Randy York
Ewald Richard Stiehm, namesake and nephew of Ewald "Jumbo" Stiehm (pronounced Steam), made his first-ever trip to Lincoln Friday, and the 79-year-old Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics at UCLA's School of Medicine experienced a surprise visit with Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne, who showed him some historic photos hanging on the wall outside his office. Fifteen minutes earlier and one floor below, Dr. Stiehm found the uncle he was named after in five team pictures hanging in the hallway of Nebraska's football offices, and sure enough, he saw every player on every team coached by Uncle Ewald, whose teams won or tied for five consecutive Missouri Valley Conference championships from 1911 to 1915. Jumbo's teams won 35 games, lost only two and tied three and his .913 winning percentage is the highest in Nebraska history. His teams' 34-game unbeaten streak is another school record.
In their conversation, Osborne mentioned his friendship with John Wooden and commented how well grounded he thought UCLA's legendary basketball coach was. Dr. Stiehm, who had given three lectures in Omaha and Lincoln and was scheduled to give a fourth Friday night, told me that Osborne reminded him of Wooden "because he's so very soft-spoken, self-effacing and such a modest person," he said. "It was an absolute pleasure to meet him. I was very impressed and glad he helped get Nebraska into the Big Ten. This conference is a great fit for Nebraska. They belong here because they have a terrific combination of athletes, scholars and a diverse student body." A Phi Beta Kappa at Wisconsin, where he also earned his medical degree, Stiehm mentioned how impressed he was with Lincoln. "It reminds me of Madison," he said. "They're like mirror images of each other ... about the same size and both state capitals with wonderful universities. The people are extremely friendly and nice, very much like the people I grew up with in Madison. I must say though that Nebraska has much better athletic facilities than Wisconsin. Once Nebraska gets into its new basketball facility, I think the only facility better at Wisconsin is our 16 indoor tennis courts." (FYI: Stiehm was a Badger letter winner in tennis).
Dr. Stiehm said his research of family history revealed several interesting historical facts: 1) His uncle coached Nebraska's first two All-America players - Vic Halligan and Guy Chamberlin; 2) His uncle's 8-0 team in 1915 was invited to the Rose Bowl, but Nebraska's Athletic Board turned down the invitation because travel costs to and from California were too expensive; 3) Since one of Nebraska's 1915 wins was against Notre Dame, some call the Huskers unofficial national champions that season; 4) His uncle also won a conference championship as NU's head basketball coach, making him the only coach in Big Eight (and its predecessors) history to win football and basketball titles in the same academic year; and 5) His uncle's request for a $750 raise was rejected because Nebraska did not want a coach to make more money than the school's top professor, so Jumbo resigned and became head football coach and head basketball coach at Indiana. His salary at Nebraska was $4,250; Indiana paid him $4,500.
We asked Dr. Stiehm, who has two degrees from Wisconsin and has been a professor at UCLA since 1969, how he thought Nebraska would fare in 2012 games at UCLA and at home against his alma mater. "I think Nebraska is going to slaughter UCLA and get beat by Wisconsin," he said. "Wisconsin is just too big and too tough. Their top two running backs are back, and they've imported another quarterback. I think they're going to be the best in the Big Ten again and come to Pasadena for another Rose Bowl." We have one more gem from our conversation with Dr. Stiehm. Even though he did not know Wooden well, the Bruin legend was responsible for keeping him on UCLA's medical staff. "Ohio State offered me a job with higher pay, and my chairman said if you stay, I'll call Coach Wooden, and he'll get you better basketball tickets." Dr. Stiehm said, adding: "He got me better tickets, and I didn't go to Ohio State."
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