Fans Celebrate ‘Ultimate Lifetime Mentor’
Randy York’s N-Sider
Among the 1,800 people attending Saturday night’s “Tribute to Tom” Gala hosted by the Huskers Athletic Fund at Omaha’s CenturyLink Center were five loyalists with close ties to the Nebraska legend’s hometown of Hastings – a local surgeon, a middle school math teacher, a farmer and a former minister and his wife. A cavalcade of superstar coaches, athletes, leaders and entertainers found creative ways to define Tom Osborne’s legendary career as a Hall-of-Fame football coach, a three-term Congressman and an athletic director over the last half century.
“What an evening to remember!” said Hastings surgeon Jerry Seiler. “I thought it was great because Tom’s accomplishments weren’t what really struck the crowd. We all knew what they were. I think what struck most of us was the impact he’s had on everyone who’s been involved with him.” Mary Seiler, a Hastings math teacher and Jerry’s wife, agreed. “Tom Osborne is and will continue to be the ultimate lifetime mentor,” she said, “Dr. Irving Fryar may have said it best when he told everyone that Tom’s greatest legacy was transforming boys into men.” It was a spotlight moment. “In order for a boy to become a man, he has to see a man,” Fryar said, adding that “Coach Osborne was that man for me.”
Is Osborne a Modern-Day Father Flanagan?
Such a thought triggered another in Dr. Seiler’s mind, especially when he thinks about Fryar’s maturity after a long and distinguished NFL career. “When you really think about it, Tom Osborne is a modern-day Father Flanagan,” Seiler said, comparing Osborne’s influence to Father Edward Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town. “They both believe that everyone deserves a chance, and they both believe that you shouldn’t give up on people. That’s why TeamMates has been so successful. Mentors help kids believe in themselves, and they don’t give up on them. With the kind of support we saw tonight, we can all see TeamMates becoming more successful than ever.”
Roger Wright, who owns and operates a farm near Hastings, said he could identify with a Frank Sinatra impersonator singing “I Did It My Way” Saturday night. “In Tom’s case, My Way was the Right Way, and that’s what all of Tom’s former players, assistant coaches, rival coaches and even a Supreme Court judge kept saying tonight,” Wright said. “Tom does it the right way, and that’s what he preaches for every mentor. Our attention and our focus should be about helping other people grow and connect. That’s his legacy.”
That message was delivered early when Nebraska assistant football coach Ron Brown gave the evening’s invocation. Brown acknowledged Osborne’s belief in him and how he tries to carry that same torch to every player he coaches. “Dr. Tom is the epitome of mentors,” Wright said. “He’s never reached out to others for his own praise and glory. He’s reached out to help others improve their lives. I think we can all say ‘well done’ for Tom being such a good and faithful servant.”
Jim Miller, who served Grace United Methodist Church for 14 years in Hastings before becoming pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Lincoln, marveled at Saturday night’s venue and its format. “I thought it was excellent that Omaha could pull off something so big. and even though we were sitting near the back of the room, they managed to keep everyone engaged,” he said. “I liked how they did it, switching from very creative choreography, dancing and acrobats to videos, singing on the floor and even on-the-couch interviews with Chris Fowler. Chris seemed like he’d lived in Nebraska all of his life. He was very well prepared on all of the traditions and history of Nebraska football.”
Switzer, Frost, Fryar Connect with Pastor
Miller’s wife, Karen, thought every guest speaker had invaluable input.
“The ones that really connected with me were Barry Switzer, Scott Frost and Irving Fryar,” Jim said. “Fowler and Switzer both talked about Coach Osborne casting the longest shadow in college football and both insisted that what he accomplished at Nebraska will probably never be duplicated.”
Switzer’s razzle-dazzle style, which included him singing with Saturday night’s Neil Diamond impersonator, sharply contrasts with Osborne’s understated humility, yet the two are inextricably linked in college football’s history book. “Tom and Barry have completely different coaching styles and completely different lifestyles, yet they will always be connected by their mutual respect and affection for each other,” Miller said.
Even though the banquet room erupted in laughter several times during the evening, three of the most popular quips at a certain table were: 1) Frost’s recollection of Osborne’s advice not to campaign for a national championship in 1997 and his justification for avoiding that advice: “If he (Osborne) was good at campaigning," Frost said, "he would have been elected governor.” 2) Frost's jibe that he saw Tom's hands shake prior to making the call for the last-minute play in the infamous Miracle at Missouri game. Osborne told Frost: "My hands were shaking because I knew we'd have to pass." And 3) Bo Pelini’s joking claim to having secret advice from Osborne before he took the field in his first game as Nebraska’s head coach: “Tom pulled me aside and said: ‘Just remember this – Don’t take any crap from those refs!’”
Pelini Joins A-Team Coaches and Players
Yes, Pelini's piece of fiction brought the house down. So did Fowler pointing to the head coach's incredible performance in Nebraska’s Harlem Shake video, one of many that kept the Tribute to Tom program moving in between singing, dancing, acrobatics and live interviews with Trev Alberts, Barry Alvarez, Bill Snyder, Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, Eric Crouch, Tommie Frazier, Frost, Fryer, (actor) Dennis Haysbert, Pelini, Switzer, Bob Stoops, Charlie McBride, Billy Sims, Jim Pillen and Ndamukong Suh. "I think the night gave each person a feeling and a presence with the tradition surrounding Nebraska football,” Miller said. “Everyone who attended felt like part of the family.”
Ken Baldwin, a retired administrator for Westside Community Schools in Omaha, found it difficult to elevate testimonials among nearly two dozen. “There were so many names, so many faces and so many memories, and they were all good,” he said. “I guess the two that stick out the most was Clarence Thomas saying that Tom did it the right way for the right reason and Irving Fryar calling the night a celebration of Tom’s life, not a retirement. Fowler, Switzer and Snyder all said that what Tom did in his 25 years as a head coach – like never winning fewer than nine games in any single season – will never be repeated.”
Baldwin described the theme of an unforgettable evening in its simplest terms. “With Tom Osborne, it isn’t just about football. It’s about life, whether you were the big star or just a guy who needed some guidance,” he said.”Dr. Osborne provided something very important to everyone. He influenced who they were and what they became.”
Giving Back Theme of Well-Organized Event
Cindy Sorum of Lincoln said the fete honoring Osborne exemplified the abundant life of a man who’s beloved by so many. “The event was well-organized, well attended and true to what is important to Tom and Nancy Osborne – giving back,” she said. “It was only fitting that the proceeds will go to the Teammates program they founded and to the East Stadium because Tom’s vision for research will be truly one of a kind. I could have listened to Barry Switzer, Scott Frost and Charlie McBride for another hour while they related their memories and, more importantly, showed their respect and affection for Coach Osborne. They were hilarious and caring at the same time.” Cindy says Osborne "reflects the happiness in giving back and seeing the joy in others. He has given so much and touched so many lives that you know he goes into retirement a truly happy man.”
Osborne Will Shape State’s Conscience
Steve Sorum, Cindy’s husband, called Saturday night’s event “an apt tribute to a man whose career success and personal integrity unified Nebraskans like few others in the state’s history,” he said. “Many consider Tom the greatest-ever college football coach, a title legitimized by Barry Switzer, who has to be one of his closest rivals for that honor. I thought it was great when Barry said that Tom casts a shadow longer than anyone who ever coached the game.” That statement will not be disputed by a man who helped Osborne learn about ethanol when he was running for Congress. “He took the time to look at all of our files and all of our statistics and all of the research we’d ever done,” Sorum said. “He does everything the right way. That’s why I think his genuine compassion, his humility, and his passion for service will continue to shape the state’s conscience for generations to come.”
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Voices from Husker Nation
I am a 48-year-old
woman who lives in a tiny Wisconsin town way up north. People think I'm crazy
because of how much I love Nebraska football (I have Husker band aids), and it
is all and only because of Tom Osborne. What a great man. GO HUSKERS!!! Carrie Velin, Superior, Wisconsin