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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nebraska's Football Heroes - Past and Present

Yesterday’s Heroes

by lyle e davis


John Bordogna, Pat Fischer, Dennis Claridge, Jerry Tagge, David Humm, Vince Ferragamo, Turner Gill, Tommy Frazier, Brook Berringer, Scott Frost, Eric Crouch, Sam Keller, Zac Taylor, Joe Ganz . . . what do these names have in common?

They were all star quarterbacks for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Fame was theirs . . . and, perhaps, a bit of fortune. But fame is fleeting, so are fortunes.

What has happened to these stars of yesteryear?

John Bordogna was the outstanding quarterback for the Huskers from 1952 through 1953. While still playing at Nebraska, he and several partners founded a pizza business that became quite successful. The sold their first pizza to then-coach, Bill Glassford.

Bordogna was drafted by the Green Bay Packers but was with them for less than a year due to an injury. He had a contract for a whopping $9200 per year. They didn’t have taxi squads then so Bordogna was released, due to his slow healing injury. He returned to Lincoln where he not only learned the painting business but became very successful as one of the state’s leading commercial painting contractors as well as a successful restaurateur and real estate investor. At 78 years of age, he is still going strong. He had a bout with bone cancer in his left arm, but that is now under control, he says. Bordgona’s former high school coach was hired as line coach for Nebraska and that’s how Bordogna came to a school and state he knew very little about. While he played as a star quarterback, he also played both ways, offense and defense.

He says in his senior year he played 558 minutes out of a possible 600 minutes.

In 1953 he was named to the All Big 7 team. He weighs 187 lbs today, just two lbs. over his playing weight of 185. . . .

Last year he predicted Bo Pelini would bring team back to stardom because of his teaching ability and his team of coaches.

Pat Fischer: Born January 2, 1940 in St. Edward, Nebraska, played for the Huskers from 1958-1960.

They called him ‘Mouse.’

At 5’ 9” tall and 170 lbs. soaking wet, Pat Fischer was a freakish combination of agility, guile, and gutsy determination. A big hitter wrapped in a tiny unassuming package.

The legendary Johnny Unitas was once being interviewed at Redskin’s Park when a cameraman sarcastically asked, "Hey John – who’s that 'kid' playing corner?"

"That KID", Unitas reportedly replied, "is Pat Fischer, and if he hits you, he’ll knock your socks off!"

In 1958, Pat followed older brothers Rex, Cletus, and Ken to the University of Nebraska. He played several positions for Nebraska including safety, tailback and quarterback. “When we played single wing, I was the tailback. When we moved into the T-formation, I played quarterback and that was a disaster,” he quipped. “I couldn’t throw the football well.”

While nothing in his time at Nebraska hinted at the NFL career to follow, Fischer did make his mark. Playing both defensive back and halfback for mediocre Cornhusker teams from 1958–1960, he led his team each year in all-purpose yards and kick-off return yards, and was a natural leader, serving as Team Captain. Despite his successes at Nebraska, however, the tough but diminutive Fischer never dreamed he had an NFL career ahead of him.

But Pat Fischer’s entire life turned out to be about defying expectations. In the 1961 NFL draft, he was selected in the 17th round by the St. Louis Cardinals. Fischer was so small, he spent his first practices in shorts and a t-shirt while the team struggled to find equipment. Properly outfitted, Fischer quickly established a reputation for surprising quickness, impeccable instincts at the cornerback position, and administering punishing hits. From 1961–1967, he perfected his craft. He out-thought, out-reacted and out-positioned his nearly always larger and faster opponents, snaring 29 interceptions, and averaging 24.5 yards. as a kick-off returner.

He finished his 17-year career with 56 interceptions, and ranks seventh all-time in Redskins career interceptions with 27 and fourth all-time with 412 career interception return yards. At the time of his retirement, Fischer had played in 213 NFL games, then a record for a cornerback. He was well known for his strong tackling skills despite his diminutive size. Some of Fischer's most memorable defensive match-ups occurred against Philadelphia Eagles receiver Harold Carmichael who stood eleven inches taller than Fischer.

After retiring from the Redskins, Fischer worked as a stockbroker and owned a successful real estate business.

Dennis Claridge: Born August 18, 1941 in Phoenix, Arizona, played from 1961 to 1963 for the Bob Devaney’s Cornhuskers. In 1976 he was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. A two-time first-team All-Big Eight quarterback for the Huskers, Claridge served as NU's team captain as a senior in 1963, when he went on to win Nebraska's Novak Trophy, which "exemplifies courage and determination despite all odds in the manner of Nebraska All-American center Tom Novak."

In addition to his duties as NU's quarterback, the 6-3, 210-pounder from Robbinsdale, Minn., was also one of the nation's best punters in 1961, 1962 and 1963. He earned three letters for the Huskers in those same seasons.

Claridge went on to play as a quarterback for the Green Bay Packers where he was a member of the 1965 NFL Champions playing behind future Hall of Famer, Bart Starr; later, he played for the Atlanta Falcons.

Claridge is now a senior marketing analyst.

Jerry Tagge: Quarterback from 1969 to 1971. As of 2007 Tagge still holds the Nebraska record for highest completion percentage in a season. Tagge’s 1970 completion percentage of 63.03 (104 for 165) has held up over the past 37 years.

He capped a tremendous career with a brilliant senior campaign. Tagge smashed all Nebraska passing and total offense records. He gained All-America and All-Big 8 honors as a senior and was a repeat winner of the Outstanding Back of the Orange Bowl in Nebraska’s 38-6 win over Alabama for their second straight National Championship.

Tagge's performance earned the notice of Dan Devine, head coach of the Green Bay Packers. On his recommendation, the Packers selected Tagge in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft (11th overall). Devine was replaced as head coach by Bart Starr following the 1974 season, who released Tagge.

Tagge left the NFL for the World Football League and later to Canada with the CFL, joining the BC Lions in 1977. He played three seasons with BC, until a knee injury ended his career in 1979.

David Humm: Born April 2, 1952 in Las Vegas, Nevada, he played as a three year starter for the Huskers from 1972 to 74 under head coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. Humm, a left-hander, was selected by the Raiders in the fifth round of the 1975 NFL Draft, the 128th overall pick. He was primarily a reserve during his professional career. He was in the NFL from 1975-84 with the Raiders, Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Colts and the Los Angeles Raiders.

In 1988, Humm was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 36 and lost the use of his legs in 1997. Despite this setback, he has continued as a color commentator for the Oakland Raiders, broadcasting from a studio set up in his home.

Vince Anthony Ferragamo, born April 24, 1954 in Torrance, California, he began his college career as a University of California Golden Bear, but transferred to Nebraska. He was a two-time letterman at Nebraska in 1975 and 1976, the final year of which he earned All-America and All-Conference Honors in the Big 8. He also led the Huskers to a victory against Texas Tech in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl.

He played for the Los Angeles Rams (1977-1980 and 1982-1984), Buffalo Bills (1985) and Green Bay Packers (1985-1986). After leading the 9-7 Rams to road victories over the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1979 NFL Playoffs, Ferragamo started for the Rams in Super Bowl XIV, in which the Rams led after three quarters of play before being overwhelmed by the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19.

Ferragamo enjoyed his best statistical season in 1980 in which he threw for 30 touchdowns, tied for second most in the NFL. The Rams again made the playoffs, but were defeated by Dallas, 34-13 in an NFC Wild Card Playoff

He left for Canadian professional football for very big money for that time, $400,000. He did not, however, do well.

On December 26, 1982, Ferragamo threw for 509 yards in a game against the Chicago Bears, at the time the second highest passing mark in league history behind former Ram Norm Van Brocklin. Subsequent to his return, Ferragamo led the Rams back to the NFL playoffs during the 1983 season behind the running of rookie Eric Dickerson. After beating the favored Cowboys in the wild card matchup 24-17, Ferragamo and the Rams were drubbed by the defending Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl-bound Washington Redskins by the score of 51-7.

Ferragamo currently owns a real estate business in southern California-and a private label company, Ferragamo-Migneco Vineyards, featuring fine quality domestic and imported wines. He is also the chairman of the Vince Ferragamo Foundation ( a charitable organization that focuses on raising donations for children's organizations such as the Special Olympics and the Ronald McDonald House.

Turner Gill grew up in Texas. During his senior season, Gill was courted heavily by Nebraska, as well as arch-rival Oklahoma, and Texas. Nebraska won the spirited battle for Gill, in part because they would allow Turner to play baseball as well as football, but also because head coach Tom Osborne had managed to quell any rumours about Nebraska supposedly being reluctant to play an African-American at quarterback.

Gill arrived on campus in 1980 and saw limited action in mop-up duty as a freshman, which at the time was still relatively unusual, as freshmen had only been recently allowed under NCAA rules to participate at the varsity level. Nebraska started the 1981 season poorly, losing two of its first three games and performing anemically on offense at times in all three. Gill had found himself third on the depth chart prior to the Huskers season opener. Down 3-0 to Auburn at halftime during the fourth game, with the season on the verge of slipping away, Osborne inserted Gill into the game. The Huskers pulled out a 17-3 victory, and Gill was given the starting job the following week. Behind Gill, the Huskers demolished Colorado 59-0, thus setting off an unbeaten run through the Big 8 conference, which Nebraska would win outright for the first time since 1971. Gill came back strong during 1982 and led the Huskers to a second consecutive outright Big 8 title and a 12-1 record overall, losing only a controversial game at eventual national champion Penn State in September. However, he suffered the first of many concussions in a game against Missouri which would ultimately shorten his playing career.

During his senior season, Turner would call the signals for one of the most prolific offenses in college football history, averaging 52 points and nearly 400 rushing yards per game. Gill finished fourth in the voting for the 1983 Heisman Trophy which was won by teammate Mike Rozier. The Huskers came within a whisker of a national championship, falling just one point short following a failed two-point conversion attempt in the 1984 Orange Bowl.

Overall, Gill finished with a 28-2 record in his three years as a starter, winning three consecutive outright Big Eight championships with a perfect 20-0 mark in conference play. Despite this, he was unable to lead the Huskers to a national title, falling agonizingly short in each of his three seasons.

Gill bypassed the NFL and instead signed a lucrative contract with the Canadian Football League's Montreal Concordes. In two seasons with the Concordes, Gill had 727 pass attempts with 411 completions for 4,928 yards and 23 touchdowns to 24 interceptions. He also had 826 rushing yards on 173 carries and seven touchdowns. However, during the last game of the 1985 season, he suffered another bad concussion and was advised by doctors to retire from pro football. He was only 23 years old.

Turner Gill is head coach for the Buffalo Bulls and is doing great. He came very close to being named head coach for the Huskers, being nosed out by some guy named Pelini. He is one of seven current African-American head coaches in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision.

Tommy Frazier played for Nebraska from 1992-1995 and is considered one of the greatest option quarterbacks in NCAA Division I-A history.

Frazier led his team to back-to-back consensus national championships in 1994 and 1995, and he remains the only quarterback to have done so since the 1950s. The 1995 Nebraska team is considered to have been one of the most dominant in the history of American college football.[ In a 2006 poll, the results of which aired on SportsCenter, the 1995 Nebraska team was voted the best college team of all time.

In 1999 Frazier was selected by Sports Illustrated as a back-up quarterback in their "NCAA Football All-Century Team." The starting quarterback was Sammy Baugh and the other back-ups were John Lujack, Roger Staubach and Doug Flutie. Frazier was one of six Nebraska Cornhuskers on this 85 man roster; the others being Johnny Rodgers, Rich Glover, Dave Rimington, Dean Steinkuhler and Aaron Taylor.

In 2004, named Frazier the #33 player on their list of the Top 100 Greatest College Football Players of All-Time.

Frazier was never drafted in the NFL due to a serious blood clot in his left leg, a side effect of Crohn’s disease.

Brook Berringer: In 1994, Berringer's junior season, he started seven games as a junior after Tommie Frazier, the heralded first-string quarterback, developed blood clots in his right leg.In his senior season, Berringer returned to his backup role, completing 26 of 51 passes for 252 yards in the 9 games he played. In a controversial and perfect Nebraska season, Berringer became an afterthought. For the third straight season, the Huskers played a Florida team for the National Championship, this time against the Florida Gators. Berringer scored a 1-yard touchdown for the final Nebraska points in a 62-24 Fiesta Bowl victory over Florida.

The Cornhuskers completed the regular season undefeated and won the Big 8 Conference Championship. Once again, the Huskers were pitted against a Florida team in the National Championship.

Frazier won back the starting spot in the Orange Bowl after a Christmas Eve scrimmage. But Berringer came off the bench in the second quarter, throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass at the end of a 40-yard scoring drive after Nebraska had fallen 10 points behind the University of Miami. The Cornhuskers won, 24-17.

Berringer was expected to be selected in the 1996 NFL Draft, but he died in a plane crash just two days before the draft. Berringer, an amateur pilot, was in control of a 1946 Piper Cub over Raymond, Nebraska, when the aircraft went down in an alfalfa field.

Scott Andrew Frost Born January 4, 1975, Frost pla;yed for the Huskers from 1995-1997. He led the Nebraska team that beat Peyton Manning's Tennessee Volunteers in the 1998 Orange Bowl. Frost holds the school record with 155 attempted passes with no interceptions. He was also involved in an incident involving Nebraska's star running back Lawrence Phillips, in which Kate McEwen, Phillips' girlfriend and a member of the Nebraska women's basketball team, had been in Frost's room when Phillips broke in and assaulted McEwen. Phillips was later charged with domestic abuse

He was drafted in the third round (67th pick) by the New York Jets and played six years in the National Football League as a defensive back with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers..

On January 26, 2009, Frost was hired as the wide receivers coach for the University of Oregon. On September 3, 2009, after Oregon lost its season opening game against Boise State, Frost restrained Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount as he confronted a group of fans. The entire ordeal was broadcast live on national television.[

Eric Crouch had a brilliant college career at Nebraska, from 1998 to 2001. He even surpassed Tommy Frazier as offensive leader. In 2001, Crouch won the Heisman Trophy, awarded annually to the most outstanding collegiate football player in the United States. He also won the prestigious Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award which is given annually to the best collegiate quarterback in the nation. During that year, running Nebraksa's option offense he completed 105 of 189 passes for 1,510 yards and seven touchdowns, while also rushing for 1,115 yards and 18 touchdowns. 1998 – 2001.

He was drafted into the NFL but they wanted him to play a position other than QB. Crouch's opportunity to play quarterback at the professional level finally came when he signed with the Toronto Argonauts on February 15, 2006 as a quarterback. On July 22, 2006, Crouch made his regular season CFL debut against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina, Saskatchewan. Coming in at the start of the second half following an injury to the starting quarterback, Crouch sealed the win for Toronto with solid play, including a 94-yard pass completion to Arland Bruce III.

In 2007, Crouch was expected to battle for the starting quarterback position, but eventually faltered due to injury. He began season on the nine-week disabled list. After coming off the nine-week disabled list, Crouch was released by the Argos on September 6, 2007.

Samuel Michael Keller, born September 28, 1984 in Danville, California, played for Nebraska in 2007. For a short time he was on the roster with the Oakland Raiders. He was signed by the Los Angeles Avengers as an undrafted free agent in 2008. He is currently a free agent. He currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and works as a bartender.

Zac Taylor, born May 10, 1983 was the starting quarterback for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers from 2005 to 2006. He was recruited late in the 2004-2005 off-season by the Huskers, being a described "lucky break" due to the Huskers lack of quarterbacks at the time. He led Nebraska to an 8-4 record during his inaugural year, 2005, as a starter at quarterback. In his fourth game however, Taylor had a breakout day against Iowa State, throwing for a school record 431 yards on 36 of 55 passing with two touchdowns. He steadily improved throughout the season, ending in a 30-3 win against Colorado where he threw 392 yards, and a come-from-behind 32-28 win against the Michigan Wolverines in the Mastercard Alamo Bowl, where he threw a Nebraska bowl record 3 touchdown passes. Taylor broke the school record for passing yards in a season with 2,653 yards on 55.1% of his passes being complete.

In his 2006 opener against Louisiana Tech, Taylor showed significant improvement over his season-opener the previous year, completing 22 of 33 attempts for 287 yards with 3 touchdowns and one interception. The game after, against Nicholls State, Taylor once again showed his precision in passing the ball, finishing 19 of 23 for 202 yards and a new career-best in 4 touchdown passes.

Taylor led the Nebraska Cornhuskers to a record of 9-3 with an appearance in the 2006 Big 12 Championship Game, facing off against against the Oklahoma Sooners. Taylor passed for 2789 yards and 24 touchdown passes during the regular season and earned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.

He signed with the National Football League's Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in 2007. Taylor was later cut from the team's 85 man roster and has since joined the Canadian Football League's Winnipeg Blue Bombers as their 4th quarterback. The Blue Bombers played in the Grey Cup (the CFL Championship game) on November 25, 2007.

Taylor is currently a football assistant at Texas A&M.

Joe Ganz: In 2008, Ganz set single-season school records for passing and total yards in his only year as a full-time starter for Nebraska, yet none of the NFL teams selected him in April’s two-day draft.

A week later, Ganz did work out for the Washington Redskins in conjunction with a team mini-camp. But the Redskins elected not to keep Ganz, choosing to hang on to four other quarterbacks, including former Missouri star Chase Daniel.

“They said they really liked me,” Ganz said of the Washington staff. “But it just came down to a numbers game.”

He’s also been told that he’s on several NFL teams’ short lists, an injury away from a getting a phone call. Ganz is still actively pursuing a professional playing career. He has had tryouts with a number of teams, most recently the Buffalo Bills in his second post-draft tryout with an NFL team. “For me, just the opportunity to try to make a team, that’s all I can really ask for,” Ganz said “It’s something that I’d love to do.”

And for some reason, if his football playing career does happen to fizzle away quicker than he’d like, Ganz wouldn’t hesitate to try becoming a coach. That’s not a bad second option, he said.

“I’m just keeping my head up, just working hard and hopefully, something will happen,” Ganz said. “If not, I think I have a pretty good backup plan to go into coaching.”

“It’s not do or die for me as much as it might be for some other guys, but I would love to get an opportunity to play.”

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