#23 Tom Novak


There are athletes whose names are bestowed upon awards: Cy Young and Jackie Robinson to name a few.

For the Nebraska football program's year-end honors, there are three: Guy Chamberlin, Cletus Fischer and Tom Novak.

The award that "best exemplifies courage and determination despite all odds in the manner of Nebraska All-America center Tom Novak" is presented annually at the Outland Trophy Award dinner. And the list of past recipients is impressive — Dennis Claridge, Joe Orduna, Jeff Kinney, Rich Glover, Turner Gill, Tommie Frazier, Mike Minter and Scott Frost, among others.

Novak's fearless and relentless style made him a four-time all-conference pick (All-Big Six honors as a fullback-center in 1946 and ’47 before moving to center, where he was a All-Big Seven honoree in ’48 and ’49), a feat neither accomplished before nor after by a Husker football player.

It also helped him earn the nickname "Train Wreck" — and that was a compliment.

"He had absolutely no regard for his body," said the late Don Bryant, who was the Huskers' longtime sports information director. The two-way player would wear a sponge rubber pad on his chest to help cushion blows.

Novak's No. 60 was retired after the 1949 season, also the first Husker to earn that honor.

He started his destruction at Omaha South as an All-Nebraska fullback in 1942 and '43. He is a member of the OPS Athletic Hall of Fame, as well as the Omaha Sports Hall of Fame.

In 1999, World-Herald readers voted him No. 9 in a poll of the 50 greatest Huskers.

Also a three-year letter winner in baseball for NU, Novak was inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1972.

Though he was picked in the NFL draft — twice (32nd round in 1948 and fourth round in 1950) — his final game was the 1950 All-Star game in Chicago.

Novak was paralyzed after a 1976 fall at his Lincoln home and died in 1998.

"He’s the toughest guy I ever knew," Bryant said.

Quick facts about Novak

Played for: Omaha South High and Nebraska Cornhuskers

Best moment as an athlete: It might have come in a 31-0 loss to powerhouse Notre Dame in 1947, when Novak tackled everything in sight and later earned a spot on the Fighting Irish's all-opponent team for the season.

Nebraska 100: 2005 edition

Novak was No. 21 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »