|Sports||Football, Track & Field, Basketball|
Tom Osborne made a name for himself in Nebraska athletics years before he won 255 games in 25 seasons as coach of the Huskers.
He started off making other coaches look smart. “I played every sport,” he said. “Athletics were my whole life.”
He remains just one of two men to win The World-Herald’s high school (1955) and state college (1959) athlete of the year awards.
Osborne said he knew as a grade-schooler that his skills were better than average.
“I don’t know if there was ever a light bulb that went on,” he said. “I just went out and played. But from an early age, I was doing pretty well at just about everything.”
In high school, Osborne was all-state in football and basketball in 1954-55 and helped Hastings win a state title on the hardwood. In track, he won the discus at the state meet as a senior and placed second in the 440-yard dash.
The future coach and congressman also stood out on the baseball diamond, starting at third base for Hastings’ 1953 Legion state champion team. He was offered a professional baseball contract before settling on hometown Hastings College, where he played basketball and football.
“I really loved both sports and could have played either at Nebraska,” he said. “But (basketball coach) Jerry Bush didn’t think I had time to play football. (Football coach) Bill Glassford wanted me, too, but he didn’t want me to play basketball.
“Nebraska, at that time, was struggling somewhat athletically. Hastings College was a natural choice, because I had grown up across the street.”
The brother of a scout from the San Francisco 49ers spotted him during the small-college Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, and he was drafted in the 19th round of the 1959 NFL draft.
He eventually was cut by the 49ers without playing but went on to play two seasons as a receiver with the Washington Redskins, starting some games and ranking third on the team in receptions in 1961.
In January of 1962, Osborne found himself at a turning point in his life. He was slowed by a chronic hamstring injury and was in a minor dispute with the Redskins over the $500 he was supposed to have been paid for exhibition games the previous season.
Though Washington offered him another contract for 1962, Osborne decided it was time to move on.
He returned to his home state as a graduate-assistant football coach under Bob Devaney in 1962.
His coaching career would eventually overshadow his impressive career as an athlete.
Played for: Hastings High, Hastings College, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins
Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: Osborne admired Bobby Reynolds but never played against the Grand Island star, who was six years older. Of those Osborne met on the field, he remembers Doane's Bill Lovercheck of Clay Center.
Best moment as an athlete: Osborne led Hastings College to the Mineral Water Bowl as a sophomore quarterback in 1957. "It wasn't much compared to the Orange Bowl, but it was a big deal for us." Hastings lost to William Jewell. But an official at the game told his brother, who worked for the San Francisco 49ers, about Osborne. That day helped lead to Osborne's short NFL career.
Osborne was No. 73 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »