Nebraska linebacker Donta Jones says “The Prayer” was pivotal in 1994.
By Randy York
On the eve of Nebraska and Miami renewing a college football rivalry that is dead even at five wins apiece, we take you back two decades when the Huskers were pioneers outdoors and unifiers indoors.
Tom Osborne’s first national championship team in 1994 launched the Tunnel Walk, and here’s hoping that the Huskers’ four captains finally get to “feel it” since they were already on the field 20 years ago when one of college football’s grandest traditions leveraged sudden impact videos from the biggest screens in college or professional football at the time.
Yes, pregame obligations prevented Terry Connealy, Ed Stewart, Zach Wiegert and Rob Zatechka from having the same rush their teammates experienced because in 1994 all four were already on the field, meeting opposing captains, listening to officials, and being part of the coin toss.
As ground-breaking as the Tunnel Walk was, a Nebraska All-Big Eight linebacker nominates something else as even more pivotal to the Huskers winning their first national championship in a quarter century.
And what would that be? “Our pregame prayer,” said Donta Jones, who insists Vernon Powell, a former teammate, introduced “The Prayer”, a pregame ritual for 1994 players wanting to improve their off-season tenacity and amp up their resolve to win a national title after a missed last-second field goal left the Huskers short the previous year.
1:16 is a Number That Fueled Husker Purpose
“Losing to Florida State the previous year with 1:16 remaining gave our prayer a purpose,” Jones said. “That entire off-season, we pushed ourselves past the limit on and off the field simply because we believed. WE BELIEVE became our team motto. It drove us every day to be champions and finish the business we didn’t finish in 1993.”
The commitment to every day improvement became a shared commodity and the heart and the soul of “The Prayer” which has become part of Nebraska’s DNA and continues to be a vital component of Husker tradition two decades later. Jones, one of three Nebraska linebackers who earned first-team All-Big honors in 1994, went on to play six years in the NFL. He and his wife live in Charlotte, N.C., and flew to Lincoln for this special reunion weekend. Their oldest son plays football at Ball State and they have two children (15 and 19 months-old) living at home. Jones smiles when he reveals that his next goal is to officiate NFL games. It’s a step-by-step process that will require day-by-day improvement and yes, Jones can still recite every word of The Prayer:
Dear Lord, the battles we go through life,
We ask for a chance that’s fair
A chance to equal our stride,
A chance to do or dare
If we should win, let it be by the code,
Faith and Honor held high
If we should lose, we’ll stand by the road,
And cheer as the winners go by
Day by Day, we get better and better!
Til’ we can’t be beat … WON’T BE BEAT!
“We start in low voices and we build to high voices before we say amen,” Jones said. “That prayer was the purpose that allowed our team to go out and win a national championship for Coach Osborne.”
Former Husker John Garrison believes in Mark Pelini’s leadership.
Mark Pelini Leads Prayer to Strive for Excellence
It is same igniter for this year’s team. Check out the conviction in Nebraska’s resolve here. “Mark Pelini is doing a great job of leading that prayer,” said Mike Nobler, Nebraska football’s video coordinator. “He knows how to enunciate, when to slow down and when to speed up. He has a way to psych people up with ‘Won’t Be Beat.’”
The Prayer is a commitment to strive, to seek excellence, to win the right way and to keep faith and honor held high. It is a gift from Vernon Powell, a cornerback from East St. Louis, Mo., and two-year Husker letterman in 1990 and ’91.
The language fits Nebraska and reflects the sportsmanship that Tom Osborne embraces, win or lose. “Coach Osborne’s teams were unselfish, and that’s what made them so special,” Tim Carpenter said prior to nearly 100 players, coaches and staff members gathering to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the 1994 national championship season Friday night inside Memorial Stadium.
“Looking back and reflecting, it was the leadership of the coaching staff that brought our unselfishness out,” said Carpenter, a Columbus, Neb., native who earned his first of four varsity letters at tight end in 1994. “We were all more interested in reaching the team goal than any personal goals, and we all knew our role in reaching that goal. That was a special group of people, all trying to accomplish the same thing.”
Tom Osborne’s players celebrate their head coach’s first national title.
Huskers Sharpened Their Skills in Practice
“The reason Coach Osborne called this team remarkable was because of our one common goal,” said Jamel Williams, who was a sophomore “rover” from Merrillville, Ind. “We practiced that way every day and it carried over into our game play. The goal was the same year-round, from winter conditioning and spring ball to summer workouts and fall camp. “We ended every workout every day saying 1:16 to remind us of what we had to do to get what we wanted. If we had not practiced the way we did, I don’t think we could have accomplished the goal we set. I watched a replay the other night with our three boys, and I couldn’t help thinking how awesome it was to play for Coach Osborne in the first of his three national championships.”
Darren Schmadeke, a junior cornerback from Albion, Neb., said the memories of that experience “are life lasting because after coming so close a year earlier, our team dedicated itself to winning it all,” he recalled. “Our Unity Council was very strong and so was our focus and our dedication. We knew when we stepped on the field, we were going to win. The confidence and leadership we had in our captains was a big part of our success.
“I will never forget Tom Osborne’s halftime locker room talk at the Orange Bowl,” Schmadeke said. “He remained calm, focused and told us exactly what we needed to do to win the game. Helping Coach Osborne win his national championship is something we’re all proud to be a part of … and something we will never forget.”
Send a comment to firstname.lastname@example.org (Include city, state)
Follow Randy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RandyYorkNsider