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By Randy York
Larry Jacobson had no problem keeping his ego in check Wednesday when another highly respected football organization – the Charlotte Touchdown Club – announced that he will be the seventh recipient of the Bronko Nagurski Legends Award that recognizes outstanding defensive football players from the past 40 years. Nebraska’s first-ever Outland Trophy winner in 1971, Jacobson knows first-hand what can happen to awards, even national ones that define a career. On the same night that Nebraska crushed Florida, 62-24, to cap an unbeaten, national championship 1995 season in the Fiesta Bowl, Jacobson’s house in South Bend, Neb., was completely destroyed by a fire that also consumed his Outland Award and his Knute Rockne Award from the Washington Touchdown Club. Even his No. 75 retired Husker jersey went up in flames.
Jacobson did grab a scrapbook his dad had put together to chronicle his All-America career at Nebraska, and he was surprised to salvage his two national championship rings and one Big Eight Conference championship ring, even though he was convinced they were gone as well. Jacobson lives on the Platte River near Mahoney State Park and Platte River State Park, and Wednesday he described how a sauna outside his previous house had caused a nearby trash can to catch fire 17 years ago. That started another fire that ended up torching the house. “We dialed 911, but they couldn’t get here in time,” Jacobson said.
That sad memory helps the 2012 Bronko Nagurski Legends Award winner keep his “legendary” status in perspective. He remembers how he considered going back into that remodeled bedroom to retrieve his rings. “I took two steps, and the smoke was so thick I didn’t think those rings were worth risking my life,” Jacobson recalled. “By the time the firefighters got here, I told them to pour all the water they could on that bedroom because those rings were the only things that mattered to me at the time.”
Only years later did Jacobson learn how firefighters battled to help him keep those rings. “I didn’t know the whole story until I went to a golf tournament in Gothenburg that benefitted the TeamMates (mentoring) program,” Jacobson said. “One of the firefighters who had been president of a local bank told me at that tournament that they really did pour as much water as they could on that room, and that’s why there were able to retrieve the rings.”
Jacobson was humbled then, and he’s still humbled now. He insists that his Outland and Nagurski Awards honor his 1971 teammates every bit as much as they honor him. He’s also especially thrilled to win a Legends award nearly four decades past his self-described uneventful four-year NFL career. “I can’t believe I just won an award that’s already gone to so many players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” he said. “I was lucky to win the awards I won, especially since Rich Glover and I split so many votes between us. Believe me, I’m happy and grateful I won, but I’m hoping Rich gets the same award as soon as possible because he deserves it every bit as much as I do.”
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