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By Randy York
Let me say this up front. I’ve been sitting on this story for a month, not because it lacks interest or even a high level of intrigue. It qualifies both ways. Waiting a month is a mere flash when insiders have known this story for 50 years but never saw the need to identify the mover/shaker who played a major role in changing the course of Nebraska football history. This story centers on someone who stood up to the University of Nebraska’s chancellor 50 years ago, made an emphatic point, influenced a pivotal decision and a half century later, the N-Sider would like to thank this individual publicly for doing what he did. He’s a former Nebraska Football and College Football Hall-of-Famer and served three terms as a member of the University of Nebraska’s Board of Regents. But before we reveal his name, let me acknowledge the intrinsic power of blogging because that’s what solved this mystery. The answer came in one simple email. That’s all it took – just one look at an N-Sider Blog that described Tippy Dye as a real gentleman following his recent death in Northern California at age 97.
Dye was the athletic director when Nebraska hired Bob Devaney as its head football coach in 1962. Dye’s role got blurred in that hiring because Devaney wasn’t even one of the top three choices on Dye’s original priority chart. When those names fell off the table, Dye appeared ready to pursue a head coach who reported to him when he was athletic director at Wichita State. That incensed our mystery man, who heroically approached then Nebraska Chancellor Dr. Clifford Hardin, telling him in no uncertain terms that the Huskers needed a head football coach with experience at a much higher level than Wichita State, especially if the Huskers were going to turn around a program that had won just 15 of its last 50 games. Nebraska Sports Information Director Emeritus Don “Fox” Bryant acknowledged that story in the Dye blog linked above, but he would not mention the regent’s name because, well, that’s been the protocol for 50 years. Fair enough, I thought. Why push something that’s been kept under such wraps all these years?
The day after we published that blog on Huskers.com, I got an email. “I enjoyed the article on Tippy Dye, and I do know who the regent was who worked with Cliff Hardin (on Devaney’s hiring),” it said. The email came from Kathryn “Tish” Druliner, so I emailed her back and asked if she was willing to share the regent’s name. “The mystery regent was my father, Clarence Swanson. He played football for Nebraska and is in the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame. His great grandsons are the Ruud boys. Thanks. “Tish” Swanson Druliner.” I was in my office, and all I could do when I read that was shake my head and think to myself: ‘Clarence Swanson was the tough guy who’d seen enough and wasn’t going to take it anymore? Are you kidding me?’” I couldn’t put my fingers back on the computer fast enough. “Thanks for your email,” I wrote back to Kathyrn. “Where do you live and do I have your permission to use this information?” She was understandably taken aback. “We live in Lincoln,” she emailed. “You can print something, but I didn’t mean to make a big deal out of this. He’s been gone so long. I don’t know who would pay much attention now.”
She’s probably right. Her dad died at age 72 on Dec. 3, 1970, eight years after he effectively intervened in a hiring process that was going nowhere fast. Even though the younger generation isn’t much into the formative process that laid the foundation for Nebraska’s remarkable football history, some of us find it hard not to get excited about something like this, especially since Clarence E. “Swanny” Swanson was a trailblazer who played for the Huskers and was the team’s only captain in 1921, two years before Memorial Stadium was built. Tom Ruud, a first-team All-America linebacker and first-round NFL draft choice, married the late Jaime (Swanson) Ruud, “Tish’s” niece. Jaime’s son, Barrett Ruud, a third-team All-America linebacker and second-round NFL draft choice, was Nebraska’s defensive captain in 2004. His brother, Bo Ruud, a first-team All-Big 12 linebacker and three-year Husker starter, was a Nebraska captain three years later. Their uncle, Bob Martin, was a Nebraska captain in 1975 after earning first-team All-America honors as a defensive end. Bob Martin’s son and Barrett and Bo Ruud’s cousin, Jay Martin, was a 2012 Big Ten All-Academic tight end at Nebraska. Another Barrett and Bo uncle, John Ruud, lettered two years at linebacker and often shows up on Nebraska’s high-def scoreboards because of his jarring tackle on the second-half kickoff that set the tone for the Huskers’ 17-14 upset of No. 1-ranked Oklahoma in 1978.
When Clarence Swanson made his decision to get involved and “pair up” with Chancellor Hardin in a process to elevate the candidates and find someone like Devaney, he was doing it for his alma mater and the tradition he wanted to see re-emerge from the only school that beat Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen twice. Here’s betting he never dreamed so many members of his own family would be primary benefactors. And since he died less than a month before Nebraska won the first of its five national championships and never saw Tom Osborne coach in any of his 255 wins, “Swanny” wouldn’t know the true magnitude of a decision that he so gallantly served and saved. What he clearly understood, however, was how he helped create an identity and since his intervention lifted the standards higher than he ever imagined, we think he deserves an even more special place in Nebraska history than he already had.
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