Dennis Claridge, Jerry Tagge, Craig Sundberg, Tommie Frazier, Joe Ganz.
By Randy York
Forget the stats, ratings and momentum. Don’t over-analyze which team might have the edge in speed, strength or talent. Nebraska and Michigan are equal threats to become the lead dog in the Big Ten Conference Legends Division Saturday night before a national television audience that will watch Memorial Stadium celebrate 50 consecutive years of home-game sellouts.
Black rally flags and all.
Does it really take a quarterback to point out what can become the Huskers’ ultimate advantage in a showdown game that gives the winner an inside track to a Big Ten championship game and a potential Rose Bowl invitation?
“We need a raucous crowd … one that can create a ruckus for the team we need to beat to get where we want to go,” said Craig Sundberg, one of four former Husker quarterbacks that will help Nebraska commemorate 50 Years of Sellouts: 5-Plus Decades of Excellence at the Husker Nation Pavilion.
“From a spectator standpoint for a game like this, we’re going to need a 12th man,” Sundberg said. “Sometimes, you need to eliminate turnovers and sometimes, you need the crowd. It’s going to be a cold night, so we might need the whole stadium to make a ruckus and give us an edge.”
Anyone who knows Sundberg might be surprised to hear a quiet, humble leader use words like raucous – which means boisterous and disorderly – and ruckus, which is nothing more than noisy commotion.
Sundberg Mirrored the Qualities of His Head Coach
It is, in fact, almost unreal how much Sundberg is the antithesis of both words. I mean, when he lost the starting quarterback job his senior season to good friend and fellow Christian Travis Turner, Tom Osborne said Sundberg handled the situation so maturely that he didn’t know if he could have handled it as well.
Sundberg is almost a mirror of his head coach … quiet, thoughtful and rooted in his faith. The night before he became the MVP of Nebraska’s 28-10 comeback win over LSU in the 1985 Sugar Bowl, Sundberg lost eight pounds from a 17-hour bout with the flu that threatened his ability to start the game four hours before kickoff.
“Even to this day, that was as sick as I’ve ever been,” Sundberg said Thursday, surprised that anyone would even ask about a game played 27 years ago. “It was a full-blown internal attack, and it was bad.
“Time passes,” Sundberg said, “and the reality is that was only the sixth game I started at Nebraska. If the whole bowl game doesn’t happen the way it did, I’m probably not getting called to do what I’m very happy to do – represent Nebraska and sign autographs. For me, that game was just another spiritual confirmation. I’m not the one who deserves the glory. There was no reason a guy who was as sick as I was would go out and play a college football game.”
But he did, and Craig Sundberg played well on that 1985 New Year’s Day in New Orleans. Down 10-0 nearly 11 minutes into the first quarter, he threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Doug DuBose. In the third quarter, Sundberg gave Nebraska a 14- 10 lead with a 9-yard touchdown run on a keeper. In the final period, the fifth-year senior from Lincoln Southeast threw 24-yard and 17-yard touchdown passes to tight end Todd Frain to put the game out of reach. It was the most lopsided bowl win for Osborne in his first 12 years as a head coach and would continue to be his most lopsided decision for another nine years.
Well-Known Names Preceded Sundberg’s Honor
Yes, it was a rare New Year’s Day and a huge upset when Sundberg was named the Sugar Bowl’s Most Valuable Player. The four previous winners of that same accolade were none other than Herschel Walker, Dan Marino, Todd Blackledge and Bo Jackson.
“It’s very humbling because there are far more notable and higher-level candidates than I am to win an award like that or to be invited to something like a 50-year celebration for the Michigan game,” Sundberg said.
Nebraska went 10-2 and shared the Big Eight championship with Oklahoma in 1984, and Turner and Sundberg played equally in the Huskers’17-7 loss to the Sooners. Sundberg regained his starting job for the Sugar Bowl, and he exited stage left as champion. Travis Turner became Sundberg’s most jubilant post-Sugar Bowl celebrant.
“You couldn’t have written a better script for Craig,” Turner said. “It was hard to lose his job as a senior, but he never lost his spirit. He got knocked down, but he got back up and proved that football is a lot like life.”
Claridge, Tagge, Frazier Will Sign at the Pavilion
Joining Sundberg at the Husker Nation Pavilion are three other former Husker quarterbacks – Dennis Claridge (’61-62-63) represents the 1960s. Jerry Tagge (’69-70-71) represents the 1970s. Sundberg (’82-83-84) represents the 1980s, and Tommie Frazier (’92-93-94-95) represents the 1990s.
Joe Ganz (2006-07-08) represents the most recent decade, and the offensive intern on Bo Pelini’s coaching staff has pre-signed an 8x10-inch graphic that will be handed out at the Pavilion for the 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. autograph session.
Eric Crouch, the only Nebraska quarterback to win a Heisman Trophy, is now a college football television analyst and although he will be back for the game on Saturday, he is unavailable to participate in the 50-Year celebration due to two other signing commitments. Jeff Culhane, however, will interview Crouch at 8:05 p.m. Thursday on the Husker Sports Network. Former Husker Steve Taylor and NU play-by-play man Greg Sharpe will interview Claridge at 4:40 p.m. Saturday at the Husker Nation Pavilion. Taylor and Sharpe will interview Frazier immediately after the Claridge interview on Game Day.
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