I.M. Hipp is one of the most memorable Husker names. Hail Varsity Photo
By Randy York
A few days after a national television commentator invoked I.M. Hipp’s name to describe 119 galloping yards from Ameer Abdullah at UCLA last fall, Nebraska’s famous walk-on received home-page Facebook visits from all kinds of former Huskers – Johnny Rodgers, Roger Craig, Terry Luck, Tony Davis, Rod Horn, Anthony Steels, Craig Johnson, Tim Wurth, Dan Hurley, Tim Hager, Rodney Lewis, Percy Keith and Oudious Lee.
“I watched the game and heard them mention my name,” Hipp said with a laugh from his home in Virginia Beach, Va. “I was surprised, but to be honest, I was more focused on winning the first flight in my club (golf) championship the next day.” And he did, shooting a 71 after a 72 the before.
The 1976 home-opener his sophomore season, when he started for the injured Rick Berns and set Nebraska’s all-time single-game rushing record (254 yards on 28 carries), wasn’t his most memorable game. That came the following season as a junior back-up to Berns, who rushed for 128 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Huskers’ 31-24 win over No. 1 Alabama at Memorial Stadium.
After a Tough Loss, The Bear Sought Out Hipp
Berns was rightfully the star that day, but Hipp’s story is equally intriguing. He was, after all, the player that legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant sought out on the field afterwards. Bryant was looking for the game’s unsung hero, who grew up in the South and played a pivotal role in handing the Crimson Tide its only loss that season.
Hipp rushed six times for 38 yards. He also caught a 53-yard swing pass from Randy Garcia late in the second quarter when Nebraska trailed, 14-10. Two plays later, Berns scored to give the Huskers a 17-14 lead and, all of a sudden, a stadium exploded, sensing the prospects for a real, live upset on national TV.
“I had a great game,” Hipp said. “What made it memorable was Bear coming over and wanting to know how I could come all the way from South Carolina to Nebraska and pass by Alabama.”
Hipp started to answer but “a young man came by, got behind him and took Bear’s checkered hat,” Hipp recalled. “When he stole that hat, I was ready to run after him, tackle him and get it back.”
Such a thought lasted all of one second. “Bear had this big, deep voice and said to me: ‘Son, don’t worry about that hat. I have a lot more of those at home, so let’s just keep walking and talking so you can answer my question,’ ” said Hipp.
While Growing Up, Hipp Cheered for Nebraska
“I told Coach Bryant that when Nebraska and Alabama played a couple times in the Orange and Sugar Bowls when I was about 10 and 11and growing up in Chapin (S.C.), everybody in my house was cheering for Alabama, but I was cheering for Nebraska,” Hipp said. “I told him it was always my dream to attend the University of Nebraska. I didn’t have time to tell him the rest of the story.”
But we do. Hipp broke his leg before his senior season in high school. “People didn’t recruit me, so I sent letters to Nebraska, Alabama, USC and South Carolina,” he said. “I wanted to go to South Carolina because it was so close to home. But at the same time, I wanted to go away.”
Fortunately for Nebraska, “Tom Osborne was really the only one to respond,” Hipp said. “He wrote me back and told me he’d be glad if I walked on and became a part of the program. The invitation was so gracious, I decided that day I was going to drive all the way to Lincoln as soon as possible because playing at Nebraska was always my dream, and if I didn’t accept the invitation, how could my dream come true?”
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