By Randy York
Randy Borg will be inside Memorial Stadium Saturday when Nebraska hosts UCLA in an 11 a.m. nationally televised game on ABC. Don’t expect the former Husker walk-on to be the fastest guy to his 27th row seats in the North Stadium. Just getting there will be a bigger obstacle course than he successfully negotiated 40 years ago on a 77-yard punt return touchdown against UCLA halfway through the first quarter of a historic game – a 40-13 Husker win over UCLA in Tom Osborne’s first ever game as Nebraska’s head coach.
“I’ve taken on challenges in all kinds of forms, but I never thought just getting to my seat would be one of my biggest ones,” Borg said Thursday, acknowledging that he will become a spectator less than five weeks after a seven-hour back operation that required incisions in both the front and back. Believe it or not, that procedure was almost a cakewalk compared to the 18-month medical challenge that took Borg to doctors in Lincoln, Omaha, and finally to Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic. Back spasms and muscular weakness in both legs were the main symptoms that perplexed doctors who examined the former cornerback from Alliance, Neb.
The physical challenges eventually became mental ones with no diagnosis and the possibility of having ALS. Fortunately, the challenges that can make life interesting become the challenges that make life meaningful when you finally overcome them. “I have a whole new perspective about life and football and a much greater appreciation for what is really important and what is not,” Borg told me.
The Good News and the Bad News
The Mayo Clinic provided a good news/bad news solution for his baffling medical issues. The good news was he had a 99 percent probability of not having ALS. The bad news? He needed that major back surgery to get back in the game of life.
“I accepted the challenge of walking on, and I’ve accepted this one, too,” said Borg, who has no trouble relating a personal challenge to football. “This team has some apparent challenges,” he said, “but I hope everyone understands that any team is not as good as they think they are after a good game nor as bad as everyone tells them they are after a more challenging effort.”
Borg still remembers the big chip on his shoulder when he walked on at Nebraska in the fall of 1970. “I showed up in Lincoln in the best shape of my life and ended up starting every game on the freshman team,” he recalled. A year later, Husker coaches decided not to redshirt Borg, who covered kickoffs and became the front man for Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers in 1972.
Without The Jet, Pepper Wasn’t Worried
A year later, UCLA Coach Pepper Rodgers stated how much easier it was to prepare for Nebraska with the graduation of “Johnny the Jet” and why they were no longer scared to punt the ball Nebraska’s way. “Monte Kiffin used those quotes to fire up our entire punt return unit, and I was the one who benefited from some great blocking on that 77-yard play,” said Borg, a Blackshirt cornerback in ’72 and ’73.
Among those who will walk into Memorial Stadium Saturday with Borg will be his daughter, Jaime, who once walked on Nebraska’s softball team before earning a scholarship and winning the Julie Geis Award for the most inspirational player. Nebraska Softball Coach Rhonda Revelle has added a new award – the Borg/Wright Award – to inspire future players following in the footsteps of Jaime Borg and Kirby Wright.
Jaimie is now a doctor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, and you can bet she will make sure her dad is slow and careful on his way into Memorial Stadium. It will be a case of one successful walk-on reminding another what’s most important nearly five weeks after major surgery. At this point, Borg believes there is nothing to fear but fear itself, unless, of course, you’re UCLA and know what Jamal Turner can do whenever he catches a punt.
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