Tom Osborne says Mike Babcock, left, is both knowledgeable and fair.
By Randy York
Sometime tonight, in his hometown of York, Neb., three words can be added to Mike Babcock’s bio, but I would bet my last dollar that he’d be the last person to use them. “Hall of Fame” are the three words that ring right when connected with Babcock, but Nebraska’s No. 1 football historian would rather write about athletes who have achieved that status than consider himself worthy. Tonight, however, he has no choice. Babcock will be one of two natives who will be inducted into the 2013 York High School Hall of Fame. They will be presented at halftime of the York-Schuyler prep football game, then head to the York Country Club, so the public can greet and congratulate both new luminaries. I can only imagine how self-deprecating Mike will be when he becomes a York Hall of Famer at the same time as Robin Ann (Waller) Abrams, who now serves as CEO of an Accenture division connecting to eBay.
Even though you can take to the bank that Babcock will elevate his corporate executive fellow Hall of Famer beyond himself, there’s no way he would trade places with her, or anyone else. My good friend and former colleague at the Lincoln Journal Star has told me often that if he could do anything he wanted, it would be what he’s done and is still doing, writing about sports in general and Nebraska in particular. “And if I could live anywhere I wanted in the world,” he said, “it would be right here in southeast Nebraska.” Friday morning, Babcock talked to York College students, then addressed a Rotary Luncheon. He still considers York “home” and still writes a column for the York News Times in his own meticulous, story telling style.
Lifetime Achievement Award Candidate
This may be the first Hall of Fame honor bestowed on Mike Babcock, but it shouldn’t be the last time he’s honored for extraordinary work over decades. Mike is a potential lifetime achievement award winner somewhere, sometime, someday. To prove my point I asked many of those who know Mike well to help me describe why he’s in a league of his own in a state that has the best record in college football over the last 50 years and is also the only school to sell out every game during that time. Every piece of input I received was on target, but Sam McKewon, perhaps, struck the most poignant chord.
The Omaha World-Herald columnist described Babcock as a gentle, courtly, cultured, thoughtful, consummate professional. “Mike Babcock,” McKeown said, “lives with grace and humility. When so many writers and artists feel the compulsion to build a narrative around themselves — what they’ve done, what their vision is, what significance their work has conveyed — Mike is a rare man who invests more in the lives and narratives of others. It’s one of the great challenges of life, especially postmodern life, to regard others more highly than oneself, but Mike does that. He’s a giving man – of his time, of his memory, of his writing gift, of all the film and music books he’s given to me, often on a day when I’ve just finished the one he gave me a few weeks before.
Poignant Story Says It All About Babcock
“Not long ago, I left one of those books in the back of my car, and my 5-year-old daughter, Mary, picked it up and started thumbing through it,” McKeown related, adding that his daughter couldn’t read the book, but liked a picture in it, so she asked him where it came from.
"A friend," McKewon said. "Which friend?" she asked. "A friend who writes about football."
"Does he like it?"
"Yeah. And you know what?"
"He knows more about the Huskers than anybody."
McKewon gives his take on that well documented fact. “Mike is one of the few true stewards of Nebraska culture and Nebraska football,” he said. “He wears the role lightly without taking it lightly. We all could be this kind of man. But there’s just one Mike.”
McKewon, of course, nailed it and has a small army to back him up. Check what others have to say about Mike Babcock on a day when he simply could not do what he loves to do most – hide in the shadows cast by everyone around him.
Tom Osborne, Nebraska Athletic Director Emeritus: Two things have always struck me about Mike. First, he’s probably as knowledgeable about the history of Nebraska Athletics and Nebraska football as anybody. I know he’s covered it in great detail for a long time. Secondly, I’ve always felt like Mike is somebody who’s fair. He’s not the kind of guy who’s trying to make a name for himself by being controversial or by making rash statements. If he writes something, it’s going to be accurate and it’s going to be fair. For those two reasons, he’s certainly exceptional.
Keith Mann, Nebraska Assistant Athletic Director-Media Relations: Mike is very professional, and his knowledge as a historian of Nebraska football is unmatched. He’s a resource we use whenever we research anything that’s historical. He has complete respect from everyone who’s been on the Nebraska beat at the same time he was. I can’t imagine too many people who didn’t enjoy working with Mike or alongside him, even if they represented a competing paper. I would think he’s also universally respected by the people he’s covered, including the coaches and their staffs. He’s so humble and so modest and doesn’t want the credit for whatever he does to help you.
Shamus McKnight, Nebraska Associate Media Relations Director: Mike is truly one of the great people in the media profession. Not only does he have an encyclopedic knowledge of Nebraska’s athletic history, but has the respect of both athletes and his peers in the media. The best thing about Mike is as good and as professional a journalist as he is, he is truly a better person. He is someone who is willing to offer his wisdom and knowledge to anyone who asks.
Jeff Griesch, Nebraska Media Relations Director of Operations: Mike is a walking encyclopedia of Nebraska athletics – not just football. His passion for the sports he covers comes through in not only the way he relates the story to his readers, but the respect with which he treats the coaches and student-athletes he covers. His knowledge comes through in the way he is able to describe strengths without making them seem superhuman, and explain weaknesses without crossing the line to unnecessary criticism or unprofessional name-calling. Mike is more than just a professional sportswriter; he is a Hall of Famer in his profession.
Blair Kerkhoff, Kansas City Star: It’s one thing to know your stuff – and Mike does. But it’s obvious through his writing and reporting that Mike has always told stories with great care and appreciation for the subject. I consider Mike the foremost authority on Nebraska and Cornhuskers’ history and have thoroughly enjoyed his books and writing from his columnist days at the Journal Star on through his magazine days. Mike is the consummate pro, and he’s truly deserving of Hall-of-Fame recognition.
Eric Olson, Associated Press: I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about Mike Babcock. He’s a fountain of history. That’s what makes him stand out among the media corps here. He’s a published author on so many books about the Nebraska football program. If you’re a reporter who wants to ask a question or needs to get some perspective or context, even if it happened 50 years ago, Mike’s the first guy you call. He doesn’t need to look it up. He knows the answer. It’s in his head. He’s just an incredible resource and not just because of what he’s done as a journalist. I would say he’s chronicled the history of the program from a university standpoint. He’s valuable. It’s not often that you have people around who know so much and know so many details about a program like Mike does. He’s really invested himself in Nebraska football and not just in books. It’s a passion for him. It’s his trademark. He stands out among everybody because of his deep, deep knowledge of the subject.
Tom Shatel, Omaha World-Herald: Fair. Thoughtful. Humorous. Story teller. Historian. These are traits we don’t get nearly enough of in today’s world of instant drama and hate. These are traits that best describe the gem that is Mike Babcock. He’s been a rock for Husker watchers and young Nebraska journalists for decades. Babcock is a writer who is also a resource, a historian who can tell you what Bob Devaney said in 1969 and what Jerry Garcia was wearing at the Grateful Dead concert the same week. Both are resources we should never take for granted.
Steve Sipple, Lincoln Journal Star: There is no sportswriter on the planet who’s had a bigger impact on me professionally than Mike Babcock, and that goes all the way back to my Columbus High School days. I read the Journal Star religiously, and I read Babcock religiously. I even tried to pattern my writing after Mike. I failed miserably, but I tried. He’s the definition of the word gentleman, and we all benefit from following him. He’s even-tempered, even-keeled and never shrill. He could always get his point across without rushing to judgment. He’s a flawless writer because he was an English major. When you read what he writes, you can tell it’s important to him. He’s really careful with his language and in this day and age, you don’t see much of that. Mike treats language like fine china. I’ve always tried to emulate that, but it’s very, very hard to do.
Steve Sinclair, Omaha World-Herald Sports Editor (Retired): I first met Mike when we were competitors covering Nebraska football for different newspapers. It was obvious then, and remains true today, that he is a true professional. His knowledge of Nebraska sports is unsurpassed. His ability to work with players and coaches and tell their stories is an art he mastered. And he has always done it with fairness that is not always practiced in our world today. Mike is someone I will always admire and is definitely a worthy Hall of Famer.
Brian Christopherson, Lincoln Journal Star: I look at Mike as the authority when it comes to Husker history. He’s the guy we always go to with questions about stuff that happened 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 60 years ago. Actually, he can take you all the way back to Cy Sherman (the Lincoln Journal sports editor who coined the term Cornhuskers in 1899 because he hated seeing Nebraska football teams called Bugeaters and Rattlesnake Boys). When you have a question, Mike usually knows the answer. I don’t think anyone is more versed in history, whether it’s something about a certain game, the kind of uniform the team wore or anything like that. Mike’s the man with the answers. The fact that he’s been doing it this long is a credit to him. He’s had a lot of trust with people in Nebraska Athletics, and that’s a respect factor he’s gained through time and through accurate reporting.
Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: I can’t think of a greater gentleman or greater chronicler of Nebraska sports over the years. Mike’s broad body of work is to be admired. He is a credit to his profession.
And, I might add, a true Hall of Famer in every sense of those three words.
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