‘Pretty special’ for Erstad and Osborne to enter Hall of Fame together
LINCOLN — Darin Erstad was goofing around inside Cook Pavilion. But news traveled fast about the baseball player with the big leg.
Not long after Nebraska lost the 1994 Orange Bowl to Florida State after a missed field goal, Erstad found himself sitting in Tom Osborne’s office. He had been booting footballs for fun after the baseball team’s winter conditioning sessions. Football coaches approached him asking if he would put together a highlight tape since NCAA rules prohibited them from watching him try out.
“I walked up with the tape to Coach (Tom) Osborne and we sat there and watched it,” Erstad said. “He asked me if I wanted to play Nebraska football. I said yes.”
Erstad — now Nebraska’s baseball coach — was in a rare mood to indulge the past Friday. Part of it came from an appreciation for being one of seven honorees inducted into the Nebraska Athletics Hall of Fame. Part of it came from entering in the same class as Osborne, with whom he remains close.
The pair rode together down an East Stadium elevator to the nearby outdoor plaza after the brief ceremony. Erstad still bends Osborne’s ear for advice. Osborne still has a knack for reaching out to Erstad in tough moments.
Osborne said Friday he should have had Erstad on the football team a year sooner but wasn’t willing to dedicate a scholarship at the time. A fiery type like Erstad in the mix for place-kicking and punting would have made the program better.
“Looking back on it, that was my mistake because Darin was a great kicker, great competitor,” Osborne said. “It might have been nice to have him in that bowl game with Florida State to kick that field goal toward the end.”
Erstad punted for the undefeated 1994 championship team, then completed a college baseball career that culminated with the No. 1 overall selection in the 1995 MLB draft. The North Dakota native said the best moment of his time as a student-athlete in Lincoln was celebrating the football title with Osborne in the locker room.
“This place has given me so much in my life and continues to,” Erstad said. “To be able to go in with Coach Osborne and be in the same class as him after all the opportunities he’s given me as well is pretty special.”
The group of inductees was the first to include former coaches — a change made at the suggestion of Athletic Director Bill Moos — and honored Bob Devaney along with Osborne. Athletes ushered in were Peaches James (softball), Sarah Pavan (volleyball), Mike Rozier (football), Tom Schlesinger (men’s gymnastics) and Erstad (baseball/football). All will be recognized during Saturday’s home football game against Colorado.
There are now 42 individuals enshrined since former A.D. Shawn Eichorst began the honorary event in 2015.
Other moments from the afternoon:
» Pavan (2004-07) said she hadn’t been back to Nebraska since the volleyball program moved from the NU Coliseum to the Devaney Center following the 2012 season. The Kitchener, Ontario, native — who remains the Huskers’ all-time leader in kills and kills per set and is one of five players in NCAA history to be a four-time first-team AVCA All-American — will have her jersey retired following Sunday’s match against Iowa State.
» Rozier (1981-83) spoke with reporters sporting a black fedora and a sucker in his mouth. The 1983 Heisman Trophy winner touched on a variety of topics like Colorado — “I didn’t know it was a rivalry” — and why he chose Nebraska over Pittsburgh — “I knew (Dan) Marino was throwing the ball too much, so why go there?”
The former I-back also said Osborne stood out by meeting his parents in Camden, New Jersey, while other coaches offered money or other short-term benefits.
“He’s like my second father,” Rozier said. “If he needed a kidney and I was a match, I’d give it to him.”
Said Osborne: “Sometimes he’d run by me and he’d be laughing during a game. I often thought, ‘If Mike ever took the game seriously, he could really be good.’ ”
» Schlesinger (1985-88) and James (2001-04) prompted the full attendance of the men’s gymnastics and softball teams. Schlesinger won a pair of individual NCAA titles and was named the nation’s top gymnast as a senior. James helped pitch the Huskers to a top-15 final ranking every season she was with the team, including a fifth-place showing in the 2002 Women’s CWS.
» Devaney’s children, Mike and Pat, accepted the award for their father. Bob Devaney, who died in 1997, coached Nebraska to a pair of football national titles during his tenure from 1962-72 and served as athletic director from 1967-93.
» Osborne injected some of his famous dry wit into his interview session when asked for a response to being inducted into yet another hall of fame.
“If you live long enough, sometimes they put you in these things,” Osborne said. “It’s very nice because this is something where you’re chosen by people who know you. Most of those halls of fame, the people voting have no idea who you are. They never watched you. So this is probably a little tighter for me getting in this one because they can remember those losses to Oklahoma.”