June 24, 2009

Where are they now: Jeff Kinney

In this week's installment of HuskersIllustrated.com's weekly feature "Where Are They Now?" we caught up with former Nebraska All-American running back Jeff Kinney (1969-71).

Best known for his heroics in Nebraska's win over Oklahoma in the 1971 "Game of the Century," the Oxford, Neb., native was selected in the first round of the 1972 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. Though it's been nearly 40 years since Kinney took the field as a Husker, he says he still follows his alma mater just as much as when he was a kid.

It's been more than 30 years since you last strapped on shoulder pads and helmet. What are you up to nowadays?

"Well, like most financial jobs at the moment, my job is kind of up in the air right now. I did work for Wachovia, which is now owned by Wells Fargo, and I think they're trying to make some decisions about a certain group that I belong to, so that's kind of in turmoil. Outside of that, I've got three great kids, 12 awesome grandkids, so things are going good."

A lot has happened to Nebraska football since your playing days. Were you as upset as everyone else to see the program hit such hard times a couple of years ago?

"Well first of all I'm amazed that we kept it at that level for so long. I'm surprised it didn't happen earlier. But I would think, especially in today's game of football, it would be awfully hard to be on top for that period of time. I'm really excited that we were on top for that long, but I'm kind of disappointed with the way that it went. A couple of individuals obviously came in there and forgot what made Nebraska great. When they forgot those things, they really lost out on what Nebraska football is all about."

Do you think Bo Pelini and his staff have the program heading in the right direction to get back to where it was?

"I'm not privy to the direction they're going. I'm just a fan like everybody else. To that extent, I'm very excited about the enthusiasm that they've brought back to the program. Obviously the structure and discipline that they've instilled, and probably more important than that is probably how they understand tradition and what that involves and what that means. So it's fun to see us get involved in that again."

Where are they now?
Player: Jeff Kinney, 1969-71

Current city: Kansas City, Kan.

Family: Two sons: Jeff and Mike, a daughter: Kristin, and 12 grandchildren.

Current profession: Kinney was working with Wachovia Bank before it merged with Wells Fargo Bank in January. Currently, Kinney says he's unsure about the future of his job status with the company.

Professional career: Kinney was drafted in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft (23rd pick) by the Kansas City Chiefs. He played four seasons in the NFL with the Chiefs (1972-76) and Buffalo Bills ('76) before retiring following the '76 season. He ended his professional career with 1,285 rushing yards and five touchdowns.

NU career accomplishments: A first-team All-America selection as a senior in '71, Kinney set the NU career rushing record with 2,420 yards and career touchdown record with 35. Arguably his most memorable performance as a Husker came in the 1971 "Game of the Century" against Oklahoma, where Kinney ran for a season best 171 yards and four touchdowns to help Nebraska prevail for a historic victory.

In Nebraska's ensuing national championship win over Alabama in the Orange Bowl, Kinney rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown to help guide the Huskers to a 38-6 victory and their second straight national title.

Do you think that is going to be enough to get Nebraska back to the top?

"Well, there's no guarantees as far as how good we're going to have to get and how far we're going to have to come back. That's all about recruiting and getting kids to play hard, and there's just so many variables there. The one thing that they understand is the value of tradition and they understand the importance of great fans. I think now that they've established those things as priorities for them, I think that's the key to success at Nebraska."

Have there been any Nebraska players you've especially enjoyed watching over the years?

"Oh gosh, you know, I just loved watching guys like Eric Crouch and Scott Frost and some of those guys who have done just a great job. I've always enjoyed the development that Nebraska's had of linemen and just watching and seeing how those guys develop. So those are kind of special to me, just watching those positions. I know my grandson totally loved Marlon Lucky when I took him back there for a game one time."

Looking back on your Nebraska career, is there any one game or play that stands out to you as your favorite moment as a Husker?

"Gosh, there's so many it's hard to just pick out one. A lot of the private ones obviously I'll keep to myself, but probably the one that has the overall theme is the 1971 season. Just the success that we had, and what a great bunch of leaders there were and the coaching staff. Just the things we were able to accomplish as a team. Not as individuals, but as a team. How we came together collectively and just played at a high level every weekend. It wasn't just one week up and down the next, we were just very, very consistent in the way we played all year."

Not sure if you saw this, but a few years ago ESPN did a tournament bracket based on fan voting to determine the hypothetical "greatest college football team of all time." Oddly enough, the championship game was between 1995 Nebraska and your 1971 Nebraska team. Suppose those teams were to actually play each other: who wins?

"It'd probably be a tie, how's that sound (laughs). You know, gosh, I watched (the '95) team, and they were awfully, awfully explosive. I don't know how you even compare teams. I mean, they had a lot of great individuals, and we just had a lot of individuals who played great together. I think it would've been an awesome game to play. We were a team that really controlled the football a lot, and when we played Oklahoma, Oklahoma was just a scoring machine. But somehow we were able to have the ball last and outscore them. So, I'd have to put the odds on my men."

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