OMAHA, Neb. - If you are a local sports junkie like me, last night's Omaha Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Scott Conference Center was the place to be.
Anybody that was anyone within the local sports community was present for this year's induction ceremony.
Former Nebraska and NBA basketball standout Dave Hoppen, former NU and NFL football standout out Pat Fischer, former College World Series public address announcer and Husker play-by-play man Jack Payne, former UNO wrestling coach Don Benning, local amateur women's golfing legend Susan Marchese along with the 1991 Creighton University College World Series baseball team were all inducted into the fifth annual Omaha Sports Hall of Fame class.
Former Husker kicker Alex Henery was also honored last night as the Nebraska Sports Man of the year, while the 41-0 Papillion-La Vista South volleyball team ranked No. 1 in the nation led by NU recruits Amber Rolfzen, Kadie Rolfzen and Kelly Hunter took home the Sports Women of the year honors.
Among those present in the crowd last night were Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne, UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts, Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen, Creighton baseball coach Ed Servais, former Creighton baseball coach and current Chicago Cubs General Manger Jim Hendry, UNO wrestling coach Mike Denney and legendary local professional boxers Ron Staner and Bruce "The Mouse" Strauss.
I'll have to admit I got a real kick out of meeting Fischer. The 5-foot-9, 165 pound Fischer is still a ball of fire at 70 years old. As a 17th round draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals Fischer played 17 seasons in the NFL for the Cardinals and the Redskins. Fischer played in an amazing 213 consecutive straight games as a cornerback and finished his career with 56 interceptions.
Being a smaller defensive back, Fischer was one of the first people credited with creating an angle of pursuit and his tackling mantra "get a leg up and you own him" is used today to motivate and teach smaller defensive backs how to defend taller wide receivers.
Hoppen shared some great stories with the crowd from his NBA days where he played with Charles Barkley on the Philadelphia 76ers among many others. During his six-year professional career Hoppen matched with NBA greats Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Payne's induction speech nearly had the crowd of 250 people last night in tears, as he flashed back through his legendary career that included 37 years behind the mic at the College World Series, 27 years as the public address announcer at the State Track Meet, 39 years of calling Nebraska football games and 10 years calling Creighton Basketball games on the radio.
Maybe the highlight though for me was seeing Hendry and 13 members of the 91' Blue Jay College World Series team being honored 20 years later.
In my opinion this team helped make the CWS what it is today. Before Creighton made the CWS in 91' tickets were not hard to come by. Hendry's scrappy Jays finished third place to LSU and Wichita State and the event took on a life of its own as all the major expansions to Rosenblatt Stadium followed.
This was one of my first great sports memories as a kid because it was well before the 94' and 95' national championship teams at Nebraska and for a local team to make the College World Series at that time was unthinkable. I still get goose bumps today when I see Hendry waving around the runner from third base in the Wichita State game they lost in 12 innings 3-2.
As expected, a lot of people are putting stock into quarterback Taylor Martinez's poor showing in last week's Red-White game and the flavor of the summer will no doubt be redshirt freshman Brion Carnes.
Yes Carnes looked impressive, but let's remember we saw very little of Tim Beck's new offense and right now I don't see any way how Martinez isn't the starter for the season opener on Sept. 3 against Tennessee-Chattanooga.
The nice thing is NU has four games they should be double digit favorites in to open 2011, so they'll have plenty of time to figure out the direction of the offense before heading to Wisconsin on Oct. 1.
Speaking of Wisconsin, it's really a no brainer the Big Ten decided to put the NU game in Madison under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium.
I really like the things I've seen and heard from Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney. The fact that Delaney understood the potential rivalry value of the Nebraska-Iowa game and already made the call to move it to Thanksgiving Friday should show people "he gets it."
My question is will the Ohio State-Nebraska game be played at 2:30 pm or under the lights as well? There's no question this will arguably be the game of the day in college football with all of OSU's suspended players making their return that day in Lincoln.
One player that took huge steps for his future this spring was redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jake Cotton.
In his first spring at the position, Cotton appears to be a solid two-deep contender and with Marcel Jones, Jermarcus Hardrick and Mike Caputo all graduating it was important for a few underclassmen to emerge this spring.
Cotton's rise will also make up for some of the failures in the 2009 recruiting class where injuries and other factors have held back players like Nick Ash and Jesse Coffey.
I'm really excited for this year's Shrine Bowl game on June 4. The Shrine committee has made the necessary changes to get the best players to take part in this game again.
With every Division I school basically requiring prospects to enroll early for the first summer school session in June, the Shrine Bowl's late June and mid July dates in the past made it impossible for any of the Division I prospects to participate in the game.
In May of 2008 I met with the Shrine committee and showed them the data of why it is important to move this game up. They started to realize that the only way to get Division I recruits to play in this game was to move the date back to the first Saturday in June.
At that time there were also talks with the Kansas Shrine Bowl committee about an interstate all-star game. The Nebraska Shrine people were all about it, but it was the Kansas folks who backed out. I think ultimately this is the next step to make this game an even bigger event. Can you imagine if this deal went down and Bubba Starling led the Kansas Shrine team into Memorial Stadium this year to face off against Nebraska's all-stars. There would be over 30,000 fans in line to see that game.
This year the Shrine Bowl will fall two days before the first session of summer school starts on June 6 making it possible for all the Division I players to take part in the game.
Both NU commits Daniel Davie and David Sutton, along with walk-ons Aaron Hayes, Chris Long, Greg Milliken, Eddie Ridder, Will Sailors, Richard Wynne, Sam Burtch and Tyson Broekemeier will take part in this year's game.
Other marquee Division I recruits that will play in this year's Shrine Bowl is Ohio cornerback Devin Bass, Kansas State and JUCO placement safety Travis Green, Tulane offensive lineman Nate Skold along with defensive tackle Brandon Yost who turned down two Division I offers to sign with Northwest Missouri State.
The only marquee names not on the roster are Iowa State wide receiver recruit Teddy Lampkin, Iowa linebacker recruit Cole Fisher and Husker offensive line recruits Ryne Reeves and Zach Sterup. Reeves declined his invite because of the off-season shoulder surgery he had. My guess is Lampkin opted out since Shrine camp opens shortly after the state track meet ends in late May. I have no idea why Sterup is not playing, because for a guy like him he'll probably redshirt the 2011 season and the Shrine Bowl is possibly the last game he'd play in until the 2012 season.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on WOWT TV in Omaha four nights per week during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.