In 2015, the Labrador retriever topped the American Kennel Club rankings as the most popular dog in the nation for the 24th straight year. Last month, IBM celebrated 24 consecutive years as the private entity with the most U.S. patents.
The Big Red in the Super Bowl.
Can it get more American that?
“It’s a culture that we have at Nebraska,” former Cornhuskers great Roger Craig, the only Big Red alum to win three Super Bowl championship rings, told Land of 10. “The people don’t understand — we have a strong culture, and it’s built through our fans.”
From 1993-2017, at least one former Husker has been a part of a Super Bowl roster — a streak of 23 straight games and counting that started when the Bills toted a pair of former Nebraska standouts in defensive lineman John Parrella and running back Nate Turner.
Vincent Valentine, a defensive tackle with the AFC champion New England Patriots, will make it 24 on Sunday:
— K u r t C o n v e y (@KurtConvey) January 23, 2017
“I think a lot of it had to do with the reputations, I think, with what (former coaches) Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne built,” said Jamie Williams, a former Huskers tight end and Craig’s teammate on San Francisco’s Super Bowl XXIV champs.
“We were putting five, six, seven, eight guys in the NFL every year there, so there’s a reputation, so you know that the NFL scouts are there with, ‘Hey, we know where to look.’ They knew the reputations.
“They knew the kinds of kids that look at Nebraska and, for the most part, most kids that come out of Nebraska are fundamentally sound. They have a work ethic and they knew how to play football, so I think they ended up staying on teams. We lasted longer than a lot of other guys. If you play for long enough (with) a team, you end up in the big dance.”
‘We’ve got that tradition’
Despite the tectonic plates shifting across the college football landscape over the last two decades, the Big Red brand remains a reliable buy, a value buy. As of Week 1 of the 2016 season, only two Big Ten programs had more former prodigies in the NFL than Nebraska’s 29: Ohio State (42) and Penn State (33).
From 1994-2014, 99 Huskers were drafted into the league, the eighth-highest total of any FBS program over that stretch and second in the Big Ten only to the Buckeyes’ 123.
Williams played 12 years with the Rams, Oilers, Niners and Raiders. Craig carried the rock for 11 seasons with San Francisco, Oakland and Minnesota, and touched the ball in 18 different playoff games.
“It’s a little luck,” said Craig, now the vice president and director of business development with TIBCO Software and still a part of the Bay Area scene. “Nebraska has a strong tradition, and even though Coach Osborne’s not there, still, we’ve got that tradition.”
Many of those Big Red Super Bowl pieces, such as Russ Hochstein, a Patriots guard who made three appearances at the beginning of the Belichick dynasty (XXXVIII, XXXIX and XLII), were pivotal cogs. Others, such as Eric Martin (XVLIX) and Zaire Anderson (50), were on the practice squad.
Valentine, selected in the third round of last spring’s draft, has appeared in both the Patriots’ playoff wins as a reserve, recording a tackle each against the Texans and Steelers. The 320-pound nose tackle appeared in 13 games during his regular season as a rookie, with starts in Week 16 and Week 17.
“I would tell him to totally embrace it,” said Williams, better known as “Dr. Williams” these days at Maryland, where he’s the Terrapins’ director of student-athlete engagement and professional development. “Live in the moment. There are guys who played their entire careers, long careers, who never even sniffed the Super Bowl.”
A hellacious blocker in his salad days, Williams caught one pass in the Niners’ 55-10 win over Denver in Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans. He played in four more seasons with San Francisco, reaching two NFC title games, but never again sniffed the Big One.
“So I’d tell him to stay in the moment, especially if he plays in the game and gets in,” Williams continued. “Don’t worry about anything in the past or the future. Because that opportunity to get a ring, it’s fleeting.”
While we’re on the subject of rings, another fun fact: Roughly half the first marriages in the United States don’t make it 24 years in a row.
‘Here’s this big linebacker, scaring the (expletive) out of me’
Craig was in his second season with the Niners in 1984 while teammate Jack “Hacksaw” Reynolds, the nail-chewing linebacker, was in his last. When the veteran defender noticed the young running back pacing in the San Francisco locker room before Super Bowl XIX, he grabbed him.
“He said, ‘Don’t be nervous, man. Play every play like it’s going to be your last,’” Craig recalled. “’You never know if you’re going to get this opportunity to play in this game again. So don’t mess it up.’
“Here’s this big linebacker, scaring the (expletive) out of me.”
It worked. Craig saw the rock 22 times and scored three touchdowns — two receiving — in a 38-16 laugher over Miami, becoming the first player in Super Bowl history to reach the end zone on three different occasions.
“(Valentine), he’s in a good position, because the Patriots, they know how to win,” Craig continued. “I’m happy for him.”
The Big Red in the Super Bowl.
Same as it ever was.
“Tom Brady, when he goes out there, he’s not hungry — hungry’s not good enough to him,” Craig chuckled. “He doesn’t want to be hungry. When you’re starving, you don’t know when you’re going to get that meal. Tommy Brady is starving.
“That kid (Valentine), I guarantee you, he’s starving, too, or how could he be on that team? He must have done something special to be on that team.”
He must’ve been a Husker.