Go ahead, turn on the radio in the morning. Jason Peter won't bite you.
But when you listen to Peter on KOZN's “Sharp and Peter” morning show at 1620 AM, you might want to consider wearing a helmet. With a mouthpiece.
Peter, the former defensive tackle at Nebraska from 1994 to '97, approaches sports-talk radio the way he used to patrol the trenches. He puts his hands underneath the listeners' ribs and drives them back to the quarterback.
This is full-contact radio, and nobody is off limits. Peter has called out Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini and Huskers like Will Compton and Thad Randle. He got into a heated argument with a fan on the air. He'll even bark at his co-host, veteran radio pro Gary Sharp. You will hear vocabulary you will not hear on other shows.
If any of that offends you, tough stuff, Peter says. But then, you probably already knew that.
“I hear it every day, that I'm not (polished),” Peter said. “I'm hard on myself. I didn't go to school to study broadcasting.
“I'm going to speak my mind. You're going to get honesty with me, not a lot of BS. There are some people that don't like to hear it.”
Some of those people work at Memorial Stadium, no doubt.
Welcome to the phenomenon that is former Nebraska football players in the media. They're everywhere. Peter is just the latest and loudest example.
I've often wondered why people as popular as former Huskers didn't own many restaurants or bars or stores or appear in more commercials. Apparently now they've found their post-career niche.
Former Husker Damon Benning, who has a “Benning's Breakdown” segment on “Unsportsmanlike Conduct,” also on 1620 AM, dived into the sports-talk pool several years ago.
He's been followed by Tommie Frazier (AM 590, the local ESPN Radio affiliate), who is as direct and fearless as he played. Same goes for Matt Hoskinson and Joel Makovicka (1620 AM). Eric Crouch, who says he is “110 percent retired from football,” has started a side career as a Fox Sports analyst.
Clester Johnson has done work for Omaha television station KMTV. Brenden Stai and Aaron Graham have been part of the Husker Network postgame radio shows; now Steve Taylor adds his expertise. And don't forget Matt Vrzal (1620 AM), a backup center and guard from 1994 to '96.
There's no secret to this trend. There are more “media” outlets and radio and TV shows than ever in this market. And there's no better way to get ratings than to put a headset on a former Husker and turn on the light.
If he's not afraid to ruffle a few red feathers, even better.
That the majority of this wave of talkers played in the glamorous 1990s is no shocker, either.
“We played during the most successful time in Nebraska history,” Peter said. “People want to know about that culture and what it's going to take to get that culture back.”
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I spoke with Peter, Benning and Crouch about their lives in the media. I find it fascinating.
I've known these men since their college days and, in some cases, when they were in high school. I've written critical things about them. I watched them handle criticism.
Now, as the tables turned and they sit in the critic's chair, I watch and listen to them hand out the critiques. Each with a different approach.
Peter's style is well-known. But he's not without a conscience. After all, Peter remembers how his brother Christian was regularly roughed up by the media. Jason himself took some shots from the Carolina Panthers' media who thought he was a wasted draft pick.
“I think about that stuff when I'm on the air,” Peter said. “I always try to make sure I remember these are college kids, like I was. I know they're not professionals. They're not getting paid.
“I love the (Husker football) program. I want the best for these kids. People imply that I want them to lose. That couldn't be further from the truth. All I want is for the kids to have the same feeling I did, to be that top dog. There's no better feeling.”
Peter has said some things directed at the coaches, though, that would seem to have earned him at least a phone call from Memorial Stadium. But he said he hasn't gotten one so far. And he's not worried about being blackballed from the program.
“Not as long as coach (Tom) Osborne is down there,” Peter said. “If coach Osborne came to me and said something, I could back off a little bit. But he hasn't.
“Look, some people don't like to hear the truth. If they want to ban me from the stadium, they can ban me from the stadium. I have to be myself.”
But how many listeners can handle the truth? After Nebraska's loss to UCLA, Peter got into it on the air with a fan who chided him for “always being negative.” Even Sharp, the co-host, added that the era Peter likes to reference was “15 years ago.” Peter quickly jumped on Sharp.
It's good radio. And it's a good question: When is it time to move on from the '90s? In two years, it will be the 20th anniversary of Osborne's first national title. Soon, there will be a generation of listeners who don't know who Frazier or Makovicka are.
“I try as little as possible to reference the '90s,” Benning said. “You can't always relive the '90s and have credibility. If you do, you have to be portable. Talk about how we practiced then, about the team chemistry and how it relates to now, tangible things that transcend over decades.”
Benning is more the diplomat when it comes to his critiques. His radio segments are designed around X's and O's. He has a harder edge than when he started, but he'll pick his spots when criticizing players.
And some things he won't touch. Before the season, I asked Benning for some analysis of Rex Burkhead. As a former running back, Benning politely declined.
“I try to be fair, but fans here are smart and they can tell when you are glossing over something,” Benning said. “They want to hear you talk football without pulling punches.”
Benning is not interested in burning bridges, either. Which will make this Saturday interesting. Benning, who also does game analysis for the Big Ten Network, will be doing his first-ever TV broadcast at a Nebraska home game.
“The concern is, nobody eats their young like Nebraska fans,” Benning said with a laugh. “They are so knowledgeable and in tune with what everybody says. You better be on top of your game.
“I have enough experience to say what I want to say when I want to say it. But on Thursday, we have a production meeting with coach Pelini. There are some things I may not ask him that I didn't hesitate to ask last week at Iowa.”
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Crouch, who has caught more than his share of grief from Nebraska fans (mostly about his NFL career), got some flak from a new direction recently: from Kansas State fans.
The Heisman Trophy winner called Kansas State's blowout win over Miami. During the game, Crouch critiqued the way K-State's running quarterback, Collin Klein, tended to spin before he got hit. He talked about how Klein had “four or five spin moves.”
Later that night, Crouch checked his Twitter account and found that several K-State fans had left nasty messages, including one guy who said “Klein is twice the man you'll ever be.”
“I left that guy a personal message,” Crouch said. “I explained that I meant Klein had done the spin move four or five times in the game. Spinning is a good way to lose vision and take a nasty hit. I know. It happened to me.
“People misunderstood what I said. What I learned is that sometimes things come out of your mouth.”
Crouch had a fun, and funny, first trip back to Manhattan, where he was 0-2 in his career. Including one famous facemask in 1998.
“The Kansas State sports information director gave me the DVD of their win over us in 1998,” Crouch said. “It's like their Game of the Century. I watched it and I saw three other facemasks against me.
“I noticed that Greg Sharpe, who does (Nebraska) radio now, was their play-by-play guy then. Funny, he didn't say anything during the game about that facemask. I need to talk to him about that.
“We met with coach (Bill) Snyder before the game and I told him that my neck had made a full recovery. He just started laughing.”
Crouch used to run over safeties and linebackers. But he's taking a lighter approach to TV so far.
“I look at it as a way to teach,” Crouch said. “Why do things happen? But it's hard because people want your opinion. You have to learn you can't please everybody.
“It's fun to see so many former Huskers doing it now. Everyone has an opinion, a voice. I try to be careful talking about Nebraska. It's my school. I want them to do well. And I don't want to be ostracized. I want to be welcomed back. I want to help.
“It's a fine line. You have to criticize and still have the person respect you. It's an art. We're in a different game now.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1025, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/tomshatelOWH
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