Kelly: Osborne legacy is one for the ages - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:39 pm
Kelly: Osborne legacy is one for the ages

As T.O. said, the aging process is “kind of innersting.”

Yes, Tom Osborne, whose name now is often preceded by “the legendary,” is aging. But who isn't?

It's just that it's a bit more obvious, to ourselves and others, when the years pile on like players diving after a loose football, one on top of the other.

Not only does the pile of years grow larger, but also we endure more aches and pains, and sometimes we forget what we are looking for. ... Oh, yes, the ball — I knew it was somewhere down in this scrum.

Or maybe it was the car keys that we fumbled and can't find. Our spouse's birthday. Our glasses.

We get a little forgetful — who can remember all of our passwords? — and we're not quite as nimble, physically or mentally. It's part of aging.

“Mother Nature is not kind to the old,” 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers told me Wednesday. “They used to call me ‘The Jet.' I'm just a prop plane now.”

Johnny the Jet is 61, still active, still sharp and with a good sense of humor. I'm 63, still pounding out sentences for a living but lamenting that, among other things, I'm no longer adept at remembering names.

The other morning I was dismayed that my car was gone from my parking spot in the garage of the building where I live downtown. Before I called 911, I remembered that I had stopped at the office the night before on my way home from an event.

I had parked on the street, but forgot about that and walked home. ... Geez. When I'm oblivious, I just hope it's not obvious.

“Doctor Tom,” as we used to call him because of his doctorate in educational psychology, will turn 76 in February. In announcing Wednesday that he would step down Jan. 1 as athletic director, he started off by mentioning the “innersting” aging process.

I've always liked how he pronounced that word. But this time he meant it wryly, ironically — interesting in the sense of the supposed ancient curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

Tom said his health is fine, even better than when he served in Congress from 2001 to 2007. It's been 27 years since he underwent double-bypass surgery, 15 years since he retired as Husker football coach, five years since he was called in to rescue the NU athletic department.

He has given us so many great and glorious moments. But, if he's like the rest of us 60 and older, he's also had “senior moments.”

In his self-effacing way, Tom acknowledged not wanting to hang around too long.

“At some point, whether you're able to function or not, the perception is that getting old can get in the way,” Osborne said. “So I don't want to be one of those guys where everybody is walking around wringing their hands and wondering what they're going to do with him.”

I still wish he had explained, even in a wry sense, what's so dadgummed innersting about getting older.

Because it is. In some ways, it's a good interesting. In other ways — not so much.

Julie Masters, head of the gerontology department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said that in serving as athletic director and accomplishing so much between the ages of 70 and 75, Osborne is a role model for the 21st century.

“He returned with grace and elegance to steady the ship at a turbulent time,” she said. “With the burgeoning aging population, why aren't we calling on more of the Tom Osbornes of the world to help lead our way?”

Masters, 51, said she, too, is more forgetful than she once was. As long as you're not forgetting your own name or your children's names, she said, it's part of the normal aging process.

The first time I saw the amazing sight of a sold-out, red-bedecked Memorial Stadium was the fall of 1970, new to Nebraska and just having turned 22. Johnny the Jet Rodgers caught two touchdown passes as the Huskers beat Oklahoma 28-21.

I was a news reporter, not a sportswriter — and didn't aspire to be one. Out of the blue 11 years later, I was named sports editor and sports columnist, and I spent a decade covering the Husker phenomenon and Tom Osborne.

It was innersting — and then some.

Even though the win-loss record of the past decade has dropped from what it was under Tom's coaching, fan enthusiasm has not. Johnny the Jet is still asked to sign autographs and pose for pictures — as he will Oct. 6 at Midtown Crossing for The World-Herald's “Pigskin in the Park.”

The Nebraska-Ohio State game will be shown that evening on a big screen, and you can bring a cooler. Johnny will be honored beforehand for the 40th anniversary of his Heisman.

Ozzie was his position coach in '72, the year before becoming head coach.

“Tom is like a father figure,” Johnny said. “He's also been a brother, a mentor and an all-around guy for a lot of people.”

We can't live forever, and we can't work forever. T.O. has worked for his native state for a very long time.

He wrote a book titled “More Than Winning,” asserting that what is most important is the journey, the process.

The process of aging is a journey, too — and definitely a work in progress.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1132, michael.kelly@owh.com

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly

mike.kelly@owh.com    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

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