JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Tell us the story again, Grandpa Joe.
Tell us about that 2009 Gator Bowl, when you led Nebraska to that 26-21 victory over Clemson. Tell us about the greatest game of your life.
Tell us how you overcame the fumble and interception in the first half, and threw two touchdown passes on third-and-long plays in the second half.
Tell us again how they gave you the Gator Bowl MVP Trophy, a big piece of hardware with a helmet on top, and how you ran around the stadium with it and high-fived Husker fans.
“I don't remember much about it,” Joe Ganz said. “I got dinged up pretty good. I didn't remember what happened until the next day, when I got home to Chicago and watched the replay.”
Ganz laughs about it now. Five years later, he's back, in Jacksonville, at the Gator Bowl, at the Sawgrass Marriott where he had to spend the night after the game in his room because of doctor's orders.
The former Husker quarterback is looking for a full-time coaching job. This Gator Bowl game against Georgia will be his last at Nebraska. As mandated by the NCAA, his time as a graduate assistant is up. The great unknown awaits. But he’ll always have the Gator Bowl. The Ganz Bowl.
This will be a great story to tell the rest of his life. How did it go again?
Oh, yeah. Ganz suffered a slight concussion in the third quarter. It wasn't his day. He had fumbled and thrown an interception in the first half to set up Clemson's 14-3 lead. Now, some big Tiger landed on him after he had released a second-half pass.
“I remember my head hit the turf,” Ganz said. “When I woke up, I remember thinking, 'That's odd. When did we get natural grass at Memorial Stadium?' ”
The grandkids will never believe this stuff.
“Coming off the field, I didn't know where I was,” Ganz said. “I had to gather myself. I knew the doctors would ask me to recite three plays and progressions. So I asked (reserve quarterback) Zac Lee to give me three plays to remember.
“The doctors came over and asked Zac to ask me three plays. I didn't pass the eye test. But I passed the play test. So I went back out there.”
Good idea. Backup Patrick Witt lost the ball at the end of his first play, and Clemson nearly returned it for a touchdown, but replays showed Witt was down and NU escaped one.
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“I couldn't read (the plays on) my wrist band,” Ganz said. “I asked Beau Davis (another reserve QB) how we scored all those points. He said, 'You threw two touchdown passes in the second half. You also fumbled and threw an interception that gave them two touchdowns.'
“I said, 'Thanks, you jerk. You could have left that part out.' ”
Ganz finished the game and was able to keep the car on the road. He was 19 of 36 passing for 236 yards, including 10-15-133 in the second-half comeback. The voters who named him MVP had no idea how taxing his day had become.
“The defense played lights out — that's why we won that game,” Ganz said. “(Ndamukong) Suh, (Ty) Steinkuhler and (Quentin) Castille. They carried us. I guess they give the MVP to the quarterback.
“It's crazy to think I was out there like that. I would forget the plays I had just called. I was out there just kind of reacting more than anything.”
He had enough of his senses to keep the game ball.
“Just before I took a knee on the last play, I told the ref, 'Hey, I'm not going to give you this ball.' He said that was fine. It's in my garage at home.
“I thought I might get a couple of looks in the NFL, but I kind of knew that would be my last game. So I hung around there for a long time, running around, talking to people. I didn't want to leave.
“I'm sure I'll have a lot of memories when I go back in there this week. I have a lot of them walking around this hotel. I remember after the game I couldn't leave my hotel room. I wanted to go out with my teammates and celebrate. That's one of the regrets I have, not being able to do that. We had come a long way, guys like me, Nate Swift and (Matt) Slauson. That game kind of summed up our careers.”
Ganz kicked around that next year until Bo Pelini called and offered him a job as an intern. That turned into a graduate assistant position. And Ganz has been a perfect fit as a quarterback tutor while offensive coordinator Tim Beck manages the offense.
That's over this week, and Ganz will be out on the street, looking for full-time work as a football coach: offensive coordinator, quarterback coach, maybe high school head coach. He's got an open mind.
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“It's like the real world: You have to be in the right place in the right time, have to get lucky,” Ganz said. “So much of it in coaching, though, depends on who you know. If coach (Shawn) Watson or Tim Beck get (head coaching) jobs, I think I could go with them.
“I've talked with Tim about his time as a high school coach in Texas. He said I can't be afraid to try something like that. I just want to coach.”
Hard to believe Ganz first showed up in Lincoln in 2004, in coach Bill Callahan's first recruiting class. He sat in the shadows until 2008, when he completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 3,568 yards and 25 touchdowns. He finished his career second in NU history in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
It was the kind of year that made you wonder, why didn't Callahan get this guy out there sooner? And what if Ganz — along with Swift and Todd Peterson — had the 2009 season together with Watson?
Ganz and I agree: Nebraska would have won the Big 12. He doesn't look back much, though, except for one regret that won't go away.
“That interception at Texas Tech (2008, a loss in overtime) still haunts me,” Ganz said. “If we win that game, we win the Big 12 North that year. I never cried so much in my life.”
He's about to turn his GA position over to Ron Kellogg, who will fit the tutorial role well. How fitting that Ganz's last game in Nebraska red will take place in the Gator Bowl, where his best memories will forever be stored.
That MVP trophy? That's another story.
“It's back at my house in Chicago,” Ganz said. “My mom is using it for a doorstop in the TV room. I asked her, 'Why do you have to use that to keep the door open in our TV room? Why can't you find a better use for it, like a paper weight?' ”
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