2020 marks 50 years since Nebraska football entered the history books with its first national championship season. The 1970 Huskers, coached by the legendary Bob Devaney, broke through on a grand night that capped a grand season, giving momentum to a fan base whose fervor has barely waned to this day. Each week, through the beginning of January, The World-Herald will revisit the 1970 season, allowing readers to relive the first Husker national title and get to know — again — the players and coaches who made it happen.
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LINCOLN — Mike “Red” Beran fell for Nebraska football as a 13-year-old when he attended his first game in 1963 and memorized the name and number of every Husker starter.
So he was thrilled in 1968 when he received a letter offering him a chance to walk on at NU.
But there was a small problem. Beran weighed 184 pounds as a senior at Ord High School and stood 6 feet tall “if I stretched it.”
NU put him on the offensive line of the freshman team, and when he sized up the quarterback he was supposed to protect, 6-2, 220-pound Jerry Tagge, Beran recognized the challenge ahead.
“I started living in the weight room,” he said.
He built himself up to 234 pounds — small in today’s world of 300-pound blockers but about average in the early 1970s. He lettered as a backup guard on the Huskers’ 1970 and 1971 national champions, then started in 1972, Bob Devaney’s last season as coach.
Jerry Murtaugh, who had to fend off Beran blocks in practice as an All-America linebacker, remembers his teammate sprinting from station to station in practice, then sprinting to the weight room afterwards.
“He’s always reminded me of a rat terrier,” Murtaugh said. “He just keeps coming at you and at you. You can kick him, but he’ll grab hold and he just doesn’t let go.
“To this day, he won’t let go of something until he finishes.”
Beran, now 70 and living in Lincoln, has channeled his tenacity into keeping former Huskers in contact. He sends out an email newsletter once or twice a week to former players, coaches and staff members. With help from Murtaugh and others, he has built a database of contact information for about 450 players.
He wishes he had more help from NU, which he says falls short of other traditional college football powers in honoring alums.
The athletic department did supply a tent and food for a tailgate for former players east of Memorial Stadium at games last fall.
And NU credited Beran for providing contact information for 60 players from the 1970 champions as it planned a 50-year reunion, which was scheduled for this fall but then shelved by the pandemic.
“Mike Beran has done a lot of great things with the former athletes,” said Boyd Epley, the retired founder of NU’s strength training program.
Beran owes his nickname to the shock of fire red hair he had as a boy and young man. There’s still red in his eyebrows, but the hair on top is gone.
He’s otherwise well preserved. Beran is a muscular 210, a testament to his work on weights in the basement of the townhouse he shares with wife, Colleen, and their three Labradors.
Beran lifted weights for years at Memorial Stadium when he was off duty at Burlington Northern Santa Fe and later Kawasaki. Access to NU’s weight room was limited after 9/11, he said, and Athletic Director Steve Pederson “made it like Fort Knox trying to get in there” with the North Stadium expansion in the mid-2000s.
But Epley would let him in.
It was Epley, he said, who made his NU playing career possible. Epley was a pole vaulter rehabilitating an injury when he started working in the weight room with Beran and other football players in the late 1960s.
Weight-lifting wasn’t common in college football at the time, and few players attacked it with Beran’s ferocity.
“He made tremendous progress at a time other people weren’t making those kinds of changes,” Epley said.
NU coaches recognized the potential advantages.
“If a guy like me could come in and put on some weight, get some strength and develop,” Beran said, “this was really going to be great for the good guys, the real good recruits.”
Devaney’s successor, Tom Osborne, has pointed to the Huskers’ early strength training as a key to their 1970 and 1971 national titles.
Another advantage was that Nebraska and other programs in the old Big Eight Conference could award 45 scholarships a year. The Big Ten, NU’s home today, limited programs to 30 scholarships a year back then.
With all those scholarship players, NU didn’t depend on walk-ons the way it would later under Osborne. Beran, in fact, was encouraged by coaches to transfer to McCook Junior College after his freshman season. But he stuck around, kept working and climbed the depth chart.
The Huskers were loaded in 1970 and ’71. In 1970, Beran played at right guard behind senior Donnie McGhee, a first-team All-Big Eight selection, and he shared snaps on the second unit with junior Keith Wortman, who went on to play 10 years in the NFL.
“We were deep to the extent that the third- and fourth-team guys could have made a run in the Big Eight,” Beran said. “The games were basically easy. You were just glad you didn’t have to go against your teammates on Saturday.”
Beran backed up Wortman at right guard in 1971, then won the job in 1972. It still gnaws at him that the Huskers lost twice and were tied once that season, but they did send Devaney out right with a 40-6 thrashing of Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.
There’s an iconic photo of players carrying Devaney off the field after that game. Beran is one of those players. But the only other one still living is Randy Borg, a cornerback from Alliance.
Beran emails alums when an old teammate has died, and he has shared the information with NU in recent years so the names could be announced at the spring game.
He’s been sending out emails and building his database since 2008, when he attended a reunion in Oklahoma for players from the 1971 “Game of the Century” between the Huskers and Sooners.
“I could not believe what Oklahoma did for their former players,” he said.
The Husker alums were picked up in limousines at their hotel for a Friday night banquet. They joined in a pregame tailgate for Sooner alums, then watched the game with their old rivals in a section at Owen Field designated for former players. Beran learned that the Sooners held team reunions on their 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries.
“After being down at that great reunion,” Beran said, “I thought to myself, ‘What can I do?’”
NU held 40-year reunions for the 1970 and 1971 champions. Beran and friends talked the athletic department into providing a tailgate spot for ex-players two years ago. But it was across the 10th Street viaduct — a challenge to navigate for players with disabilities — and Beran and other alums had to buy the food.
Beran found a better spot before last season, just east of the columns in front of Ed Weir Stadium, and NU supplied the tent plus Valentino’s pizza and Runzas. Athletic Director Bill Moos stopped by a couple of times.
The tailgate spot will go away when construction begins on the $155 million North Stadium expansion. Plans call for some 100,000 square feet to be dedicated to the football team.
Beran hopes NU finds room somewhere for a former players’ lounge. Auburn, Penn State and Ohio State have them.
Nebraska has an N Club lounge in the southeast corner of Memorial Stadium. It’s for letter-winners in all sports.
“It’s small and it’s crowded,” Beran said. “We just want a place for football.
“I know that’s verboten today — you’ve got to include everybody. But to hell with that.”
Where are they now?
QB — Jerry Tagge, Omaha; Van Brownson, Omaha
IB — Joe Orduna, Irvine, California; Jeff Kinney, Monument, Colorado
FB — Dan Schneiss, Omaha
WB — Johnny Rodgers, Omaha
SE — Guy Ingles, Omaha
TE — Jerry List (died in 1993)
LT — Bob Newton, Palm Desert, California
LG — Dick Rupert, Bellevue; Keith Wortman, St. Charles, Missouri
C — Doug Dumler, Fort Collins, Colorado
RG — Donnie McGhee, Urbana, Ohio
RT — Wally Winter (died in 2015)
LE — John Adkins, Silver Spring, Maryland; John Hyland, Lincoln
LT — Larry Jacobson, South Bend, Nebraska; Rich Glover, Jersey City, New Jersey
MG — Ed Periard (died in 1993)
RT — Dave Walline, Waterloo, Nebraska
RE — Willie Harper, Henderson, Nevada; John Pitts, Buckeye, Arizona
SLB — Jerry Murtaugh, Omaha
WLB — Bob Terrio, Ontario, California
LCB — Joe Blahak (died in 2016)
MON — Dave Morock, Parkville, Missouri
FS — Bill Kosch, Lincoln
RCB — Jim Anderson, Albuquerque, New Mexico
P — Jeff Hughes, St. Petersburg, Florida
PK — Paul Rogers (died in 2018)
Mike “Red” Beran says 19 players altogether from the 1970 roster have since died. This lineup above covers most of the prominent ones. There were a few more who played on the 1970 freshman team:
Dave Humm, quarterback (2018)
Rich Sanger, kicker (2018)
Mark Doak, tackle (2016)
Tom Pate, defensive end (1975)