When Tom Ruud played the game, football was still football. Even in Bob Devaney's last years and the early years of Tom Osborne, there wasn't a mystery to success. Good players, good coaches and a work ethic usually paid dividends in the end.
There was, however, something else - Leaders.
Players that by either by their words, deeds or even both, motivated others around them to reach another level. Sparks, if you will or perhaps guiding lights of wisdom from their vast experience in about every situation imaginable. Really, there was no one thing that made any person the perfect leader. There was one thing that they did all have in common though, before this year came around.
They were Seniors.
The eldest players amongst the team, seasoned, hardened, educated about the who, what, when, where and why of the Big Red. Why you do something, why you don't and knowing when not to care.
It's a no-brainer that the oldest guys would be those that could lead the best, because they had just about seen it all before. And, as Tom Ruud recalled the days when he was a captain at NU, the differences ranged so much farther than just that. "It was a different role for us then, because there was only one captain on either side of the ball." he said. "It's really hard to compare being a captain then to now because you are really talking about two different eras."
He's certainly right in that the number of players now versus then, the number of scholarship athletes now versus then and many more ways than that, Nebraska isn't the same Nebraska anymore.
What doesn't change, however, are those very criteria that propelled people into leadership positions on the team.
It's what Tom had and now his son, Barrett Ruud has and becomes the second Ruud to obtain captainship, this believed to be the only father-son duo at Nebraska ever to accomplish that feat.
Like father - like son, it's not surprising that what Tom Ruud thought it took to get the honor when he played for NU was no doubt the reason Barrett received his as well. "To get the award, people really have to respect what you do." Tom Ruud said. "They know you work hard and that you do whatever you can for the team."
Not ironic at all was what Barrett said in response to a question about what his dad would think about him being chosen for such a role. "I think he'll think that it just shows that I worked hard." he said. "And, hopefully, some of these guys like me. I'm not a jerk to a lot of people, I don't think at least."
Obviously not and equally obvious was Ruud a choice for what most (if not all) players feel is the greatest individual honor any player can receive. The reason of course being that this comes from those you hit the field with every single day.
What would you then feel as a player if you weren't a seasoned veteran going into your last year of college ball? What if you hadn't even started a game?
Such had to have been the feelings to some extent for Joe Dailey, just a Sophomore, just going into his first year as a starting quarterback at NU and now and quite possibly the youngest player ever to be voted captain for a Nebraska football team. "I was surprised when they said my name." Joe said. "They said I worked hard and that could have been a number of any of those other guys and they looked at me."
"I guess they thought I represent what a team captain should be."
You know, that really is it right there. No matter how old you are, no matter how many games you have played, people respect what other people are willing to do to get something done. And, the more you are willing to give, the more sacrifices you make, the more people will look at you as an example of just how things should be done.
That's how it was with wide receiver Ross Pilkington, who unlike Joe and Barrett who are each vocal on the field out of necessity due to their positions, "Pilk" goes about his business quietly and in an almost stoic fashion, but his impact on his teammates showed just as much that it was deeds and not words that won him this honor on this day. "I'd rather leave it on the field and just lead by example." Ross said. "I'm not a real vocal guy. If something needs to be said, I'll definitely say it, but I'd rather lead by example."
Examples come fast and furious when you look at some of the on and off-the-field accomplishments of some of the Huskers currently on the team. Records, streaks, points, yards, there's all kinds of ways to quantify various achievements. Of Josh Bullocks, Joe Dailey perhaps said it best of Josh, "He's an All-American. What else do you need to say?"
With this particular foursome, it's really not about what anyone says, because as each has admitted about the others, while there may be some duties out on the field that require being vocal at times, they each would rather let their work-ethic do the talking.
Perhaps we can thrust upon them some ultra-trendy nickname like the "blue collar boys", epitomizing the physical toil taken to reach their esteemed positions. Or, we could call them the "Hushed Huskers", if only to illustrate in an overly corny way their eagerness to opt for action before words.
Or, we'll simply call them Captains and leave it at that. It epitomizes everything they stand for, illustrates quite nicely what this position truly means and age be damned, they got this honor the old fashioned way.
They earned it.
And, for the diehard traditionalist that thinks this is yet another great tradition of Nebraska's fallen into disarray with this seeming on-rush to be like everyone else, think well on the words of someone who played and starred in those days that was once a captain himself. "Things change." Tom Ruud said. "What's important is that the reasons for why someone is a captain doesn't."
"What's important is your work-ethic. What you do on and off the field. If you do that and players respect that, it pretty much speaks for itself."
Steve Ryan can be reached at SteveRyan@bigredreport.com or 402-476-5006