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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Bobby Reynolds -- 'Mr. Touchdown'

Monday, August 6, 2012

... And he came upon the (College football) world, bursting like a comet in a long, very dark night, and the people (Nebraskans) were filled with awe and wonderment. Almost as quickly as he had appeared he was gone. The people were sad, but at the same time were filled with hope and dared dream of better times ahead.

In 1950, the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers had not had a winning season in 10 years. There had been a few bright spots, like Tom Novak and Cletus Fischer, but quality players were too few and far between to have high quality teams. But, for one year anyway, the Huskers reversed that long dry spell -- largely due to the appearance of one, Bobby Reynolds.

Reynolds had been a standout athlete at Grand Island High School. Though baseball was Reynolds' game of choice, he proved to be a standout in football, basketball and track, leading his team to state titles in both football and basketball in1947 and 1948. (Note: Reynolds was already being touted as a football threat as a High School Sophomore. Yet McCook's State Championship team of 1946 was able to beat Reynolds and his Islanders soundly, 40-7 that year. Grand Island might have still been smarting from the '46 defeat when they thoroughly trounced the Bison, 74-0 in 1947, and they prevailed again in 1948, Reynold's senior season.)

Bobby Reynolds enrolled as a freshman at NU in 1949, Bill Glassford's first year as head coach. In 1949, freshmen did not play varsity football, and in Glassford's first year at Nebraska, the Huskers' string of losing seasons, with a 4-5 record.

Glassford was a strict disciplinarian. He had played for Jock Sutherland at Pittsburgh and tended to coach as Sutherland had coached. Glassford took his teams to Curtis, Nebraska, to do their preseason workouts at the Agricultural School, away from the distractions of the city, in an atmosphere that could have been mistaken for a military boot camp.

The players practiced three times a day and were housed in a gymnasium with an elevated entrance, which forced them to enter by going hand-over-hand along an overhead ladder, in full pads, or miss meals. Only players with proven shoulder injuries were allowed to use the door at ground level. The practice field was surrounded by a high hedge, which blocked any breeze that might have made the practice sessions more tolerable.

Glassford did not allow water breaks, and he maintained a "fat man's table" in the dining area for those who he thought needed to lose weight. The fare at the "fat man's table" was meager, often amounting to little more than lettuce.

A kangaroo court was set up for players who broke the rules. The "judge" tended to always side with the coach's wishes. Any player who chose to quit the program (and there were a few) was forced to hitchhike to McCook or North Platte to find transportation back to Lincoln.

1950 turned out to be an unbelievable season for young Bobby Reynolds. The Cornhuskers won five in a row after a 1-1-1 start. Reynolds established a modern single-season school record in rushing -- 1,342 yards (in nine games), a record that stood for 30 years, until broken by Heisman Trophy winner, Mike Rozier. Reynolds led the nation in scoring, with 157 points. He was a consensus All-American. Collier's magazine ran a story, which named him "Mr. Touchdown," and a popular song by that name, honored him that year.

Reynolds scored all 20 NU points in a tie game with Indiana to open the season. The next week, he scored 14 points in a rare Cornhusker win over Minnesota, 32-26. The last time NU had beaten MU at Minnesota was in 1902, when Bummy Booth was the NU head coach.

The following week, Reynolds scored all 19 NU points in a 28-19 loss at Colorado, and then came back to score all 19 points in a 19-0 win over Penn State.

The Reynolds game that everyone remembers most was played in Lincoln on Nov. 11 against Don Faurot's Missouri Tigers. Nebraska trailed just 14-13 at the half, after giving up two early touchdowns.

A Reynolds' run accounted for NU's first touchdown, and a Fran Nagle pass accounted for the second, which Reynolds caught between three defenders and fell into the end zone. The Huskers took the lead in the third quarter on a Nagle pass to end, Frank Simon. Ron Clark scored the 4th NU touchdown on a 15 yard run. But the Tigers kept coming back and led 27-26 going into the fourth quarter. Early fourth quarter, a Nagle-to-Dick Regier touchdown pass gave NU the lead, setting up one of the most memorable runs in Cornhusker football history.

NU led 33-27 and had the ball on the MU 33 yard line. Reynolds got the ball and dropped back to pass. A wave of Tiger players converged on him. He cut back to his left, eluding tacklers, but retreating all the way back to the Nebraska 45 yard line. Then, "like a changing traffic light," he reversed his field three times, doubling the distance he had to run. They tell the story that Charlie Toogood (from North Platte), a senior tackle, knocked down a defender during that run, and lay on his man, pinning him to the ground. The defender said, "Let me up, Reynolds went the other way." Toogood agreed, but continued to hold the fellow down, explaining, "He might be coming back this way again!"

Though Reynolds was only credited with a 33-yard touchdown run, observers estimated that he had actually run three times that distance in eluding tacklers. Said Bob Broeg, of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, "That kid stands out like a neon light!"

Unfortunately, Reynold's banner year of 1950 proved to be the high water mark of his career. He was plagued during his junior and senior seasons by injuries, one after another -- a shoulder separation, suffered at Camp Curtis in 1951, a nagging ankle injury, and a quirky eye injury -- on an ordinary run he got tackled at a yard stripe and got lime into his eye, which almost cost him the sight of one eye. Athletically, he was never the same after his sophomore season -- he made only 54 more points during his last two seasons, playing in just 13 of 20 games, and most of those points came on conversion kicks.

He still showed occasional flashes of his old brilliance on offense, but to help the team he became a star on defense, a sure tackler. In the 1951 Missouri game, with his jarring tackles, he earned the respect of the Missouri fans, the same fans he had so frustrated the year before as an offensive star.

Reynolds graduated from NU in 1953. Though he had not had good seasons his last two years he was still drafted by the professional Los Angeles Rams football team. Reynolds realized his situation better than anyone, and declined to play professional football.

Instead, he played baseball for a time with the Minor League Lincoln Chiefs, of the old Western League, and then entered the Insurance business in Lincoln.

Bobby Reynolds was certainly good at his job in the insurance business, but not as good as he was as a member of the Lincoln Country Club. At the club he was introduced to both tennis and golf, quickly becoming proficient in both sports.

Before long he was playing with (and very often beating) the very best players in the city, even statewide. Even after all these years, they still talk about the Double Eagle (three under par) that Reynolds shot on the difficult par 5, 17th hole at the Lincoln Country Club -- to date, the only player to have achieved that goal.

Before his death, Reynolds was honored by the Omaha World Herald as one of the 50 Greatest Nebraska Athletes, and by his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Perhaps Norris Anderson of the Lincoln Journal summed up Reynold's career best when he wrote, under the headline, "So Long Mr. Touchdown."

"For Notre Dame, the legend is wrapped up in George Gipp. For Iowa, the personality and memory of Nile Kinnick fill the same mythological spot.

For Nebraska, the transcendent football hero always will be the man who left our company Monday morning, Bobby Reynolds." Aug. 19, 1985. He was 53 years old.

Source: NU Football Legacy, by Mike Babcock. Huskers.com

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Days Gone By