History of UNO football chronicled in new book


November 6th, 2015

Five years later, UNO football history gets chronicled in a new book. (Courtesy UNO Alumni)

Five years later, UNO’s football history gets chronicled in a new book. (Courtesy UNO Alumni)

In March of 2011, the University of Nebraska at Omaha cut its football and wrestling programs. The decision came as UNO moved from Division-II to Division-I. In the wake of a newly released book chronicling the history of the school’s football program, KVNO’s Brandon McDermott talks with the author, and examines how UNO is doing 5 years after the school’s last football game.

Omaha, NE – October 16th, 2010. That was the last time a Maverick played football at Caniglia Field.

That following March, UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts announced the school was moving up to Division I. Alberts said it would be good for UNO’s future, even though it came at a cost: the football and wrestling programs had to go. The move drew sharp criticism from ex-players and donors alike. Van Deeb, an Omaha real-estate broker and UNO donor, pulled hundreds of thousands of dollars out of a project to build an athletic welcome center.

But five years later, the dust has settled, and a new book is out called University of Nebraska-Omaha Football: Images of Sports by Darren Ivy. The book looks at the history of UNO’s football program through photographs.

Greg Zuerlein attempts a kick for UNO in the Kanza Bowl in 2009. (Courtesy Topeka Capital-Journal)

Greg Zuerlein attempts a kick for UNO in the Kanza Bowl in 2009. (Courtesy Topeka Capital-Journal)

“There have been hundreds of books written about Husker football but I cannot find one about this,” Ivy said. “Basically the only history that is there was what the university has on its website a kind of its last media guide that’s pretty much all that really existed. I just wanted to kind of see if I could put a more human face on it.”

UNO archivist Les Valentine helped put the book together. He says it was a sharp reminder of what happened.

“But as I was going through those photos, you can’t help but have it in the back of your mind that the program no longer exists,” Valentine says. “We need to concentrate on the efforts of the people who made the program what it was.”

Valentine started with sifting through thousands of shots, narrowing that list to about 200, which are included in the book. He says the book focuses on the players and tries to honor their efforts.

“(We focused on) those types of people, those types of players who work hard and who formed the foundation of the football team – the football experience. Those types of people aren’t here anymore, they’ve been replaced by other sports.”

Greg Zuerlein is one of the more successful players to have suited up for the Mavs. He’s now the starting kicker for the St. Louis Rams – but five years ago, he was a player on UNO’s final football team. He was healing from a season ending injury when he was ‘blindsided’ by the announcement his team was cut.

“I found out in the morning paper,” Zuerlein said. “I lived with a couple of football players at the time and they woke me up and were like ‘have you seen this?’ I didn’t really know whether to believe it or not and then we had a meeting later on and so obviously it was real.”

Zuerlein holds the record for most consecutive PATs at UNO with 61—a record he’ll most likely own forever. He says when he thinks about his team and all the players since who haven’t been able to play football at Caniglia Field, he feels bad.

“Obviously it’s not your big the D-I program that’s going to have 90,000 people at the games. But going to other D-II programs, I thought UNO had pretty nice facilities compared to others as well as pretty decent fan base.”

But Zuerlein says he doesn’t hold a grudge against Trev Alberts, or the school. He says cutting the football and wrestling programs so other sports could flourish was as much a business decision as anything else.

Darren Ivy says first person accounts like Zuerlein’s about UNO’s football program are fairly rare. That’s why Ivy wants to preserve what little he could find of the UNO football program, which endured more than 100 years of playing down the road from the Huskers. Something Ivy says took a financial toll on the program and prompted numerous articles in UNO’s school paper.

“Old Gateway’s (The UNO school newspaper) always talked about needing school and financial support to keep the program going and ultimately that was in the end what did the program in. It was still the very end was ‘can we financially afford to keep doing this?’, and it was just kind of a common thread.”

But for players like Zuerlein, the end of the UNO football program wasn’t the end of their football career. Zuerlein wanted to keep playing, and was contacted by several notable football programs including Oklahoma, Nebraska and UCLA. He landed at Missouri Western, had a big senior year, and was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the sixth round of the NFL draft in 2012. Zuerlein says while the program doesn’t exist, the bonds he made with his UNO teammates are still strong.

“I got to hang out and meet some of my best friends I still talk to and hang out with to this day. I think that says something. As well as the team as a whole, after games all the guys would get together, everyone was friendly and would hang out. There really wasn’t a whole lot of animosity, I don’t think. Where some teams fight from within, I think at UNO we didn’t have any of that. It was just a good group of guys and just wanted to win football games.”

Zuerlein did say he doesn’t follow UNO sports at all anymore, mostly because there isn’t a football program.

But who knows, maybe it’s just because he doesn’t like hockey?

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