Back when Nebraska was the scourge of the Big Eight, running the ball at will and competing annually for national titles under Tom Osborne, the I-backs were the BMOC.
I.M. Hipp, Mike Rozier, Ahman Green, Jarvis Redwine, Doug DuBose, Derek Brown, Lawrence Phillips, Calvin Jones…those were the stars of Nebraska teams, piling up 1,000-yard rushing seasons and collecting All-America certificates.
But only Rozier and Green approached the level of success in the NFL that they enjoyed in college with Pro Bowl appearances. The NFL did strike a vein, however, drafting another player from those Nebraska backfields – the fullbacks.
The parade started with Andra Franklin in 1981 and would include Roger Craig (1983), Tom Rathman (1986), Cory Schlesinger (1995) and Joel Makovicka (1999).
Franklin led Miami in rushing each of his first three seasons, including a Pro Bowl season in 1982 when the Dolphins went to the Super Bowl. Craig spent his first four NFL seasons as a fullback for the 49ers, catching 71 passes in 1984 in a Super Bowl championship season, then leading the NFL with 92 receptions in 1985. He has been a Hall of Fame finalist.
Craig moved to halfback in 1987 and Rathman would join him in the San Francisco backfield as the fullback in 1988. That combo helped the 49ers win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1988-89. Rathman played nine NFL seasons, rushing for 2,020 yards and catching 320 passes.
Schlesinger and Makovicka became the prototypical blocking fullback in today’s NFL in addition to serving as the backbone on special teams’ coverage units. Schlesinger spent 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions and Makovicka four season with the Arizona Cardinals.
Craig and Rathman form the backfield on Nebraska’s all-time NFL team with Schlesinger chosen as the special-teams ace. There are five Pro Football Hall of Famers on Nebraska’s all-time NFL team.
Here’s the all-time Nebraska NFL team:
QB Vince Ferragamo, QB in Super Bowl XIV for Rams
HB Roger Craig, 3 Super Bowls, 4 Pro Bowls
FB Tom Rathman, 2 Super Bowls, 320 catches
WR Guy Chamberlin, Hall of Fame
WR Irving Fryar, 4 Pro Bowls, 851 catches, 84 TDs
TE Junior Miller, 2 Pro Bowls, 122 catches
OT Bob Brown, Hall of Fame
OT Zach Wiegert, 12 seasons
G Will Shields, Hall of Fame
G Carl Nicks, 2 Pro Bowls
C Mick Tingelhoff, Hall of Fame
DE Neil Smith, 1990s NFL all-decade team, 105 sacks
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, 3 Pro Bowls, 58 sacks
DT Link Lyman, Hall of Fame
DT Ndamukong Suh, 5 Pro Bowls, 56 sacks
LB Jimmy Williams, 12 years, 13 INTs
LB Lavonte David, 1 Pro Bowl, 6 100-tackle seasons
LB Broderick Thomas, 9 years, 48 sacks
CB Pat Fischer, Member of Washington Redskins all-time team
CB Eric Warfield, 9 years, 20 INTs
S Mike Minter, 10 seasons, 17 INTs
S Mike Brown, 1 Pro Bowl, 20 INTs
K Josh Brown, 14 years, 1,395 points
P Sam Koch, 13 years, 1,006 punts
KR Tyrone Hughes, 1 Pro Bowl, 5 KR & PR TDs
ST Cory Schlesinger, 12 seasons, 97 special teams tackles