It was a little past 8 p.m. Sunday when a stream of family and friends and guys with soft middles who used to be Nebraska Cornhuskers and Oakland Raiders finally slowed to a trickle, and David Humm said he had been in the damn wheelchair for 15 years now.
Humm, 61, was sitting up front in the Napa ballroom at the South Point, to the left of center. He was sipping a glass of wine that he held in his left hand.
In the center of the room was a glass case containing the honorary Blackshirt he had received from the Husker Greats Foundation a little while earlier.
To the right of center was a giant video screen, upon which a young Dave Humm was using his left hand, the one that now held the glass of white wine, to lead Nebraska to a rousing 40-6 victory over Notre Dame in the 1973 Orange Bowl.
Look, there goes Dave Humm, flipping a 50-yard touchdown pass to the great Johnny Rodgers. There goes Humm completing 13 of 19 passes for 185 yards against the vaunted Fighting Irish defense. And there goes NBC showing Tom Clements (9-for-22, three INTs, 103 yards), the Notre Dame quarterback, again. Notre Dame bias has been around a long time.
As for that Blackshirt thing: This is a tradition that began at Nebraska in the 1960s. At first it was just to distinguish the offensive players from the defensive players in practice. Eventually, only the best defensive players at Nebraska received Blackshirts.
When Dave Humm was playing quarterback at Nebraska, Willie Harper, the stalwart defensive end, was a Blackshirt. And Rich Glover, the nose tackle who won the Outland Trophy.
And so it was a pretty big deal for an offensive player, a quarterback no less, to receive a Nebraska Blackshirt. Even an honorary one.
I saw Eric Crouch on Sunday night. Crouch has a Heisman Trophy. He does not, however, have a Nebraska Blackshirt.
Dave Humm has been battling multiple sclerosis for 25 years, and he’s frail, but he never complains. He thinks he’s the luckiest man on the face of the earth, like Lou Gehrig.
The Nebraska people said he’s tougher than any of the Blackshirts. Even Rich Glover. So that’s why they came to Las Vegas on Sunday, to present Dave Humm with a Blackshirt with a big No. 12 on it, his number, and also to hold a golf tournament in his honor Monday, because these NFL pensions for the older guys don’t pay squat.
While Dave Humm was telling a reporter what a honor all of this was, and how humbled he was by the turnout, former teammates and even a former student manager or two kept coming up to tell a story and to wish him well.
“Honorary Blackshirt, hell,” said a man whose middle didn’t appear as soft as the others. “He’s an honorary Black MAN.”
This was Raymond Chester, who played tight end for the Raiders and Colts, two of the teams Humm played quarterback for in the pros (Buffalo was the other). Humm was wearing Chester’s shoes. Size 14s, black, with a high polish. Humm said he normally wears size 13s. He said he was honored to be wearing Ray Chester’s shoes.
And so it went. People kept coming up to Dave Humm. Nebraska people. Oakland Raiders people. Dave Humm people. They shook his hand, they wished him well, they reminded him of an athletic feat performed on the field, or two performed away from it.
Dave told one of the old Huskers, or one of the old Raiders, for after a while it was hard to tell without a program, that he still was doing the Raiders pregame show out of a studio in his Las Vegas home, and that Willie Harper’s daughter once was his boss.
“Damn, how many kids did Willie have anyway?” one said.
Dave Humm kept listening to these stories, and then he would get back to saying how humbled he was, how lucky he was to have had the life he has. To have been recruited by Bob Devaney and to have played for Dr. Tom Osborne and John Madden and Tom Flores, to have earned the respect of Al Davis, to have the two Super Bowl rings and the rest.
And I said, yeah, he must have been pretty good, pretty tough to last nine years in the NFL where the average career lasts three years. And then Dave Humm corrected me. He said it was 10 years, and if I shortchanged him again, he was going to jump out of that damn wheelchair and whip my ass.
Dave Humm introduced me to a pretty blond girl who was wearing a black miniskirt. His daughter Courtney, 23, had never seen him play football.
While the older guys with the soft middles kept coming up, she sat at the next table, alone, looking up at the big screen at how big and strong her dad looked against Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, and how handsome he was.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.