Reusse: What happened to Nebraska football? Ask a ‘Minnesota Twin’

The Gophers and Nebraska were regular football opponents long before the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. There were 33 nonconference games between the teams in the 43 seasons from 1932 to 1974.

That era of expecting Nebraska on the first or second Saturday of a season started when the Gophers were all-powerful with coach Bernie Bierman, and wound up with the Cornhuskers riding the all-time sudden turn to greatness with coach Bob Devaney, and continued by Tom Osborne.

The Gophers lost 10 straight from 1963 to 1974, and the last three of those were by a total margin of 151-7. The next time they met was in 1983, and the Huskers nudged the Gophers, 84-13.

The middle linebackers in the Huskers' 5-2 defense that allowed Cal Stoll's Gophers almost nothing from 1972 to 1974 were Tom Ruud from Bloomington and Bob Nelson from Stillwater, known in Huskers lore as the "Minnesota Twins."

"The ends stood up, so it was basically the early version of the 3-4," Ruud said. "We played that defense, Oklahoma played it, and then it went to the NFL. The idea was to keep the middle linebackers clean, funnel the runners into us, and we better be able to tackle."

Ruud had 112 of those as a senior, was the co-player of the year in the mighty Big Eight, and was drafted 19th by Buffalo in the NFL's first round. Then, Nelson was taken 42nd overall in the second round, also by the Bills.

Nelson had a longer career in the NFL, winning a couple of Super Bowls with the Raiders. Ruud got banged up, went from Buffalo and Cincinnati, and then took his last shot in training camp with the Vikings in 1981.

Nelson has long been back in Minnesota and lives in Wayzata. Ruud settled in Lincoln and has excellent reasons to stay entrenched in football.

Oldest son Barrett played inside linebacker for the Huskers in 2001-04 and remains the all-time leading tackler with 432. Brother Bo was a year behind, also playing linebacker — with 216 tackles.

Barrett played eight years in the NFL. Bo was also drafted. They were both there for the panicked firing of Frank Solich, which turned into the hiring of Bill Callahan, and the start of the great Cornhusker descent.

"Bo Pelini did well recruiting, he could've gotten it done, but he had trouble getting along with people in the administration," Ruud said. "Mike Riley and Scott Frost … they had good credentials, but it didn't get done."

Ruud paused and said: "This last coaching change was doubly tough. My son Barrett was Scott's linebackers coach. He coached with Scott at Central Florida, where great things happened.

"There was so much hope with Scott, a Husker coming home. It was very tough for all those people that absolutely love the program. Husker Nation's a real thing.

"Matt Ruhle has come in now. He does and says the right things. He downplays himself. He has an innate ability to make people like him."

Is it time for red-clad Nation to accept reality — that consistent greatness is gone, never to return?

"I would never say that," Ruud said. "I don't know anything other than competing among the best as a Husker. You don't believe that you can beat the best, you're letting down yourself and everyone around you."

Ruud married Jaime Swanson, a Nebraska fan forever. Her grandfather, Clarence Swanson, was a much-honored end for the Huskers in the early '30s. He was added to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1973.

Then came Barrett and Bo. Also: Bob Martin, Tom's teammate and a standup end, married to Sheri, another Swanson granddaughter.

The sad part of this is that Jaime Ruud died from a heart attack early one morning in the summer of 2006, on a family fishing trip to Minnesota's Whitefish.

Barrett, Bo and Tom and Jaime's daughter Kim all live in the Lincoln area. There are five grandkids, including Kim's 3-year-old son, Roy Goldsmith.

"All that kid wants to do is to run into people with his face," Grandpa Tom said. "He comes into a room and he wants to do is knock you down. If they still had wedges on kickoffs, he'd be hellacious.

"I got him a tackling dummy for a birthday present. Why wouldn't ya?"

Absolutely. Early training to be a linebacker for the 2039 Huskers — maybe even all-conference in a 30-team Big Ten.