LINCOLN — A stadium rich with tributes to the heroes who've etched their places in fans' memories now has one more photogenic piece opening a portal to the past.
And there may not be another that's more important.
On Friday, Nebraska unveiled a life-sized statue of Bob Devaney, the coach who established the football program as a national power and the administrator responsible for fortifying an athletic department that's now among the elite.
The bronzed Devaney stands at the main entrance of the newly remodeled east side of Memorial Stadium. He has a clipboard in his left hand and a whistle hanging from his neck. He's wearing a Nebraska cap and letterman's jacket while holding out his right hand.
Tom Osborne, the Huskers' other coaching legend, stood in front of the Devaney replica Friday and said it was due time for this kind of recognition.
“There's nobody that deserves a statue more than Bob Devaney,” Osborne said in front of about 75 people at the dedication ceremony.
Devaney took over as Nebraska’s coach in 1962, won the first of eight conference championships a season later and led the Huskers to national titles in 1970 and 1971. He was NU’s athletic director for 26 years, naming Osborne his successor and overseeing multiple upgrades to Husker athletic facilities.
Devaney was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981. He died in 1997.
Friday’s ceremony would have been especially meaningful to Devaney, his son Mike said.
“I’m sure this Irishman, with a twinkle in his eye, is looking down, proud of what he started,” Mike Devaney said.
Nebraska started planning months ago to erect a statue of Devaney. Osborne said he knew something was in the works when he stepped down as athletic director Jan. 1. His replacement, Shawn Eichorst, made it a priority soon after taking a full inventory of the department.
NU hired Joe Putjenter of Omaha, who’d sculpted display items in the past, including the gates that open for each game’s Tunnel Walk. The Jet Award’s new trophy, given to the nation’s best kick returner, was Putjenter’s work, too.
And this one was extra special to the sculptor.
A lifelong Husker fan, he actually had Devaney’s old letterman’s jacket in his shop to model after. He used countless photos.
The only catch: He couldn’t tell anyone. Not even family.
Putjenter had to cover up the project every time someone walked in. He worked on it mostly at night.
There were occasional security breaches, though.
“I’d be up at the front and I’d hear, ‘Hey! What’s this?” Putjenter said. “But nobody spilled the beans.”
It took about five weeks to mold. Then five more weeks to bronze.
Putjenter initially wanted to sculpt Devaney getting carried off the field by players. He soon saw the display area, though, and chose instead to keep it simple.
Just Devaney. Life-size at 5-foot-11. Standing on a platform. Clutching the clipboard he always carried with him.
Nebraska officials preferred the look of Devaney wearing the cap and letterman’s jacket, and Putjenter didn’t argue.
“They really allowed me to get creative,” he said. “I’m happy with it.”
>> Video: Watch the unveiling ceremony:
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