Shatel: Jack Hoffman ran into lives, hearts of millions - Omaha.com
Published Monday, December 23, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 11:38 am
TOP SPORTS STORIES OF 2013
Shatel: Jack Hoffman ran into lives, hearts of millions

That was one for the books. The history books.

You won't find many sports years in Nebraska like 2013. We laughed, cried, said hello to new adventures and waved goodbye to old friends. And watched our jaws drop like anvils at the next big thing that fell in our laps.

It's usually a good year if one historic thing happens, but 2013 was like an assembly line. Picking just the top 10 sports stories/moments wouldn't cover everything.

1. Jack Hoffman Runs To Daylight


Jack Hoffman, left, accepts the award for best moment at the ESPY Awards.

A couple of days before the Nebraska spring game, Bo Pelini and his staff were kicking around ideas to juice up the experience. One assistant coach brought up a “Make A Wish” idea. Pelini took it a step further.

President Barack Obama greets Jack Hoffman in the Oval Office on April 29.

The result was a signature moment that was so perfect, so perfectly Nebraska. Husker football was the talk of the nation, and it had nothing to do with a score but everything to do with a touchdown.

When Jack Hoffman, the 7-year-old cancer patient from Atkinson, Neb., took the handoff from Taylor Martinez, he ran. As he weaved in and out of traffic, it became apparent what was happening. And there was a collective lump in the throat of fans at Memorial Stadium.

Little Jack ran and ran, for the sick kids, for healthy kids, for kids young and old who imagined themselves in a Husker uniform running to glory. It was for those of us who believe in the power of sports, in the power of a dream.

That moment was the beginning of a wild ride for Jack, who met President Obama, won an ESPY award and was nominated for Sports Illustrated's “Sportsman of the Year.” All that, and his cancer went into remission.

Creighton will join the Big East only once. But this was my favorite moment of the year. It would be my favorite of most any year.


2. Creighton Goes Big Time


ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD
Fox Sports announces Creighton President Timothy Lannon, S.J., seen on screen at center, along with other Big East presidents as Creighton fans watch at D.J. Sokol Arena in March 20, 2013.

The biggest victory in Creighton history took place this year, but not at the CenturyLink Center. It happened on March 19, at Sokol Arena on campus.

There, on the basketball floor, 100 or so Creighton fans, students, faculty and media members gathered to watch a live TV feed of CU officially joining the Big East. There was Rev. Timothy Lannon, CU's president, up on the big screen with his colleagues from Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul.

I'll never forget the looks on the faces of the longtime Jaybackers, like John Ryan, who were there. It was the look of someone who just won the lottery. This had been rumored for months, but it seemed like a long shot. Even as the team played its last Missouri Valley event, nobody knew what was going on.

When reality hit, the party at Sokol was somewhat subdued. Folks in blue were in shock. Happy, giddy shock.

It will be years before we know just what this meant for Creighton. But it looks like a transformational moment, not only for Creighton athletics, but for the university, and Omaha. And Lannon, who masterfully prodded and negotiated Creighton into this power structure, took on legendary status in the school's history.

There were other emotions, as Creighton ended its long history with the Missouri Valley, a place where it found comfort and championships. There's uncertainty in the future. Excitement, too.


3. Husker Hail Mary


TRAVIS HEYING FOR THE WORLD-HERALD
Nebraska reciver Jordan Westerkamp catches a deflected pass as time expires to beat Northwestern 27-24.

Where were you? I was in the northwest corner of the end zone at Memorial Stadium. I was trying to think of words to describe an ugly Nebraska loss to Northwestern. At home.

Then Ron Kellogg heaved the ball downfield. I saw it fall into a mosh pit of bodies. And then I heard it. A roar. Like no roar before in this place.

Jordan Westerkamp leaped into Husker lore that day, catching the Hail Mary that beat Northwestern and keeping alive a Gator Bowl season. But none of that mattered. Nebraska has had few endings like this. And nobody could ever remember a Hail Mary happening in front of the home bodies.

The 2013 Nebraska football campaign was pretty nondescript. Two camps developed by the end of the season — one that sees the status quo half full and the other half empty. But for one day, their voices rose together. And they could agree on one thing: this was one great play.



4. The Doug McDermott Experience


MATT MILLER/THE WORLD-HERALD
Creighton coach Greg McDermott embraces his son Doug after they beat Wichita State 91-79. McDermott scored 41 points as CU won the Missouri Valley title.

There were actually two Doug McDermott moments in 2013. The first was mind-blowing and would typically be enough by itself. But leave it to Doug to top himself.

It was March 2, 2013. Gregg Marshall and the Shockers were in the building, and the outright Missouri Valley title was on the rim, waiting to be plucked. And there was this feeling that this might be the last time No. 3 stepped onto the CenturyLink floor. And all of that would be enough for an ESPN docu-drama. But, of course, it was only the stage.

Doug McDermott did what you might dare to dream of him doing in that situation. He took over the game of the year. He swept the Oscars. He scored a season-high 41 points, made 15 of 18 shots, from around the rim and step-back-3 land and everywhere else in between. He did it in the face of the best and most physical defense he faced all year. He made it look easy.

Those present were sure they had seen history, maybe bittersweet history. McDermott's game that day was so perfect that it looked like a going-away present. There was nothing else to do after that one, no land left to conquer. And you were sure you had seen the last of who looked like the greatest player in Creighton history.

Then, two weeks later, a new land to conquer arrived.

And on April 25, at an informal media gathering up in the old gym, McDermott cleared the bar he had raised. He announced he was coming back for his senior year.

See you next year on the 2014 “best of” list, Doug. And thanks, in advance, for the memories to come.



5. Senior Moments

RYAN SODERLIN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Kenny Perry celebrates winning the U.S. Senior Open at the Omaha Country Club .

It was hot. It was hilly. It was unforgettable. The 2013 U.S. Senior Open delivered big names like Tom Watson and Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer to Omaha Country Club. And then the event delivered, period.

There were anxious moments with hot, dry greens — USGA greens, as they say. But from the first day, when Watson, Langer and Colin Montgomerie walked a four-hour treadmill up and down steep fairways, to the Sunday charge by winner Kenny Perry, the Senior Open was one of those surreal weeks when you wondered: Did that just happen here?

Yes, yes it did. And along the way, the area showed it can support big-time golf in a big-time way. Nothing gets the USGA's attention like dollar signs. It will be back one day. Next year, our legs will rest.


6. The Mother Ship


ALYSSA SCHUKAR/THE WORLD-HERALD
The sun rises on Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln in August.

This will be the year that changed the city of Lincoln forever. Well, certainly the skyline.

Pinnacle Bank Arena, aka the Mother Ship, opened near a revived Haymarket and blew everyone's socks off. It was an immediate game-changer. About the same time, in late August, the new East Stadium addition at Memorial Stadium opened for business and raised the stakes, literally, for attendance and the Husker fan experience. Don't forget the new Devaney Center, a $20 million project that gave NU the biggest and best home in volleyball.

It was the year Don Henley and Jay-Z came to town. That's a full year.


7. Bo Pelini and Shawn Eichorst

CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini talks to the press after losing to Iowa.

The Nebraska football coach seemed to make more news off the field than on it in 2013.

There was the audiotape that was secretly released and then the now-famous press conference after the Iowa finale. But explosive words from Pelini were followed by short statements (after the audiotape and press conference) from his new boss.

Pelini appeared to be trying to get Eichorst's attention in the press conference. And Eichorst's statement appeared to give lukewarm support to his coach. But Pelini will be back in 2014. And, we assume, so will Eichorst's statement writer.


8. Chasing History


THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Omaha Storm Chasers celebrate a 2-1 win over the Durham Bulls in the Triple-A National Championship.

There's some serious baseball karma out there on that Field of Dreams in Sarpy County. Three years ago, the Omaha Royals needed their own place and a new outlook, with a new name. The hit parade keeps coming. In 2013, the Storm Chasers won the Triple-A national championship, with a 2-1 victory over the Durham Bulls. Longtime Omaha manager Mike Jirschele was finally called up to join the Kansas City Royals coaching staff. And Martie Cordaro, the club president and general manager, was named Minor League Executive of the Year by Baseball America. What will they do for an encore?


9. Outdoor hockey


CHRIS MACHIAN/THE WORLD-HERALD
Omaha Lancers goalie Alex Lyon, left, looks for the puck as it sails into the deep blue sky above Lincoln's Connor Chatham, No. 9, and Dominic Racobaldo, No. 10, at TD Ameritrade Park on Feb. 9.

The idea was terrific. The execution? A little mushy. On Feb. 9, the Lancers took on Lincoln and UNO faced North Dakota in a hockey doubleheader outside, at TD Ameritrade Park. It wasn't a bad day to sit outside. And that wasn't always a good thing.

The sun and warmer temperatures (for early February) made a mess of the ice. By the end of the Lancer game, it was mushy. The UNO-North Dakota game had to be pushed back from 4:30 to about 7 p.m. The legions of North Dakota fans didn't seem to mind. Overall, it was a long day, but a good day for hockey in Omaha. Let's hope they do it again. And hope they find a way to keep the ice frozen in case of sun.


10. Friday Night Lights


REBECCA S. GRATZ/THE WORLD-HERALD
Omaha Central senior Akoy Agau leaps into the student section as they celebrate the Eagles' 69-44 victory over Papillion-La Vista in the Class A championship.

Here's to the young people who blow us away with their brilliance. Omaha Central won its fourth straight Class A boys basketball title. Skutt's girls soccer team made it four Class B titles in five years. And the relentless Calvin Strong, the Omaha North back who took us on the greatest run in state history, for a record 3,008 yards, including 197 in winning the Class A state championship game.


11. Nebraska women

It was a year when Husker softball and soccer reminded us of their potential. Nebraska softball took coach Rhonda Revelle to her third College World Series appearance and first since 2002.

Coach John Walker's soccer team won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships, and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament.


12. Rosenblatt Park


JAMES R. BURNETT/THE WORLD-HERALD
Josh Rosenblatt, the great grandson of Johnny Rosenblatt, throws out the first pitch at the official ribbon cutting for Johnny Rosenblatt's Infield at the Zoo.

The demolition of Rosenblatt Stadium occurred in 2012, but fans this year discovered a fun replica that sprouted on the old grounds. The Henry Doorly Zoo opened the “Infield At the Zoo,” a small diamond for kids to run around and older fans to stop and reminisce about where they used to watch baseball. A parking lot surrounds the park, but the two old foul poles remain intact, and in place. So does the shell of the old scoreboard. Another nice touch: a plaque with the names of the Nebraska natives who played in the CWS.


13. Taylor Martinez

This was supposed to be the year of T-Magic. But injuries to his toes and shoulder sidelined the quarterback for the majority of his senior year.

The extent of the toe injuries, and how and when they occurred, remained a source of speculation.

The last time we saw, or heard from, Martinez was in Minneapolis in late October. The way he faded from the scene was bizarre, and somewhat sad. May Martinez have a better 2014.

* * *

Poll: Rank the top stories of 2013

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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