A Painter, A Pilot and an Orange Bowl
I love how history unfolds, revealing secret nuggets of the past, connecting the people of the past with your own present. It's like that 1980s game "Twelve Degrees of Separation" where you try and connect your friends with the actor Kevin Bacon.
This Sunday is the Superbowl, which made me think of the Orange Bowl, which made me think of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 1970s, which made me think of my dad, which prompted this blog.
It all starts with a mural of a Pawnee Village on the north side of the Plainsman Museum rotunda.
This work of art, painted in the colors of sunshine and growing corn, was painted by a Nebraskan of Native American heritage named Win Mumma. Mr. Mumma was an illustrator, and a driving force in the early days of Christian comic books telling the stories of the Bible. The painting was unveiled in 1976 at the grand opening of the Plainsman Museum.
It turns out 1976 was also the year I graduated from Aurora High School, and the year we took the State Basketball Championship for the first time in 66 years. So impressive was that 1976 Aurora basketball team that three Huskies made the "B" All-Tournament team: Joe Ernst, Steve Cranfill and Keith Erlenbusch. This doesn't really have anything to do with this story, but it's such a good story I had to slip it in.
It turns out that Win Mumma, the artist who painted the giant Pawnee Village in the rotunda of the museum, spent about 10 years as an illustrator for the Nebraska Cornhusker Football team. In fact, using his very well loved skills as a comic book illustrator, he wrote and illustrated an entire comic book about the Nebraska Cornhusker football team, starting from the beginning of time and ending with the golden 70s era of Husker glory. Which is nice, as part of the Plainsman Museum's mission is illustrating history.
By the way, the museum has a copy of that comic book about the Huskers written by Win Mumma, Pawnee Village painter. It's called THE SAGA OF BIG RED. It was donated to the museum collection so it will be here forever.
Mumma also drew a Husker helmet logo which is probably familiar to every Nebraskan.
If you can remember the AHS championship of 1976, you undoubtedly also remember the statewide insanity I like to call "ORANGE BOWL FEVER". The Huskers went to three Orange Bowl games in Miami in the 1970s: 1971 (winning that 17-12 and the national championship), 1972 (winning that 38-6 AND the national championship), 1973 (beat Notre Dame 40-6). These were the years of Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne, Don Bryant, Mike Corgan, Jim Ross, Monte Kiffin, John Dutton, Rich Glover (Jr.), Dave Humm, Johnny Rodgers, Don Westbrook to name only a few. These guys are also in the Saga of Big Red comic book.
In addition to the three Orange Bowl games in Florida, they also flew to a game called "Rainbow Warrors" in Hawaii in December of 1971. (You may be asking yourself, how do I KNOW all this stuff? We're getting there.)
Question: How does an entire football team get to Florida and Hawaii?
Answer: Charter an airplane. Which will also require pilots.
Following is a little narrative about those very flights I asked one of those pilots to write for this blog.
It was my pleasure to be requested three years in a row by the UNL Head Coach Bob Devaney to be a crew member on the chartered United Airlines (UAL) flight from Lincoln to Miami for three Orange Bowl games. I was also requested to be a crew member on a UAL charter flight taking the Huskers to play the University of Hawaii “Rainbow Warriors” on Dec 4th, 1971 at Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii. Having the opportunity to visit with the players on the sidelines during an Orange Bowl game was quite a thrill for this young farm boy from Nebraska.
The Captain for these flights was John Huffman, a Nebraska native from the Scottsbluff area. I had only been with United five years at that time in my thirty two year career as a United Airlines pilot and operationally I flew as a Flight Engineer. My normal flight schedule at that time was flying non-stop flights from Detroit to the Hawaiian Islands. I loved flying to Hawaii and continued to do so for eighteen years while advancing from Flight Engineer to Co-Pilot to Captain on the DC-8 four engine jets flown by United to all airports served in the lower forty-eight states as well as the islands of Hawai’I, Maui, O’ahu and Kaua’i, Hawaii.
The UNL Orange Bowl flights I was involved with included two National-title clinching wins for Nebraska in 1971 & 1972, the 1973 Orange Bowl win and the one “players reward” game in Hawaii.
In 1971, when the Huskers played Hawaii, almost 1/3 of the fans in the relatively sparse crowd of 23,002 were dressed in red and rooting for the Cornhuskers as Nebraska handily won this game!
You may remember some of the people in this partial list of coaches and players who were aboard the UNL charter flights that I was privileged to be a crew member on for United Airlines:
Bob Devaney (Head Coach 1962-1972) from Alma, NE.
Boy, the players behaved well when he was onboard.
Tom Osborne Offensive Coord. (Head Coach 1973-1997) from Hastings, NE.
Don Bryant Sports Information Director (1963-1997).
Mike Corgan Assistant coach (1962-1982)
Jim Ross Defensive ends and backs coach (1969-1985)
Monte Kiffin Defensive coordinator (1973-1976)
Blahak, Joe #27 (Jr.) LCB
Damkroger, Maury #46 (So.) FB
Dumler, Doug #54 (Jr.) C
Dutton, John #90 (So.) DT
Glover, Rich #79 (Jr.) MG
Harper, Willie #81 (Jr.) DE
Humm, Dave #10 (So.) QB
Jacobson, Larry #75 (Sr.) DT
Johnson, Monte #37 (Jr.) MG
Kinney, Jeff #35 (Sr.) HB
Olds, Bill #44 (Jr.) FB
Rodgers, Johnny #20 (Jr.) HB
Tagge, Jerry #14 (Sr.) QB
Westbrook, Don #21 (So.) HB
Wortman, Keith #65 (Sr.) RG
The pilot who wrote the above memory is D. Ross Beins, born and raised in Hamilton County and a current resident. Also the father of the writer of this blog (me).
Five Degrees of Separation summed up
1. The Plainsman Museum has the Pawnee Village painting by Win Mumma
2. Mumma illustrated a Cornhusker Football team comic book in the 1970s
3. That 1970s era team went to the Orange Bowl in chartered airplanes
4. A Hamilton County native, D. Ross Beins was one of the airplane pilots
5. D. Ross Beins is the father of an employee of the Plainsman Museum (me).
See how that works?
If you are from Hamilton County, you should come to the museum. Your history is here and finding the connections in the collections is fun.
In fact, if you have a cool connect-the-dots story, let me know at email@example.com.
If you are not from Hamilton County, you should come to the museum. There is a good chance you will discover you are connected in some unexpected way.
I’ve flown across the Nebraska sky, leaving silver lines in sight,
I’ve watched Aurora by the light of day, seen your evening lights turn bright,
And at those times from high above, when my face might wear a frown,
it never failed to bring a smile, when I’d see this little town.
poem by UAL retired airlines Captain D. Ross Beins 12/24/2017
The Orange Bowl is in Florida, which makes her story somewhat connected to this one.