Huskers Push Turmoil Aside And Crush Arizona St., 77-28 The Focus Was On Football At The Team's Home Opener. But Questions Remained After Last Week's Crime News.

Posted: September 17, 1995

LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska Cornhuskers never looked back. The crime news of the last week was a distraction from which the Huskers and their fans averted their eyes.

Before yesterday's home-opening 77-28 humiliation of Arizona State, Nebraska's national championship trophy appeared on a big screen. Memorial Stadium was filled with good vibes. Coach Tom Osborne took his first step on the turf, and the noise level shot higher.

A lost Heisman Trophy candidate didn't wreck the moment. Nebraska's band got a standing ovation when it first hit the field. Little girls in their Huskers cheerleader outfits were clapping along in the stands.

The loss of tailback Lawrence Phillips, who was arrested last weekend and charged with assaulting his former girlfriend, was officially in the past tense just as soon as Nebraska ran its first play: Backup tailback Clinton Childs breezed 65 yards without ever so much as seeing an Arizona State defender.

The Huskers scored touchdowns the first seven times they had the ball, sailing through an Arizona State defense incapable of making a tackle when it had the occasion to.

Ten minutes and 48 seconds remained in the first half, and Nebraska had 49 points. The Huskers were using their third-string extra-point kicker by the second quarter - and their first-string quarterback, Tommie Frazier, who was passing right up until halftime.

For the record, Nebraska's 63 points in the first half was a school record.

"Every program is going to have ups and downs," Frazier said. "Only the good ones can achieve after that."

Cornhuskers middle linebacker Doug Colman, from Ventnor, N.J., and Ocean City High, saw his coach affected by the off-the-field storm last week.

"A couple of times in meetings, he was a little teary-eyed," Colman said. ''He's put in so many years to this program, and people trash it. It really hurts him . . . deep inside. It hurt me, too. They were calling us the Miami of the Midwest."

Osborne, clean-living son of a Methodist minister, is by far the most revered man in the state. The hot topic on local sports radio before the game was how Osborne was holding up under all the stress.

A man did call in and say he had been out of town all week and had a question about Phillips. He wanted to know if Phillips could redshirt and gain another year of eligibility if he didn't return this season.

Fans were supporting Osborne in his decision, which at first seemed to be to dismiss Phillips. He then held out the possibility of a return this season.

Words of forgiveness were extended toward Phillips.

"Have you ever lost your temper?" wondered Angie Moreno of Plattsmouth, Neb., who said she had been going to Huskers games since "nineteen-sixty- something."

Phillips was arrested after he allegedly climbed to the balcony of a teammate's apartment, dragged his former girlfriend down some stairs, and hit her. Osborne had told Phillips after previous troubles that he was out of chances.

Some women on campus want to make sure the victim isn't forgotten.

The university's Women's Faculty Caucus met Thursday night and voted to send a letter to Osborne voicing its concern. Caucus chair Mary McGarvey, an economics professor, said the group also voted to request an investigation of the Phillips situation by the university's Student Judicial Board, an internal review panel that looks into student-on-student crime.

"We all agree that Phillips should have been dismissed," McGarvey said. ''We were pleased that Osborne took the action right away. If he backs down

from that, that would be a clear indication of the value system of the athletic department."

Some female students also are concerned. Rainbow Rowell, managing editor of the Daily Nebraskan student newspaper, said she heard some women in her dorm talking about women being "victimized" by football players.

"I know for me, the possibility that she could have been seriously hurt was much more striking than the fact that a Heisman candidate was off the team," Rowell said.

"A lot of people feel that this was taken seriously because it's one Nebraska athlete's word against another's," she said. "I would hope another woman's allegations are taken just as seriously.

"I don't consider this program to be just a six-foot pit of corruption. I don't think they're smoking crack at practice. But it's such a big deal here. They play by a different set of rules than anyone in the state. When we look for information from the police on another student, we can get it. But no one wants to talk about a football player."

*

The sideshows had sideshows here last week.

Staffers at the Daily Nebraskan were tripping around cameras from 48 Hours as they tried to get the paper out Thursday night.

The governor, a big football fan, who works just a short jog away from the stadium, checked in with his views.

"We're seeing a microcosm of young people who are having trouble dealing with anger and dispute resolution," said Gov. Ben Nelson, a Nebraska alumnus. ''We see how difficult the problem is for one football team. . . . There's no way that one coach, seven coaches or 100 coaches could do it all themselves."

A local psychiatrist who just happens to be writing a book about athletes and their aggressions said he thought many top athletes suffer from manic depression.

"This particular team is so effective. We are truly selecting out the most aggressive 19-year-olds in the country," said Eli Chesen, who has Nebraska season tickets and said he treated a "handful" of Cornhuskers football players over the last 10 years. "They run a very clean program here. Because it's a particularly clean program - on the genre of Joe Paterno, that type of program - I think it says something, that it's reflective not of the program, but of the material.

"They'd better start looking at the biological side of this thing. The aggression that leads to these problems is more a medical problem than a psychological problem."

About a month ago, Nebraska's football team was required to attend a workshop on managing anger and conflict.

The workshop was one of four that have been held for the team this year. The others were about sexual responsibility, money management, and drug and alcohol education.

The school considers itself a leader in college athletics in this area. Every Nebraska sports team is required to hold at least five workshops throughout the year as part of a life-skills program, which was created in 1988.

Cornhuskers players say every team has its troubles. A local columnist defended the Cornhuskers by pointing out that Division I-AA Boise State has had 17 football players arrested in the last three years.

But Phillips' arrest has drawn additional scrutiny to Nebraska's cases, some of which are rather murky. Damon Benning, the other tailback, who was arrested the day before Phillips, claims he was defending himself from his former girlfriend.

A lot of facts are still to be determined in the case of wide receiver Riley Washington, who is free on $100,000 bail after being charged with attempted second-degree murder in a shooting last month at a Lincoln convenience store.

Some people at Nebraska don't believe Washington was the shooter. The victim is alleged to be the leader of a local street gang that has gone after Nebraska athletes.

Osborne leaves himself open to questions - and not just, as he seems to suggest, from the press - when he allows arrested players to keep playing. Questions about whether other players feel they can get away with crimes.

Defensive tackle Christian Peter, a starter, pleaded no contest last year to third-degree assault after groping a former Miss Nebraska in a bar. Other assault charges had been filed by other women against Peter, but were not prosecuted. Peter never missed a game. He now is a team captain, a leader.

"I do care about them," Osborne said of his players. "I do try to stick with them. Some people would say that's a failing."

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