If Jerry Murtaugh hadn’t run into Andra Franklin, none of this would have happened.
One November, “12-13 years ago,” the former Husker linebacker had invited as many former Nebraska football players as he could get to a charity event in Omaha.
One of those was Andra Franklin, a first-team all-Big Eight selection in 1980 at running back for Nebraska who went on to play for the Miami Dolphins.
“I see this heavy, black kid sitting there, profusely sweating and shaking,” Murtaugh recalled in a phone conversation on Monday. “I introduce myself and it’s Andra Franklin. I go, ‘Wow, what a pleasure, Andra.’ I asked him ‘What’s wrong?’ He said, ‘I’ve been sick, lately, and hitchhiking from Lincoln to your event didn’t help me any.’ I just went, ‘You hitchhiked from Lincoln when you’re sick to this event? Why would you do that.’ He looked me in the eye and said, ‘I gave my word to a Husker I would be there.’
“That’s mind-boggling to me,” Murtaugh added.
Franklin, who had been struggling with illness for some time, died in 2006, and not being able to help him stuck with Murtaugh.
“That’d been eating me for all those years,” he said. “About five years ago, it was presented to me that Dave Humm was having a lot of medical responsibilities he couldn’t come up with, paying bills and running out of money.”
Learning of Humm’s battle with multiple sclerosis and the medical bills that went with it led to a conversation between Murtaugh and former NFL player and coach Mike Ditka, who was instrumental in starting the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund for former NFL players.
Murtaugh began setting up a similar foundation for former athletes in Nebraska.
“I want to thank Andra Franklin,” Murtaugh said. “My father never would have been proud of me for leaving this man hanging like I did and not helping. So I thank Andra every day. This foundation is helping former collegiate athletes in the state of Nebraska. We try to help these athletes, men and women, with their medical and emergency needs.”
The foundation is available to help any athlete who went to one of 14 collegiate institutions in Nebraska, including the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Chadron State College and Creighton University.
To help support the foundation, Murtaugh is teaming with North Platte businessmen Darrel Smith, Jeff O’Connor, Ty Lucas and Leland Poppe to start the Nebraska Greats Foundation North Platte Classic, a four-person golf scramble. The inaugural event will be at River’s Edge Golf Club in North Platte on July 14.
“I give (North Platte Telegraph Husker columnist and former businessman) Butch Rasmussen credit for lighting the fire in me when he had the article in the paper a couple years ago that told us about the issues that Dave Humm was having,” Smith said. “I was one who wrote a check, like many in the area. At that time I wrote that first check, I told him ‘Hey, if you’re ever interested in a fundraiser in the west end of the state, I’ll help you organize it.’”
Starting the golf tournament in North Platte, Smith said he hopes it spreads to other communities in the western Nebraska.
“Our ultimate goal is that we help Jerry and his crew help build awareness throughout the state,” Smith said. “North Platte could be that first western community that jumps on this.”
The inaugural tournament is drawing a number of big names as well.
“How often has North Platte had three Heisman Trophy winners together in North Platte?” Murtaugh said.
The organizers expect Eric Crouch, Mike Rozier and Johnny Rodgers to be involved, along with more than 30 other former athletes from the state, including Murtaugh, Zach Wiegert, Jeff Kinney and Zach Miller.
The tournament includes lunch, dinner and an auction. One of the big-ticket items will be a Husker helmet signed by the three Husker Heisman winners, Smith said. Bidding for that item, he said, will open this week and run through July 14. To bid on the helmet find the Nebraska Greats Foundation on Facebook.
To sign up to play in the golf tournament, go online to nebraskagreatsfoundation.org and click on “golf.” For more information or if you’re interested in sponsoring the event, contact Smith at 308-534-4230. The tournament itself will be open to participants and sponsors only, Smith said.
For former athletes who may need assistance, information can also be found at nebraskagreatsfoundation.org.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there,” Murtaugh said.