Bryant works on big project in a small space
By Matt Miller
J Alumni News staff
Don Bryant’s office, a windowless 10-by-6 foot room, is tucked under the stands in East Stadium. Inside his tiny office, which also serves as a computer storage room, Bryant stores and catalogs Husker memorabilia for a future Cornhusker all-sport museum.
Boxes of memorabilia that fans sent are stacked high in the room — some of the boxes unopened — and plaques, awards and framed newspaper pages line the room.
“Oh, that’s just some stuff [former coach Tom] Osborne donated,” said Bryant, the sports information director emeritus at NU.
Bryant retired in 1997 after 34 years on the Husker staff, and in his head is the history of the last 50-plus years of Nebraska athletics.
“Don is the institution’s memory,” NU Athletic Director Bill Byrne said. “He is the perfect person to head the [museum] project. Not only does he love what he is doing, but he does a great job.”
Now that he is “retired,” Bryant says, he is trying to collect and organize athletic memorabilia although an NU athletic museum may be far in the future.
“There’s a long-range plan to have a University of Nebraska Hall of Fame and incorporate a museum area to have memorabilia and historical displays and this, that and the other thing,” Bryant said. “However, there is no set plan at this point. This is just long-range.”
Byrne says that eventually the athletic department would like to move the facilities in West Stadium — such as the Hewitt Academic Center and the weight room — to the north side of the stadium. Then, Byrne said, a hall of fame and museum could be built that would give visitors a sense of history and could also be used as a recruiting and fund-raising tool.
Byrne envisions a hall of fame, much like the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., where fans and visitors alike could gather and learn about the rich Nebraska athletic tradition, he said.
Until the museum is built, many of the mementos Bryant collects are in storage. But fans can see trophies, jerseys and photographs displayed in the West Stadium or the Bob Devaney Sports Center.
Many of the items in Bryant’s office have been donated by coaches, fans, former athletes and even Bryant himself.
Some of Bryant’s more notable acquisitions are: a key to New York City given to the football team when it played in the Gotham Bowl, old letter sweaters, former head coach Bob Devaney’s first whistle and an unused 1930s leather football helmet signed by about 35 members of the 1937 football team.
Another one-of-a-kind prize leans against the wall on top of a storage cabinet. A caricature of a fat, jovial Herbie Husker is hidden behind other pieces of memorabilia. When the Huskers traveled to the Cotton Bowl in 1974, Bryant said, a cartoon of Herbie that decorated the pressroom wall caught his attention. He brought the cartoon back to Lincoln, and called the artist, Dirk West. The artist put Herbie on a diet, toughened him up, and now Herbie is a registered logo of the Cornhusker Athletic Department.
Bryant has other favorite items, too. “One of my favorite things is an autographed football,” Bryant said. “I’m sure there’s not one like it in the world. It’s autographed by four All-American African American football players — (Rich) Glover, (Johnny) Rodgers, (Daryl) White and (Willie) Harper. I don’t think any other Division I football team has had four All-American African American players in one year.”
Although other Division I schools may not have as many All-Americans, other schools do have Hall of Fame rooms or museums.
Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Auburn and California all have museums, but none is as comprehensive as Stanford’s Rosenberg Athletic Hall of Fame room, said Ray Purpur, the assistant athletic director for facilities at Stanford.
Purpur said the school has had a Hall of Fame for a long time, but the current room opened in 1994. A part-time volunteer curator helps keep memorabilia organized, and the facilities staff also lends a hand, Purpur said.
And unlike other Hall of Fame rooms that focus on football, Stanford has a little of every sport in its room: the school’s lone Heisman trophy, its collection of Sears Director’s Cup trophies and a floor surface that is different in different parts of the room — turf for football and other field sports, wood for basketball and rubber for volleyball.
A museum is a long way off for Nebraska, though. Bryant focuses his efforts on collecting and cataloging the artifacts and trying to find space to hold the past in his small office.
Anyone interested in donating memorabilia may call Bryant at (402) 472-5959. Donations may be sent to 103 S. Stadium, Lincoln 68588-0123.