Rook Taylor pointed to Omaha North High's new track surface.
“This is about as close to grass as we ever got to practice on,” he said.
Much has changed at the school in the 50 years since Taylor was part of the “Four Norsemen” backfield that played on an undefeated North team in 1961.
But with an unprecedented run to the state finals, this year's Vikings are rekindling a proud football tradition — awakening the echoes of the “one hundred million strong” of the Golden Vikings, as found in the opening lines of the school's fight song.
Dick Davis plans to be at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln when the Vikings meet Millard North at 7:15 p.m. Monday. It's the first time Omaha North has been in the Class A championship game.
The former Nebraska running back, who was all-state for the Vikings in 1964, said he and his wife, Sharon, don't go to many night games. They wouldn't miss this one.
“North and the north Omaha community, it's my home,” said Davis, a businessman who was an assistant principal at the school for seven years. “You know like I do that when you have sports going, you have your school going.”
Jerry Murtaugh will watch the game on television. The former NU All-America linebacker, a 1967 North graduate, is a former assistant coach at Creighton Prep who said he's seen North play several times this season.
“It's exciting because they haven't been there,” Murtaugh said. “Holy smokes, they have some studs. They have speed, they have some kids who can hit. That offensive end (Ohio pledge Casey Sayles), he's a stud.”
Taylor, who lives in Houston, was unable to extend his Omaha stay to see the game. He was in town for the Omaha Public Schools athletic hall of fame banquet Saturday night, helping to accept the induction of his team's head coach, the late Leonard Bond.
Taylor said he was thrilled to be asked to be part of the school's pep rally Friday. North's students gave a standing ovation to a group of nine 60-somethings wearing gray championship-game T-shirts from the school.
Davis, Murtaugh and Taylor were joined by Dan Sorenson, Terry Murtaugh, Chuck Yates, Carl “Eliga” Allison, Cal McGruder and John Dice.
“It's unbelievable to be here,” said Taylor, a member of the OPS hall. “This brings back so many memories.
“North was a good school when I went here, and it's a great school now.”
They accompanied the team to the newly resurfaced artificial-turf practice field for photos prior to the team's afternoon practice.
And they shared tales of their practice field, now a parking lot. It was a dumping area when the school was built in the 1920s, and debris would come to the surface years later.
Immanuel Hospital was then only a block away. Bond would send players there when they got cut by a jagged edge and needed stitches.
“Hurry back,” Bond would say.
Another Viking great unable to attend the pep rally, former UNO star running back Charlie McWhorter, said he's followed the Vikings' progress and is familiar with their sophomore breakout back, Calvin Strong.
“It's pretty exciting,” said McWhorter, who was All-Metro in 1967. “It's about time we get another trophy up there at school.”
It's not just the former North stars paying attention. The Vikings had more people in the stands at Burke Stadium for their 38-17 semifinal win over Omaha Creighton Prep than did the host Junior Jays.
Coming off a 3-6 record in 2011, the Vikings went 7-2 in the regular season. In the playoffs, coach Larry Martin's team has beaten Lincoln Southwest, defending state champion Lincoln Southeast and Prep.
Not since 1967 had North beaten Prep. Not since 1967 have the Vikings been this close to a state title.
Davis said his advice for the Vikings and the biggest football game for the school in 45 years is to be as focused and intense as possible without being overly hyped up. Don't want to waste a quarter or two settling down, he said.
Asked for his own piece of advice, Murtaugh approached it differently.
“I don't think it's my place. There's all these good coaches here,” he said. “No advice. They know what to do.”
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