Most Husker fans recognize the names Tom Rathman, Cory Schlesinger and Joel Makovicka. They were some of the greatest fullbacks ever to play at Nebraska. They were devastating blockers who also could tote the ball from time to time.
The fullback position at Nebraska was one of the most important parts of its offense until the mid-2000s. It’s what made the offense successful. It also was what made Nebraska… well…Nebraska. It was almost required that the fullback was from Nebraska. That position epitomized the stubbornness, toughness, blue-collar approach that Nebraskans were all about. Nebraskans could relate to the fullback.
Most people won’t remember Pete Tatman, who lettered at Nebraska from 1964 through 1966. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing around 220 pounds, Tatman fit the mold of a Husker fullback.
A native of North Platte, Tatman was your typical corn-fed Nebraska boy, with a strong work ethic combined with instilled toughness. Former high school and college teammate Larry Wachholtz once heard NU coaches say that Tatman was the best blocking back they ever recruited or coached.
Tatman was highly sought by Nebraska, as well as by Colorado. In fact, if it wasn’t for Wachholtz, Tatman probably would have gone to Boulder to play for the Buffs.
“I almost went to Colorado, but Larry (Wachholtz) helped convince me to go with him to Nebraska,” Tatman said. “In those years, Colorado was a really good team and was doing well with Eddie Crowder as their head coach. Boulder was a neat place and I thought it would be a good place to be at. But in retrospect, I was glad to have gone to Nebraska. It was really an honor to have been able to play there. I never imagined that I could play at Nebraska, let alone be one of the better players there.”
What helped Tatman and Wachholtz get noticed was that they were not only great players in high school, but their team did something no other North Platte high school team did: win a state championship in football.
“ ‘Crump’ Redding came in as a new coach and inspired everyone,” Tatman said. “Up until then, I didn’t play until my junior and senior years at North Platte. I was a running back, fullback and linebacker. We had very successful teams and players. We won the state championship our senior year in 1962. Up until my junior and senior years, North Platte football was mediocre at best, almost always around a .500 football team, so it was an anomaly what we did. When a team wins that hasn’t won in the past, everybody is really happy and are really nice.”
Tatman said that Coach Redding instilled in them to be tough kids, and that was one of the things that enabled him and Wachholtz to play at Nebraska.
“In those days, I didn’t even think about playing college football until my senior year, when Nebraska and Colorado came. I had no clue whether I was good enough to try anything like that.”
Most schools recruited Tatman at fullback, but defense was his preference.
“Colorado and Nebraska both recruited me as a fullback, but I liked defense a lot more than offense. I played defense some during my sophomore year at Nebraska. I actually made it to the Blackshirt team one time, and started a game or two. Then some people got hurt at the fullback position, so I moved back there,” Tatman said.
After arriving at Nebraska, Tatman did what most true freshmen do: play on the freshman team. He played intermittently during his sophomore year, and it wasn’t until midway through his junior season that he started at fullback, after starter Frank Solich got hurt. He then started his entire senior year.
“As far as a running back I was okay, but I was more of a glorified guard because I blocked well and that was my forte. Our backfield coach, Mike Corgan, was one of those old-school guys and gave us the technique to get your nose in there and root them out,” Tatman said.
“My philosophy on football is if you beat the hell out of the guy across from you enough times, pretty soon he is going to turn away and you are going to do well. If I am blocking and beating the crap out of the other guy three-quarters of the game, then at the end of the game if it’s close, then I am still going to try and beat him up and he is going to flinch knowing he is going to get hit. Everybody on our team had the same philosophy.”
According to Wachholtz, the support for him and Tatman from the people in North Platte was tremendous.
“They had North Platte days for Pete and me during our junior and senior years,” said Wachholtz. “They followed us all over the country, and I know several people here in town that never missed a game, home or away. North Plate is a great sports town.”
After a brief stint in the NFL playing for the Vikings and Lions, Tatman retired from the game. These days, the 66-year-old Tatman lives in Leawood, Kan., with his wife of 36 years and is still plugging away, using that workmanlike effort he displayed during his playing days at Nebraska.
“I was in the pharmaceutical business for a time,” he said. “I owned and operated a mail order drug company basically called a PDM (Pharmacy Data Management), or pharmacy benefits company. You have your pharmacy card and take it in to the pharmacy; you co-pay and they give you the drugs. I owned one of those and sold it to Blue Cross around 12 years ago. I started an HIV specialty care pharmacy and sold that to Walgreens. So now I am starting another little project. I have no interest in quitting working; I kind of like to work.”
Spoken like a true Husker fullback.
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Shane Gilster is the Editor of Big Red Report Magazine. His stories focus mainly on catching up with former Huskers and examining Nebraska athletic history.
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