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Nebraska-Oklahoma gets political
By Mike Diegnan
ABC Sports Online

Julius Caesar isn't looking to take over the United States, but Julius Caesar Watts Jr. is enjoying his time in Washington. The namesake of the former Roman emperor is now one of the top Republican Congressman in the nation's capital.

J.C. Watts
Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts gave an inspiritational speech at the 1996 GOP convention in San Diego.
For Watts, it's nothing new to be on top. During his two-year run as the leader of Oklahoma's wishbone, the Sooners went 21-3 and won two consecutive Big Eight titles and Orange Bowls. More importantly, he was 2-0 against Nebraska.

"When we started two-a-days, we knew that at the end of the season -- and we had the Texas game, which was always a big deal -- that in order for us to make it to the Orange Bowl and in order to win the Big Eight championship, we were going to have beat Nebraska," said Watts. "That was always the prize -- the Big Eight championship and to go to the Orange Bowl. We knew we were going to have to go through Nebraska and Nebraska knew they were going to have to come through us in order to get that done."

Times have changed. These aren't Watts' Sooners. When Watts was leading Oklahoma to a second consecutive Orange Bowl victory on Jan. 1, 1981, Jason White was just six months old. Today, White is headed into the biggest game of his short career and the wishbone is no longer in vogue.

"I have said several times in the last year that wishbone quarterbacks think that throwing the football 40 times a game is Communism," Watts said. "But we're winning, and that's always good. It's been a fascinating transformation."

Despite his success at Oklahoma, NFL scouts had no interest in Watts as a quarterback. The New York Jets drafted him in the eighth round, but wanted to make him a running back or defensive back. He chose to go north and play in the CFL, where he starred at quarterback for Ottawa and Toronto. During his rookie season in Ottawa, he led the Rough Riders to the Grey Cup final and was named the game's Most Valuable Player in a losing cause. His future years were spent playing with struggling teams.

Following the 1986 season, Watts retired from football and since then has been gaining more prominence in leadership roles. After his years in Canada, Watts returned to Oklahoma, where he first worked as a minister, and then in 1994 ran for U.S. Congress for the first time.

When he was growing up, Watts' father ran for public office and his uncle was the state president of the NAACP. Both of them fostered political ambitions into J.C., but Watts never expected to be working in the House of Representatives when he got into the political spectrum.

"It is something like being a quarterback," said Watts. "You can go from being a hero to a goat in a very short time."

Watts does not foresee being a player in Washington the rest of his life. But the 42-year-old is a rising star on Capitol Hill. In 1996, he spoke at the Republican National Convention and then was selected to give the Republican response to President Clinton's 1997 State of the Union Address.

All of this has been a surprise to Watts. Then again, he never thought he would be joining forces with Tom Osborne. Yet last fall, Watts helped Osborne successfully run for a Congressional seat.

Osborne went back to his roots as a coach when he won Nebraska's Third District seat in the U.S. Congress. Osborne, who retired as coach of Nebraska following the 1997 season, traveled nearly 50,000 miles while canvassing his mammoth district that encompasses roughly 85 percent of the state.

Tom Osborne
Tom Osborne compiled a 255-49-3 record at Nebraska.
"Campaigning and recruiting are very similar," said Osborne. "You are out talking to people, traveling a lot -- sometimes long hours. Sometimes people thought recruiting was only to do with 17 year olds, but you were actually also talking with coaches, teachers and parents. You were spending as much if not more time with adults than young people."

Osborne and Watts are together now as Republican congressmen, but there was a time when Watts wasn't welcome around the Osborne household.

"I remember in 1982, I went to Lincoln to do an NCF dinner," Watts recalls. "I was going into Tom's home, and he stopped me before I went in, and he said, 'Look, I think it's only fair to warn you that I have got a 9-year-old daughter that hates your guts.'"

Everything has worked out since then.

For Osborne, tackling politics is one last challenge for the 64-year-old. He says he misses coaching, but decided not to take another position.

"I thought about it," says Osborne, who had a grandfather who worked in the state legislature. "I had some chances. (Wife) Nancy and I both figured we would make one more push in some area. We just didn't feel right about leaving Nebraska. This is where I ended up, this is probably where my coaching should end. I would say that it is very unlikely that I would ever coach again. We will see how this goes, and do the best we can with it."

Osborne's legend won't leave Nebraska anytime soon, however. While Oklahoma's program has undergone a major facelift since Watts graduated in 1981, Nebraska looks and feels the same way it was when Osborne took over for Bob Devaney in 1973. Four years after Osborne's retirement, the Huskers are still overwhelming opponents with their patented triple option attack. The only change is that Frank Solich is now the leader, even after people at first weren't enthralled with him.

"Frank has done a great job," Osborne said. "Of course, he has the staff that has stayed pretty much intact. Frank has shown good leadership. He knows the game, he relates well with players. He has shown he can take the heat. Of course, I was confident that he would when I left, and I recommended him for the job."

It's going to be an old cliché by the end of the week, how the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry is back, but Osborne is proud that the rivalry never got "nasty" like other rivalries in college football. It shows when Osborne and Watts are able to work together as teammates in the Republican party.

Mike Diegnan is the college football editor for ABC Sports Online.

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