MARQUETTE – The beloved Carl Nystrom drew quite a crowd for “Hands on the Line for Coach Buck” held last week at the Holiday Inn of Marquette.
Almost 200 people, many who coached with and played for Nystrom, attended the event to honor the longtime football coach.
“It was one of the most memorable moments of my involvement with NMU, and even in my life,” said Iron Mountain’s Rick Popp, a standout quarterback with the Wildcats from 1984 to 1987. “It was a great day to be a Wildcat, a Mountaineer and a former player of the legend, Coach Buck.
Popp, NMU Board of Trustees vice chair, read a letter on behalf of the school and presented it to Nystrom as a framed memento.
“Your boundless energy and drive to build a values-based foundation for young people both on and off of the playing field have resulted in countless wins, bowl games, playoff victories, conference championships and national championships,” Popp said in his letter to Nystrom. “More importantly, you have also built a legacy with an impact that continues to be passed on to future generations of students, football players, teams, families, schools, and communities.”
Former players have started a scholarship in Nystrom’s name. The Marquette native coached college football for nearly 40 years including stints as an assistant at NMU from 1975-80 and 1987-92. Nystrom also was an assistant at North Dakota State University, Michigan State University, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Colorado.
Popp found the tribute that much more meaningful by those who joined in celebrating the coaching great. Popp’s dad, Bill (Sugar) Popp; high school coaches Marv Harry and Tom Wender; college coaches Herb Grenke and Al Sandona, and Mountaineers’ Jeff Harry, Bob Morin and other “great teammates” from the 1987 national semifinalists appeared.
Iron Mountain greats Steve Mariucci and Tom Izzo also attended.
“They’re my role models,” Popp said. “It was an experience that I’ll never forget.”
Nystrom was a part of five teams to win national championships at the NCAA Division I or II levels, as either a player or coach, including the 1975 Wildcats.
Norway’s John Ostermann lettered in the NMU offensive line for two seasons, 1981 and 1982.
“Rick Popp did a great job,” Ostermann said. “It was a lot of fun with many great stories and memories.”
Ostermann recalled his first week at NMU with “Coach Buck.”
“Osterhouse you can’t play here if you can’t remember the snap count,” Nystrom told Ostermann. “I’ll have Marinucci send you back to Norway.”
As a player, Nystrom earned All-Big Ten, All-America and academic All-America honors with the Michigan State Spartans. He was also a team captain, most valuable player and a two-time Rose Bowl player, including once as the game’s MVP. He was drafted in 1956 by the Washington Redskins of the NFL.
Nystrom earned his bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University and master’s degrees at Northern Michigan University and North Dakota State University.
Nystrom started his career at the high school level, but made his mark on the sidelines of the college game, where he stood alongside some of the all-time great football mentors, including Michigan State’s Duffy Daugherty, George Perles and Hank Bullough; Oklahoma’s Jim McKenzie and Barry Switzer; Colorado’s Bill McCartney, and Chuck Fairbanks at both Oklahoma and Colorado.
At NMU, he worked with head coaches Rae Drake, Gil Krueger, Bill Rademacher, Herb Grenke and Mark Marana.
Off the field, Nystrom has also been very involved with the Special Olympics, March of Dimes and various other charitable organizations.
Nystrom continues to coach football today, helping out the Gwinn High School team.
(Northern Michigan University sports information department contributed to this story)