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Al Papik Field Rededication Sept. 14

Elvin ‘Al’ Papik took on many titles at Doane through the years and wore even more hats. Officially, he was a football coach, track coach, athletic director and admissions director. But to those who knew him best, he was a father figure, skilled recruiter, mentor, role model and icon.

Naturally, the Doane graduate and Hall of Fame Coach earned many honors from his alma mater. But on a fall football Saturday in September, the college will pay one more fitting tribute to the man who gave Doane some of its proudest moments.

Doane will rename and rededicate its football field as a tribute to Papik on Saturday, Sept. 14. Simon Field will officially become the Al Papik Field. The Simon family graciously agreed to the name changed and is excited about helping to honor Papik in this manner.

The public is invited to the rededication ceremony at halftime of Doane’s football game vs. Northwestern, which begins at 1 p.m. Papik, of Lincoln, will also be honored with a private luncheon with his close family and friends prior to the game.

Papik ’50 was a three-sport athlete at Crete High School. After two years in the military, he became a Doane student and member of the Tiger football team. After coaching at the high school level, he took the helm of Doane’s football program in 1955. Over the next 16 seasons, he achieved remarkable success, establishing a true legacy in Doane athletics and a benchmark for the college as a whole.

He is best known for four magical football seasons that produced the longest winning streak in school history and drew the attention of the country. It began without fanfare, when the Doane Tigers defeated Colorado College 20-14 to start the 1965 season. From that moment, four years would pass before Papik and his players tasted defeat. They posted unbelievable numbers and wins, ranking as high as No. 7 in the NAIA each year and earning two Mineral Water Bowl appearances.

It was a time of crushing scores, shutouts and perfect seasons. The 1968 squad is arguably considered the best football team in Doane history, its offense averaging 53 points a game, while its stifling defense held opponents to an average of 6.4 points per game. Some of Doane’s most decorated players shared the field during this period, including record setters and future NFL players.

The Tigers had a 38-game unbeaten streak, which even earned a story in Sports Illustrated. The magazine wrote a feature on the 1969 squad, when its unbeaten streak was the longest in college football.

Papik’s legacy at Doane, however, runs deeper than games and wins. “He changed this college, almost single-handedly. We moved from primarily an in-state student body, to a much broader, multicultural approach,” said Fred Beile, who spent 11 years as Papik’s assistant coach and went on to decades of unprecedented success as head track coach.

Papik’s greatest talents, Beile said, were his recruiting and people skills. “He had a great ability to meet people and put people of all types at ease. He brought people from different backgrounds and different ethnic groups together and melded them into a cohesive unit.”

That talent extended to co-workers and coaching staff. He made his assistant coaches comfortable in their role and used their strengths to better the team, Beile recalled. Papik is also credited for hiring some of Doane’s most successful coaches, a category that includes Beile as well as longtime men’s basketball coach the late Bob Erickson ’57, and football coaches Ray Best ’61 and Jerry Joy.

For all Papik did for the college and for its programs, the people around him also felt that he made a difference in their individual lives, Beile said. “He took a chance on me, a young, not-very experienced track coach. He not only hired me but mentored me for 11 years and laid the foundation for whatever successes we had that followed,” Beile said.

Former player and team co-captain Fred Hutchinson ’68 considered him “like my father away from home.” Hutchinson came to Doane from Pittsburgh, Pa. “I came out here to a totally different environment and he was really someone I admired and looked up to. I was blessed to have him as a coach and as a strong male figure in my life.”

Hutchinson recalled how Papik never forgot a name and face; he could recite the hometowns and accomplishments of his players from memory. He took each of those players – whether from central Nebraska or Texas or the East Coast – and made them a family. At a time of racial tension nationwide, he taught his teams that there was no room for discrimination of any kind, said Hutchinson, as he shared a story of how Papik quietly took his players out of a restaurant when it discriminated against some members of the team.  

There was no single thing that made Papik and his teams a success, Hutchinson said. He just knew that he had a remarkable leader, someone fair and even-keeled, who shut out distractions and kept them focused on goals – someone “we felt fortunate to know.”

Papik is among Doane’s most highly decorated coaches. He was named the Omaha World-Herald Coach of the Year; the Lincoln Journal-Star Coach of the Year (twice), the NAIA District 11 Coach of the Year (three times) and he was a finalist for National Coach of the Year. In addition to being named to the NAIA Hall of Fame, Doane awarded Papik both its Honor D and Hall of Fame Awards.

From Doane, Papik went to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s athletic department, where he worked for many years and contributed much to its success. Tom Osborne said of Papik: “He possesses a great work ethic and a very high level of integrity. All of us who had a chance to work with him hold him in very high regard and appreciate his contribution…”

The upcoming field rededication is part of Doane’s Legendary Coaches Campaign, which is now complete, with the goal to honor three outstanding coaches including Al Papik, Fred Beile and Bob Erickson.