- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
When Dave Rimington and Boomer Esiason are out raising funds for the Boomer Esiason Foundation, they encounter plenty of people who want to talk football.
Not surprisingly, Esiason gets most of the attention.
"A lot of people who love football gravitate toward the quarterback," Rimington said.
Rimington understands. He's a center, after all. The best center in college football history, but still a center.
But there's one place Rimington and Esiason visit where their roles reverse -- Nebraska.
"When I go back with Boomer, he laughs and goes, 'They don't even know who I am here! They know more about a center than they do a quarterback,'" Rimington said.
Rimington provided Nebraskans plenty of reasons never to forget him.
The Omaha native is one of the most decorated players in Huskers history. A two-time first-team All-American, Rimington anchored a line that propelled Nebraska's famed rushing attack in the early 1980s.
Rimington is still the only two-time Outland Trophy winner and became the first and only offensive lineman to win Big Eight Offensive Player of the Year honors, doing so in 1981. He earned first-team All-Big Eight honors in each of his final three seasons and capped his career with the Lombardi Trophy in 1982, finishing fifth in Heisman Trophy voting that year.
As ESPN.com wraps up its Simply Saturday series, a look at 50 college superstars who didn't quite replicate their success in the NFL, Rimington comes in at No. 7 on the rundown.
The former Nebraska star still has ties to football. The Dave Rimington Trophy is awarded annually to the nation's top center and presented every January in Omaha. Rimington also has held a summer football camp in Omaha since 1999 and attends two or three Huskers games per year.
But Rimington's primary focus is more important. Since 1995, he has served as president of the Boomer Esiason Foundation, which raises funds to support cystic fibrosis research and heightens awareness about the disease.
Rimington has been with the foundation since its inception and seen it go from generating $60,000 at its first event to now closing in on $100 million raised.
"If you looked at two former football players starting a foundation, it had disaster written all over it," Rimington said. "But Boomer was extremely motivated and I wanted to do as best I could for a friend."
It all began with a phone call.
Rimington had completed his business degree at Wisconsin -- he served as a graduate assistant football coach during his time in Madison -- and was living in Hong Kong with his wife, Lisa. He was studying Mandarin and looking for work when he received a call from Esiason, his close friend former teammate with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Esiason said he had some bad news. His son, Gunnar, had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that impacts the entire body.
"We were really good friends," said Rimington, who was in Esiason's wedding and visited Gunnar soon after his birth. "He asked me if I'd come back to New York to help him out, and I've been here ever since."
The foundation started with just three employees. They couldn't afford a Web designer, so Rimington learned HTML and Photoshop. He wore "a lot of different hats" in the early going.
Other than the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, there were few charitable outlets focused on the disease. Rimington and Esiason looked at ways to leverage Esiason's celebrity -- he was playing for the New York Jets at the time -- to their advantage. Rimington's economics background also helped.
The foundation should reach the $100 million mark within the next year.
"If you had told me that when we first started, I would have laughed," Rimington said. "It's worked out pretty well."
Things worked out pretty well for Rimington at Nebraska, where he started three seasons and earned four letters. He helped the Huskers win back-to-back league championships and the 1983 Orange Bowl title.
Rimington thinks another lineman eventually will win multiple Outland Trophies, although he nearly didn't give himself the chance.
"The money is so much bigger now, and it's a lot bigger temptation to leave early," he said. "I almost tried. It got to the point where I won it the first time and I had really bad knees [and thought], 'Well, maybe I should try to jump right now.' I'm so glad I stuck around and played that senior year."
Rimington was a first-round pick of the Bengals in the 1983 draft and made the NFL's All-Rookie team that season. But his five years in Cincinnati didn't go smoothly and ended with controversy.
The Bengals released Rimington before the 1988 season after saying he failed a physical exam -- a questionable outcome after Philadelphia cleared Rimington to play immediately. He retired after the 1989 season.
"I went from one of the best organizations in college football to probably one of the worst organizations in the NFL," Rimington said. "I went from a weight room that was half the size of a football field to a weight room that looked like a junior high weight room, and the strength coach didn't want anybody to lift. ... It was ridiculous the stuff we had to go through there. I just had to shake my head. It's like the black hole of professional football.
"Good players go there and you never hear from them again."
Fortunately, that's not the case with Rimington, who is still doing plenty of good things with the Boomer Esiason Foundation.
"It's been a learning experience for me," he said, "and a lot of fun."