Feb 09, 2016 08:36PM
By Judy Horan
Dave Webber covered all five Big Red national championships during a broadcast career that spanned 46 years; but he will never shake free from the “Legend of the Lucky Corncob.”
The story started in 1995 toward the end of the Orange Bowl championship game against the Miami Hurricanes. A fan in the stands pleaded with Webber, “You have to will the team to victory.”
Obligingly, the then-WOWT sports director picked up a corncob that happened to be in the end zone and held it up for fans to see.
“A few minutes later, they scored the touchdown that won the game late in the fourth quarter,” he remembers. “I got chills. I couldn’t watch.”
The Huskers came from behind to win.It was the Big Red’s first national title since 1971 and the first for Coach Tom Osborne.
“I put that sucker in my pocket and took it next year to the 1996 Fiesta Bowl,” he says.
Nebraska was again trailing, this time against the Florida Gators, so Webber pulled out the lucky corncob. Whaddaya know—the Cornhuskers won the national championship.
Some WOWT viewers credit the lucky corn cob with Nebraska’s back-to-back championships. Tom Osborne says otherwise.
“One of Osborne’s favorite sayings is, ‘This guy actually thinks his corncob won the game,’” laughs Webber.
Superstitious fans have asked to buy the corny icon, now framed and displayed at Webber’s home. “Every single day during football season, somebody mentions the lucky corncob,” says its proud owner.
The story of the well-known sportscaster began when a two-year assignment at Offutt Air Force Base brought him to the Omaha area in 1964. His duty was to guard the SAC Underground as a member of the elite guard. After retiring from the military, Webber attended the University of Omaha (now University of Nebraska at Omaha).
For two years starting in 1967, he performed as a full-time folk singer at the Swinging Door Saloon, following a year working on-air at KBON radio. But then he married Terri and began seeking a “real job.”
Webber joined KFAB as an announcer and also covered Big Red championship games in 1970, 1971, and 1972.
A move to Sioux City, Iowa, in 1973 to cover sports news for KMEG-TV brought with it a second quirky job. He was asked to portray “Pops,” a popular children’s show character.
“Pops was a retired custodian for the Bijou Theater. The camera would show me sweeping, then the stage door would open, and we would show cartoons and movies like Little Rascals and Laurel and Hardy,” he says.
He was only 29 years old at the time. Forty years later, viewers haven’t forgotten the character.
“People come up to me still today and say ‘I was a kid in Sioux City. Were you Pops?’” says Webber.
He returned to Omaha in 1977 to cover sports news for KMTV. A year later, he moved down the street to WOWT as assistant to then-sports director John Knicely. When Knicely left for a St. Louis television station in 1981 (returning to Omaha three years later), Webber became sports director.
That’s only one story from the life of the multitalented Webber, whose mellifluous voice has won over crowds for more than 40 years as he hosted and emceed more than 1,000 banquets and fundraisers.
“You name a disease and I’ve done a fundraiser for it,” jokes the affable personality who is more likely to greet you with a hug than a handshake.
Webber has been a longtime presence at major Omaha events. For 22 years, he has braved wind, rain, and sun as master of ceremonies for the Fourth of July Memorial Park concert in front of as many as 80,000 people. His favorite group to perform there was the Beach Boys.
During the Christmas holiday, he takes his emceeing indoors. Webber has been singing, dancing, and making jokes for 20 years as host for the Omaha Symphony’s Christmas Spectacular.
“The year I took over, my biggest job was to keep the kids on stage from goofing around,” he remembers.
Meeting sports figures that he idolized as a youngster was payback for his volunteer work with a fundraising golf tournament hosted by baseball Hall of Famer Bob Gibson.
One volunteer stint he looks forward to is at the end of a pleasant hour-long drive to Harlan, Iowa, where Webber has judged an estimated 1,000 pies over 20 years at the Shelby County Fair pie-baking contest.
“Every year, it’s like seeing old friends. I play guitar and sing. I walk around and say ‘hi’ to every single person.”
He and Terri have three adult children and three grandchildren. Today he is spokesperson for Baxter Auto Group. Although “retired” (sort of), he still gets calls from WOWT to fill in on newscasts.
As a sideline, Webber delights in being asked to conduct holiday tours (15 so far) to destinations such as Hawaii, Ireland, and the Canadian Rockies.
Three years ago, heart surgery left him 50 pounds lighter and with a renewed zeal for life.
“I enjoy every minute of every day,” says the TV sports guy, singer, guitarist, emcee, symphony host, pie-contest judge—and lucky corncob owner.
Visit wowt.com to learn more.