By Jim Fossum
To know David Humm is to envision a fuzzy-cheeked quarterback stepping into the Bishop Gorman High School huddle in the late 1960s and telling his wide-eyed teammates, “I’m scoring. If you guys want to come with me you can.”
That’s how I remember David Humm.
Humm died late Tuesday just days shy of his 66th birthday from complications of multiple sclerosis.
In my eyes, as people go, they can’t build a shrine big enough.
Here’s what else you should know about David:
— He remains among the most heavily recruited high school athletes in Southern Nevada sports history. When the college football powers came calling in 1970, the left-handed prep All-American visited 12 of the more than 100 schools that recruited him. The legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant brought Joe Namathwith him to Las Vegas to try to lure the Gaels star to Alabama. Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian and UCLA’s Tommy Prothro also camped out on his doorstep.
— Playing for Hall of Fame coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne at Nebraska, Humm went 27-7-2 as the Cornhuskers placed in The Associated Press Top 10 all three years he started after winning the national championship as a backup his freshman season. In order, Humm led the Huskers to victories over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, Texas in the Cotton Bowl and Florida in the Sugar Bowl. An All-American his senior season when he finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy balloting, he shared the 1974 Senior Bowl starting backfield with Walter Payton.
— A fifth-round pick by the Oakland Raiders in 1975, Humm played under John Madden and Tom Flores, and behind Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett, in winning Super Bowls XI and XVIII in 1977 and 1984. He played 95 games over 10 seasons with the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, Bills and Colts. The end of Humm’s playing career came at Soldier Field in 1984 after Bears defensive end Richard Dent and linebacker Otis Wilson tore cartilage in both of his knees and removed some of his teeth.
It never crossed Humm’s mind that multiple sclerosis would defeat him.
Diagnosed with MS in 1988 at age 36, Humm battled the dreadful disease that attacks the central nervous system for 30 years. Born April 2, 1952, the debilitating illness that causes paralysis and blindness would confine him to a wheelchair in 1997. Two years earlier, on Christmas Eve 1995, I broke the news nationally on the front page of the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Humm had been suffering from the autoimmune disease for which there is no known cause or cure.
Shunnig sympathy, it took months for David to agree to share his compelling story. For the good of others, he relented. While introducing Humm as the only inductee into the inaugural class of the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame in 1997, Raiders owner Al Davis waved a copy of the Sunday Review-Journal story from the podium and declared, “This article tells you all you need to know about why David Humm is my all-time favorite Raider!”
Later, when Humm lost use of his legs and phoned with news he’d have to relinquish his color commentary duties as Raiders radio broadcaster, Davis hung up on his pet player, telling him to work from his Las Vegas home. He then built a studio there for him to do it.
Crippled and trembling, Humm called often over the years to inquire about my own health issues as I battled vision disabilities that forced my retirement as longtime R-J sports editor at age 48 in 2006. That’s another quality I admired about David. No athlete has enriched my life and 40-year journalism career as much as the man we affectionately knew as the Hummer. Energetic, enthusiastic and enlightening, his indomitable spirit was infectious.
Here’s one other thing you should know about my friend:
I’ve never cried while writing a sports story before now . . .