The history of Nebraska Cornhusker football is so much a part of the American experience that it seems they should be ranked higher than sixth on the all-time list. On the one hand, that history is so relatively recent that it is remarkable they are ranked above Texas, Michigan and other programs.
University of Nebraska
Colors: Scarlet and cream
Stadium: Memorial Stadium/Tom Osborne Field (opened: 1923; capacity: 73,918)
All-time record (1890-2006): 801-327-41
Bowl record: 22-22 (through 2006)
National championships: 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, 1997
MVC-Big 7/8/12 Conference championships: 42
Heisman Trophies: Johnny Rodgers (1972), Mike Rozier (1983), Eric Crouch (2001)
Outland Trophies: Larry Jacobson (1971), Rich Glover (1972), Dave Rimington (1981-1982),
Dean Steinkuhler (1983), Will Shields (1992), Zach Wiegert (1994), Aaron Taylor (1994)
First round NFL draftees: 32 (through 2007)
Notable alumni: General John “Black Jack” Pershing; U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey; comedian
Johnny Carson; financier Warren Buffett; Nobel Prize-winning geneticist George W. Beadle; Pulitzer Prize-winning author Willa Cather; Olympian Merlene Ottey; rock star Tommie Lee
They have played football in Lincoln since 1890, but until 1970 the Cornhuskers were just another program. Their great claim to fame was the 1925 game with Notre Dame, but perhaps the correct word is infamous. Led by the theologian-political orator William Jennings Bryan, Nebraska had over the years become increasingly evangelical. This movement reached a fever pitch in the mid-1920s.
Unfortunately, the Christian revivalist movement of the 1920s had dark overtones. In the South it morphed with the “white supremacy” of the Ku Klux Klan. In the Midwest it took on strongly anti-Papal aspects. The Notre Dame team Knute Rockne brought to Lincoln on November 26, 1925 was treated harshly because of their Catholicism. The game was played in bitter cold and the Irish lost, 17-0. Afterwards, Rockne felt he had enough of both freezing late November temperatures and also religious intolerance.
He determined he would shift from road trips to rural towns to cosmopolitan cities. This was a major reason why he accepted the offer from the University of Southern California to come out to sunny Los Angeles, beginning that rivalry.
Nebraska played good football but was a second tier program. On January 1, 1941 they made their first bowl appearance, a 21-13 defeat at the hands of national champion Stanford in the Rose Bowl. They never played in another bowl game until a 34-7 loss to Duke in the 1955 Orange Bowl. Consensus Cornhusker All-Americans prior to 1960 included Guy Chamberlin, Ed Weir, George Sauer and Sam Francis. When Bob Devaney arrived in 1962, however, they upgraded in a major way. Despite losing Omaha native Gale Sayers to Kansas, the Cornhuskers built their program in much the same way USC and UCLA did; by integrating with quality black stars when some of the country was not.
In the 1960s, Nebraska was a foil for the best teams. Devaney’s ‘Huskers were 9-2 and 10-1 in his first two years, both with bowl wins. The 1964 squad was 9-1 when the ill-fated bowl season rolled around. Alabama was beaten by Texas in the Orange Bowl, creating a big black asterisk on their “*AP national title.” Unbeaten Arkansas held off Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl, 10-7 to claim the (revised) national championship even if the two wire service polls did not award it to them.
The Cornhuskers brought an unbeaten, integrated team to the 1966 Orange Bowl, losing a thriller 38-29 to all-white Alabama. With the AP switching its national championship award to a post-bowl vote, the game was for the ultimate prize since Michigan State lost that day to UCLA.
In a re-match against Alabama on January 2, 1967, 9-1 Nebraska fell to unbeaten Alabama, 34-7 in the Sugar Bowl. Segregationists in ‘Bama seized on this as proof that they did not need to recruit black players to win. 1960s consensus All-Americans included Bob Brown (who went on to a Hall of Fame career with the Raiders), Larry Kramer, Freeman White, Walt Barnes, LaVerne Allers, and Wayne Meylan.
In 1969 the Cornhuskers lost their opener to USC, 31-21 at Lincoln, and three weeks later to Missouri. After that they reeled off a 32-game unbeaten streak. The only flaw was a 21-21 tie at Southern Cal in 1970.
Nebraska’s All-Century Team
Chosen by 10,000 Cornhusker fans, 2000
OT Bob Newton
OT Zach Wiegert
OG Dean Steinkuhler
OG Will Shields
C Dave Rimington
TE Junior Miller
WR Johnny Rodgers
WR Irving Fryar
QB Tommie Frazier
IB Roger Craig
IB Mike Rozier
FB Tom Rathman
FB Joel Mackovicka
PK Kris Brown
KR Tyrone Hughes
DT Neil Smith
DT Jason Peter
NT Rich Glover
DE/OLB Broderick Thomas
DE/OLB Trev Alberts
DE Grant Wistrom
LB Tom Novak
LN Mark Munford
LB Ed Stewart
CB Michael Booker
S Mike Minter
S Mike Brown
P Jesse Kosch
PR Johnny Rodgers
In 1970, Nebraska laid low throughout an exciting regular season in which Texas, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan competed for the number one position. One after another teams were knocked out. When Notre Dame beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl and Stanford upset Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, Nebraska seized their chance with a 17-12 win over LSU in the Sugar Bowl. This secured for them the AP national championship.
The next season there was no question. The ‘Huskers were ranked number one in every poll from beginning to end, compiling a 13-0 record. Junior receiver/kick returner Johnny Rodgers was spectacular. Defensive tackle Larry Jacobson won the Outland Trophy. On November 25 Nebraska traveled to Oklahoma for the “Game of the Century.” Sports Illustrated called it the “IRRESTIBLE FORCE MEETS THE IMMOVABLE OBJECT.” Oklahoma was the “irresistible force.” They were at times irresistible, but they were resisted. Nebraska was the “immovable object.” OU indeed did move them, but in the end the team’s and the game lived up to its moniker
The Cornhuskers outplayed OU but almost let it slip away thanks to some trick plays by the Sooners, catching them off guard. Their 35-31 victory steered them to an Orange Bowl date with Bear Bryant’s unbeaten Crimson Tide.
Cornhuskers on the run
S/Start season; F/Finish season
Year Record Run
1969 9-2 F/7-0 9-2 (1969)
1970 11-0-1 20-2-1 (1969-70)
1971 13-0 33-2-1(1969-70)
29-0-1 (1969-71) 30 games
1972 9-2-1 F/0-1 41-4-2 (1969-72)
Year Record Record
1981 9-3 9-3 (1981)
1982 12-1 21-4 (1981-82)
1983 12-1 32-5 (1981-83)
1984 10-2 42-7 (1981-84)
Year Record Run
1993 11-1 11-1 (1993)
1994 13-0 24-1 (1993-94)
1995 12-0 36-1 (1993-95)
29-1 (1993-95) 30 games
1996 11-2 S/1-0, 2-1, F/1-0 38-2 (1993-96) 40 games
47-3 (1993-96) 50 games
1997 13-0 60-3 (1993-97)
57-3 (1993-97) 60 games
1998 9-4 S/5-0, 6-1 69-7 (1993-98)
66-4 (1993-98) 70 games
There was an entirely new dynamic from the 1966-1967 bowl games with Alabama, when the all-white nature of the Tide played such a large role in the proceedings. This Alabama team was integrated and fast, but no match for Nebraska. The 38-6 win remains one of the most impressive bowl performances ever. It capped a season which at that point in time was believed to have produced the very best college football team ever assembled.
Los Angeles, California turned out to be a city Nebraska fans had no love for in 1972, however. First, they traveled to UCLA only to have their 32-game unbeaten streak ended by Mark Harmon and UCLA at the Coliseum, 20-17. Then USC compiled a season that in the minds of many erased Nebraska’s 1971 team as the best in history. At 9-2-1 with a 40-6 Orange Bowl win over Notre Dame, it might have been considered a great year, but in the Devaney era the standards had changed. A 17-14 loss to Oklahoma was hard to swallow, but unfortunately portended a strange future.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Outland Trophy winners
1. Nebraska 8
2. Oklahoma 5
3. Ohio State 4
4. Notre Dame 3
4. Texas 3
6. Miami 2
7. Southern California 1
8. Alabama 1
9. Penn State 1
10. Michigan 0
Tom Osborne was Devaney’s hand-picked successor in 1973, but he did not beat Oklahoma until 1978. Nebraska teams after 1971 were winners; they won bowl games; they were excellent; they could not beat the Sooners or capture the national title. 1970s consensus All-Americans were Bob Newton, Larry Jacobson, Johnny Rodgers, Willie Harper, Rich Glover, John Dutton, Marvin Crenshaw, Rick Bonness, Dave Butterfield, Kelvin Clark, and Junior Miller.
Did you know . . .
That Nebraska holds the NCAA record for most consecutive “major” (January) bowls with seventeen between the 1982 Orange Bowl and 1998 Orange Bowl?
In 1983, led by Irving Fryar, Mike Rozier and legendary offensive guard Dean Steinkuhler, Nebraska looked better even than in 1971. They rolled through all opposition like Nebraska alum “Black Jack” Pershing’s forces during the Argonne Offensive. Their opponent in the Orange Bowl was almost a joke. Led by coach Howard Schnellenberger and quarterback Bernie Kosar, Miami was 10-1 but their appearance in the Orange Bowl seemed unlikely.
Few people really thought of Miami as a big-time college football program prior to 1983. They were seen as a commuter school (albeit a private one) serving a growing metropolitan area in the wake of recent heavy Cuban immigration in the Castro/post-revolution era. Florida, where Steve Spurrier had won the 1966 Heisman Trophy, was the football school in the state. Florida State was a recent invitee among the “elites.” But Miami was just a team on the schedule. The great Ted Hendricks had starred at Miami in the 1960s. A game with O. J. Simpson and USC had garnered attention in Sports Illustrated, but when it came to national championship contenders, fans thought of Nebraska, Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame, Penn State.
But things were changing. The Trojans and the Irish were in down periods. In the 1980s Georgia won their first undisputed national title, followed by a highly unlikely Clemson team. In 1984, Brigham Young would capture it all.
The Orange Bowl may have appeared to be an easy Nebraska triumph, but there were a few uneasy signs. First, Miami would be the “home” team playing in their stadium. Second, the weather in Nebraska, always bad in December, was even worse that year. The Cornhuskers hardly got outside. Until they got to sunny Florida they had to practice in-doors while their counterparts were honing their skills under God’s blue sky.
When the game started, all bets were off. Nebraska was tentative, slow off the ball, and mistake-prone. Miami came out guns blazing, taking chances that paid off, and raced to a 17-0 lead. But Nebraska made a terrific comeback to narrow it to 17-14, going to trick plays as Oklahoma had done in coming back against them in 1971.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Winningest programs (1970-2005)
1. Nebraska 360
2. Michigan 331
3. Ohio State 322
3. Oklahoma 322
But the ‘Canes stormed back to a 31-14 advantage. Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill engineered a furious second half rally to narrow it to 31-30 after Jeff Smith scored with forty-eight seconds on the clock. Next came the decision that may have irritated some but in retrospect made Tom Osborne’s legend. With no overtime, he chose to go for a two-point conversion rather than kick the point-after for a tie. The tie would have given Nebraska an undisputed national championship. It was a sure thing, but unlike Ara Parseghian in 1966 Osborne went for immortality. If this was to be considered the “greatest team of all times,” then they would have to earn it with a victory. Miami stopped them, however, and finished number one.
Mike Rozier won the Heisman in 1983. A tough kid from the mean streets of Camden, New Jersey, he overcame a difficult upbringing to star at Nebraska after transferring from Coffeyville J.C. in Kansas. He became a 1,000-yard rusher with the Oilers and Falcons, eventually finding his niche speaking to kids about the troubles of street life.
The remainder of the 1980s looked like more of the 1970s: winning teams, mostly bowl defeats, and Oklahoma dominance. The fans saw Osborne as a coach incapable of taking his team to the promised land. Consensus All-Americans included Randy Schlusener, Jarvis Redwine, Dave Rimington, Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar, Dean Steinkuhler, Mark Traynowics, Danny Noonan, Jake Young, and Broderick Thomas.
Elite Ten by the numbers
USA Today/Hall of Fame national championships (1993-1996)
Nebraska: 2 (1994, 1995)
The 1990s started like the 1980s finished off. The Cornhuskers were a powerhouse, and had finally broken past Oklahoma in the Big 8 Conference. But the game’s dominant teams were Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, and others. In 1993, Osborne almost seemed to have burned his last bridge when he brought an unbeaten squad to the Orange Bowl against once-beaten Florida State.
The 1993 Cornhuskers were considered to be a juggernaut on par with the 1971 and 1983 teams. They were favored over Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles. The game was a pure dud, with neither group apparently willing to put themselves on the line for victory. It was like one of those old-time Harvard-Yale games; trench warfare, despite the speed and athleticism both teams possessed.
Florida State’s 18-16 win was a bitter pill; victory at least for Bowden, who like Osborne had never won it despite coming close many times. Osborne looked like a loser, but in 1994 he and his team erased all doubt. Victory over the vaunted Miami Hurricanes gave them a 13-0 record and an unquestioned national championship. The 1995 team was selected by computer analyst Jeff Sagarin to be the best ever (with the 1971 Cornhuskers second). Behind quarterback Tommie Frazier Nebraska scored 52.4 points per game and won by an average of 38.7. Their 62-24 rout of Florida in the Fiesta Bowl is undoubtedly one of if not the best bowl performance (and single-game efforts) ever. The back-to-back national champions of 1994-1994 may well be the finest two-year run of all time.
Nebraska’s College Hall of Famers (14)
Dave Rimington 1979-1982
Bob Brown 1961-1963
Rich Glover 1970-1972
Wayne Meylan 1966-1967
Ed Weir 1923-1925
Guy Chamberlin 1911-1915
Clarence Swanson 1918-1921
Johnny Rodgers 1970-1972
Bobby Reynolds 1950-1952
Sam Francis 1934-1936
George Sauer 1931-1933
Tom Osborne 1973-1997
Edward Robinson 1898-1925
The 1993-1995 period marks a three-year reign that has few if any equals. In 1997 the Cornhuskers again won the national championship. Overall they beat out Florida State to be “Team of the Decade” for the 1990s. Consensus All-Americans include Will Shields, Trev Alberts, Zach Wiegert, Brenden Stai, Ed Stewart, Tommie Frazier, Aaron Taylor, Grant Wistrom, Jason Peter, and Ralph Brown.
Nebraska versus Alabama (2-3), Miami (5-5), Michigan (2-3-1), Notre Dame (8-7-1), Southern California (0-2-1)
In the 2000s Nebraska slipped, although it was not obvious at first. In 2001, the Cornhuskers were destroyed by Colorado, 62-32 in the final regular season game. Oregon was the obvious choice to face unbeaten Miami in the BCS Rose Bowl, but the computer system, in place since 1998, failed the Ducks. Nebraska was selected and they were destroyed again, this time by one of the greatest teams ever. Miami ran over them by a 37-14 score. Quarterback Eric Crouch won the 2001 Heisman Trophy.
Osborne left to go into politics. His conservatism served him better at the polls than Bud Wilkinson’s Republican views in Oklahoma back in 1964. Osborne’s successors, however, have not upheld Nebraska tradition. In 2005 the Cornhuskers had one of the top recruiting classes according to USA Today, but under coach Bill Callahan’s NFL mindset (the so-called “West Coast offense”), it has yet to materialize, at least not in the manner Nebraska fans have become accustomed. Consensus All-Americans in this decade include Dominic Raiola and Tonio Fonoti.
Elite Ten by the numbers
1. Nebraska 42 (MVC/Big /8/12)
1. Michigan 42 (Big 10)
3. Oklahoma 39 (Big 6/8/12)
4. Southern California 36 (PCC-AAWU-Pacific 8/10)
5. Ohio State 31 (Big 10)
6. Texas 27 (Southwestern/Big 12)
7. Alabama 21 (Southern/Southeastern)
8. Penn State 2 (Big 10)
9. Miami 8 (Big East, 0 Atlantic Coast)
Notre Dame (independent)
Nebraska ranked fourth in all-time victories with 803 entering the 2007 season. They appeared in an NCAA record thirty-five straight bowl games between 1969 and 2003. In the modern, post-World War I era, the only teams to win back-to-back national championships with perfect records have been Nebraska (1994-1995), Minnesota (1934-1935), Army (1944-1945) and Oklahoma (1955-1956). The only programs ever to capture three national titles in a four-year span are Nebraska (1994, 1995, 1997), California (1920, 1921, 1922), Minnesota (1934, 1935, 1936) and Notre Dame (1946, 1947, 1949).
They lost only three home games in the 1990s and were ranked in the polls thirty-five of thirty-seven seasons prior to 2006. They are approaching 300 straight sellouts at Memorial Stadium/Tom Osborne Field and boast thirty-one first round NFL draft choices. Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne were a combined 356-69-5.
Three Huskers are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Bob Brown, Guy Chamberlin, Link Lyman). Forty-five of their players have made fifty-eight Super Bowl appearances. Great pros include Roger Craig, Vince Ferragamo, Pat Fischer, and Irving Fryar.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism