15 Saturdays: The Real Game of the Century

Only 15 Saturdays left before the first real football Saturday.  That seems like a long time, but the secret is just staying busy and it will be here before we know it. Go ahead and get those weddings and other events out of the way this summer. Take a trip to the Caribbean and get it over with now.

 

 

 

For the next game of the century, we are skipping ahead a year. !967 saw the best USC vs UCLA game of all time. Then, 1968 saw the last of the good Purdue teams pound Notre Dame. Plus, 1968 brought us one of the all time great teams in the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Super Sophs won the 1968 National Championship and were a slip up at Michigan away from winning in 1969.

 

1969 brought us The Big Shootout with Texas winning at Arkansas, 15-14, and then beating Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

 

1970 was a tragic year. On October 2nd, 1970, one of the Wichita State Charter planes carrying 31 people crashed on the way to play Utah State killing 31 people including 14 players.

The following month, on  November 14th, the Charter Plane carrying the Marshall Football team crashed on it’s way back from East Carolina killing all 75 people on board. Most people can remember that incident or remember it from the movie We Are Marshall.

Not a great year for college football.

 

The next Game of the Century very well may have been the real and true Game of the Century. All of the games I have written about in this blog were good games, but this game happened to be spectacular.

 

On Thanksgiving Day, November 25th, 1971, the #1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers would travel to Norman, Oklahoma and take on the #2 Oklahoma Sooners.

Both teams were undefeated. Oklahoma had beaten a very good USC team early in the year, 33-20.

They had roughed up arch rival Texas, 48-27. They walloped an outstanding Colorado team that would finish #3 in the polls, 45-17.

This was an outstanding Oklahoma football team on both sides of the ball, as the Huskers would find out on this day.

 

This game was hyped up to the max and lived up to every bit of that hype.

Both teams were loaded with talent.

 

Nebraska was coached by the legendary Bob Devaney. Devaney had 2 head coaching jobs, Wyoming and Nebraska, and he went 136-30-7 over his career. Along the way, he won 2 National Championships.

He retired after the 1972 season to be the Nebraska Athletic Director. An even more legendary coach, Tom Osborne, would follow Devaney as Head Coach of the Huskers. Osborne was the Offensive Coordinator for the 1971 Cornhuskers team which explains why this Husker offense looked pretty identical to the Husker offenses a lot of us grew up watching.

Osborne retired with a 255-49-3 record with 3 National Championships.

 

Many consider this Nebraska Cornhusker football team the most dominating team in the history of college football. They won 12 games in 1971 at a winning margin average of over 30 points per game. None of those games were even close. The Oklahoma Sooners were the only team to give them any competition at all. Nebraska beat the #2, #3 and #4 ranked teams that season. The Big 8 definitely was the top conference in the land in 1971 with Nebraska finishing #1, Oklahoma #2 and Colorado #3.

 

At QB, the Huskers had Jerry Tagge, a later 1st round pick by the Green Bay Packers. Johnny Rodgers at WR would win the Heisman in 1972 and he was a 1st round pick by the San Diego Chargers.

 

Jeff Kinney was a huge tailback for his day and was another 1st round draft pick. Rich Glover, Monte Johnson, Willie Harper and Larry Jacobson were all future NFL players starring on the Husker Blackshirt defense. Glover and Jacobson would win Outland Trophies for the nation’s best lineman. Both of them clearly deserved it.

John Dutton of Baltimore Colt and Dallas Cowboy fame was the top back up and a sophomore on this team.

 

Oklahoma had plenty of talent of it’s own. Texas coaches invented the Wishbone Offense, but Oklahoma perfected it. Abilene, Texas QB Jack Mildren was the master of the bone and he had a good arm as well. High School teammate Jon Harrison was his main receiver.

Greg Pruitt was one of the Wishbone Halfbacks that went on to 5 Pro Bowls. Tom Brahaney was the Center and he went on to 9 successful years with the St Louis Cardinals.

 

Chuck Fairbanks was Oklahoma’s coach in 1971. His Offensive Coordinator was none other than the famous Barry Switzer who would take over after the 1972 season when Fairbanks would accept the New England Patriots job. Switzer’s slick Wishbone offenses was the key to Oklahoma’s success in those days. Some defensive coordinators would learn how to defense it eventually but it was a few years off.

 

Although, many thought Nebraska was the best team ever in college football, but I am not even sure they were the best team on the field this day. This game could have gone either way. Oklahoma actually had better the better game in some ways, but it’s only the scoreboard that counts.

This was a game of many momentum swings. In the first quarter, with the score at 0-0, the Sooners punted to Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers who very dramatically ran it back 72 yards to put the Huskers up 7-0. The Sooners struck back with a nice drive and a FG to make it 7-3. On come the Huskers again and they go up 14-3 and everyone thought the Huskers were going to do to the Sooners what they did to everyone else that year.

But, the Sooners were an outstanding team in their own right and came storming back behind Jack Mildren. Sooners went up 17-14 going into the half and that was the first time in the 1971 season that the Huskers had been behind.

The Huskers kind of dominated the beginning of the 2nd half and went back up 28-17. Then, the momentum went back to the Sooners and they took the lead after a TD pass from Mildren to Jon Harrison on 4th and 6 at the Husker 17 yard line. Sooners went up 31-28.

There was plenty of time left, but the Huskers offense had been inconsistent on this day. The Huskers drove down the field and used up most of the clock and went up 35-31.

 

 

 

From watching this game again for the first time in many years, there were a few things that stood out.

Biggest thing to me was the absolute war that took place that day between Tom Brahaney the Oklahoma Center against Rich Glover, the Nebraska Nose Guard. It was one of the most incredible battles on the line of scrimmage that I’ve ever seen.

Glover supposedly had 22 tackles that day so first glance says he beat the stuffing out of Brahaney that day. Well, he did. But, Brahaney had more than his share of moments as well on plays where he drove Glover 5 yards off the ball.

What made Glover so special was his quickness, he could be blocked and then recover enough to make a play on the ball carrier. Some of those 22 tackles were down field and not right on the line of scrimmage, but the fact that he stayed engaged and still made the plays in itself was remarkable. The slug fest between these 2 All Americans was intense and a pure joy to watch.

Football is still won and lost in the trenches.

 

Johnny Rodgers would win the Heisman in 1972. He was an offensive star for the Huskers and a great return man. But, he was definitely not as fast or as smooth as I remember. On Rodgers 72 yard punt return in the 1st quarter, OU receiver Jon Harrison looked set to run him down easily if not for a block which many Sooner fans still believe was a clip.

Rodgers would basically peak in college, but he had a brilliant college football career. He was definitely a fun player to watch.

 

Greg Pruitt, on the other side of the ball, was just the opposite. He was faster and better than I remembered. He barely saw any daylight in this game but when he did his speed was clearly obvious. Pruitt rushed for 1760 yards in 1971 which was phenomenal for that day and age. The Huskers mostly held him in check that day, but he was a great, great Running Back from Texas.

 

4th and 6 for the Sooners at the Husker 17 was a huge play in the 4th quarter. They had a drive going and Mildren from Abilene hit his old Abilene friend for a TD and with the game clock running down and the OU defense playing the way it was I am sure all of Oklahoma thought they had this thing wrapped up. But, it was not to be as Nebraska showed plenty of heart and drove it down the field.

 

This game featured 2 unstoppable offenses and 2 incredible defenses. But, it was the Oklahoma offense that was the nation’s very best and it was the Nebraska defense that was rated #1 on that side of the ball. With time running out, it was the Nebraska offense that pounded the Oklahoma defense to go up by 4 points.

 

The Oklahoma defense was much better than I expected when I watched this game again. Lucious Selmon at DE was the first of the Selmon brothers at OU. The Selmon brothers were probably the best players to ever come out of the state of Oklahoma. Lucious and his sidekicks played with a lot of fire that day.

 

Jeff Kinney was an absolute warrior at Running Back for Nebraska. He was big, but he wasn’t huge. He was clearly not a speed back. But, he ran with such power and determination that he was another in this game that was a joy to watch. Some plays he just refused to be tackled and he just punished defenders that ran up to make a play on him. He finished with 171 yards on 31 carries and 4 TDs.

Jerry Tagge, the Nebraska QB, was a pure winner. Tagge was an nebraska vs ou 71excellent runner and while I was watching this game I couldn’t help but think of a Tim Tebow comparison. Like Tebow, Tagge was not a fast guy, but big and strong. Like his teammate Kinney, he was very determined to pick up yardage, not allow himself to be tackled, and to win the game. He was a really hard man to tackle at times and was way ahead of his time in size and strength at QB. He didn’t have good mechanics in the passing game, kind of like Tebow. But, he was a very good and effective college QB.

 

 

Nebraska had such a great team in 1971 but Oklahoma was about to take control of this series and would win the next 9 out of 10 games against Nebraska under new Head Coach Barry Switzer.

Oklahoma’s high powered Wishbone offense was about to take America by storm and had a number of super talented and fast quarterbacks and halfbacks. Plus, their defense would be one of the all time greats with the Selmon brothers in the defensive line and other big stars.

 

This was the hey day of the old Big 8 Conference with Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado being some of the best teams in America. Actually, they were far more than the best teams in the country, they were absolutely dominating. No other schools were even close this year.

I will not provide a link to Youtube since they don’t allow links to other sites from theirs, but if you are reading this and get a chance to watch this game it is well worth it.

The 1971 Nebraska vs Oklahoma game really and truly was THE GAME OF THE CENTURY

 

 

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  4. Pingback: 1971 The Year of the Big 8 Conference | College Football Crazy

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