The 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers were about as good as it gets in college football. It’s hard to compare the different decades, but some think this team was the best of all time. It may not have been the best actual team of all time, but it was the best of the 1971 season even if the Oklahoma Sooners present an argument.
The Cornhuskers had a good quarterback in Jerry Tagge, that went on to play in the NFL. They had an exciting wide receiver and return man in Johnny Rodgers who would win the Heisman Trophy in 1972. They had a tailback named Jeff Kinney that ran for over 1,000 yards and as always they had a top offensive line.
But, the real strength of that Cornhusker team was in the defensive line.
Their defensive line was just dominating. Defensive linemen from the Huskers won the Outland Trophy in 1971 and 1972, and also the Lombardi Award. They were big, they were fast, and they were very aggressive. They just controlled the line of scrimmage and that’s where football games are won and lost.
Teams did not throw the ball very often in 1971 and defenses often ran 5 or 6 defensive linemen in
any given play and Nebraska was no different.
I realize that not all football fans are like me, but part of the fun of watching an old Nebraska football game for this fan is following the wars in the trenches. I love to watch the offensive and defensive lines in action and I’ll play it back to follow the ball after I’ve seen enough of the action up front.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive line of 1971 was fun and exciting to watch.
They had 6 main linemen that year and not a single one of them was from the state of Nebraska which is odd.
They were the top defense in the country which made the Game of the Century against Oklahoma so interesting because the Sooners had the number one offense that season.
John Adkins – Lynchburg, Virginia. As a senior in 1971, Adkins was a 6-3, 220 defensive end and made honorable mention All Big 8. He became a starter in 1970 and was an Academic All American that season. As a senior in that fantastic 1971 season, Adkins had 40 total tackles and 10 tackles for loss. He also picked off one pass. Before he got to Lincoln, Adkins was listed as a 6-3, 192 defensive end, but he put on about 30 pounds in college. Adkins graduated from Nebraska and went to medical school and is currently a medical doctor.
Rich Glover – Jersey City, New Jersey. Glover was actually my favorite of the defensive linemen. He was much like a Rob Waldrop of Arizona, or Ron Simmons of Florida State. He was also like a Steve Emtman of Washington other than Emtman was huge. Simmons was also a much bigger guy than Glover, but he was the same kind of destructive nose guard type of player. Waldrop was too small for the NFL, but at the college level he was unstoppable. Well, Rich Glover was mostly unblockable at the college level. Even if he was taken off of his course by an offensive lineman, he was quickly back in the play and rarely taken off of his feet. In the famous Oklahoma vs Nebraska game of the century, Rich Glover supposedly had 22 tackles which is more than incredible for a nose guard in any age.
Glover was an All Everything in 1971, but in 1972 he won the Outland and the Lombardi becoming
the first of four Huskers to win both in the same year. Glover was a 3rd round draft pick by the New York Giants but he had limited success in the NFL because of his lack of great size. Glover was probably around 6-0, 240 at his greatest size.
Willie Harper – Toledo, Ohio: The super quick Harper was a defensive end for the Huskers, but he was only about 6-2, 220, at best. He was really fast off the edge and had 20 tackles for loss in 1971 to help the Huskers defense remain the top unit in the country. Harper was about as big time as they came starting three seasons for the famed blackshirt defense. He was All American all three seasons on one list or another and a first team his last two seasons. What Rich Glover and Larry Jacobson were to the inside of the line, Harper was to the end. He was all over the place and in the opponent’s backfield constantly.
Harper was a second round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers and he played there for 11 seasons before moving on to finish his career in the then United States Football League. He was a national champion in college with the Huskers and then a Super Bowl champion in the NFL with the 49ers.
Larry Jacobson – Sioux Falls, South Dakota. One of two Husker defensive linemen from South Dakota. Jacobson was so good he was awarded the Outland Trophy in 1971. Playing next to these other linemen like Rich Glover made the Husker defense mighty hard to run on. A reason Jacobson was awarded the trophy for the nations’ best lineman, he spent a lot of time in the opposing teams’ backfield with 12 tackles for losses in 1971 after making 9 as a junior in 1970. Nebraska had fallen on hard times before the emergence of guys like Jacobson in the recruiting class of 1968.
Jacobson was a big man for his day at about 6-6, 260 and was a 1st round draft pick by the New York Giants in 1972. In the NFL, Jacobson played 3 seasons before a severe leg injury ruined his career.
But, Jacobson was not only a consensus All American, he was also an Academic All American and he had plenty to fall back on.
Jacobson was Nebraska’s first major award winner when in the 1971 season he was awarded the Outland.
Bill Janssen – Grand Forks, North Dakota: Janssen may have finished high school in Grand Forks, but his initial playing days were in Texas. His father was a pilot with the Air Force and they moved around a lot. Hockey is king in North Dakota, but Nebraska still came to Grand Forks to recruit Janssen.
About as old school as they came, Janssen was way too small for today’s game. When he was recruited, he was listed as 6-3, 203 and his biggest playing weight at Nebraska was probably 215 and he played defensive tackle. What he lacked in size, Janssen made up in quickness and tenacity. He more than held his own in the line of scrimmage. Janssen was a senior in the 1971 season and when through with his college days he was drafted late by the Pittsburgh Steelers but did not make it in the NFL.
John Dutton – Rapid City, South Dakota: Willie Harper and John Dutton were the only two that made it big in the NFL. Coming out of Rapid City, Dutton was a high school star in both football, basketball and in the field events in track and field. He was a high school All American in football and is in the South Dakota sports hall of fame.
Dutton was more of a back up in 1971, but got plenty of playing time. Dutton was a sophomore in 1971 and went on to become a consensus All American in 1973. He was more like Jacobson and a big fella at 6-6, 265. Dutton was the 5th guy taken in the 1974 NFL draft by the Baltimore Colts. In the NFL, Dutton was awesome. He played 5 seasons with the Colts making All Pro and numerous Pro Bowls and he had 17 sacks in one season. He was traded to the Dallas Cowboys. With the
Cowboys, he played another 9 seasons. He played alongside Pro Football Hall of Fame member Randy White and Harvey Martin.
In all, Dutton played 14 seasons in the NFL which is awesome for a defensive lineman.
The Nebraska blackshirt defense was particularly formidable in 1971. Their defensive line led the way and they had size with Jacobson and Dutton, plus speed with Harper, Glover and Janssen.
If you have the time, find the Game of the Century tape and put it on and enjoy good, old-fashioned hard hitting football. Pay particular attention to the Nebraska defensive line and see how it’s done.