This is the last in a three-part series that covers the greatest game in Husker football history and one of the greatest games in the history of college football. At the end of this column, we'll also take a look at "The Ten Things You May Not Know About The Game."
Diane Blahak (widow of Joe Blahak, who threw the key block on Rodgers' punt return) Lincoln, NE
Diane remembers the day very clearly. She was back home in Columbus, Nebraska, to spend Thanksgiving with her family.
"We all watched the game on TV. And when the game was over. we (Diane, her little sister and one of her sister's friends) drove to Lincoln to pick up Joe. As we approached the airport, we saw a lot of cars that were pulled off Cornhusker Highway. We couldn't figure out what was going on.
"Husker fans had jammed the airport. In fact, there were so many fans at the airport that we had to park in the National Guard Armory parking lot which was about seven blocks away. And when we finally got to the airport, we could see people jumping the fence as the Huskers' plane was approaching the terminal. There were so many Nebraska fans on the field that the plane couldn't taxi to the gate.
"When the team did get into the airport, it was a mob scene. Fans were shouting 'Go Big Red! Go Big Red!' Once the team got out of the plane, the players signed autographs.
"Joe was really happy and excited. But no one was calling it 'The Game of the Century' - at least not at first. That name came later. Joe drove us back to Columbus where we all had Thanksgiving dinner with our family."
What did Joe do the next day to celebrate the victory? He went pheasant hunting.
Jeff Kinney #35, Husker running back
What do you remember most about that game?
"On the flight home, I was beat up and sore from the pounding I took. I was just thinking about having time off to get healed - we had another game at Hawaii to play the next following week. And when the plane landed in Lincoln, we couldn't believe how many people were there to greet us. They had jumped over the fences and the plane had to stop so they wouldn't run over them! It was an incredible sight!"
Did you like the tear-away jersey you wore in the game?
"I like them, but they brought only two of them to the game."
Do you still have the jersey you wore in that game?
"I think I have one and the other is at my old high school in McCook."
I also asked him what else stuck out in his memory of the game.
"Several years after the game, one of the Sooner players who was also from McCook told me that Barry Switzer (Sooner offensive coordinator) told him that he (Switzer) didn't think I was good enough to play for Oklahoma."
Not bad for a kid who ran for 171 yards and scored four touchdowns that day for Nebraska and was a first-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs!
Larry Jacobson #75, defensive tackle
On what he remembered after the game:
"I remember after we got back to Lincoln that a bunch of the players went to Little Bo's bar at 27th & O Street. It was packed with Husker fans. We didn't pay for a drink all night!"
Jeff Kinney #35, running back
"Because we beat the Sooners that day and Hawaii the next week and Oklahoma beat Oklahoma State that same week, we went to the Orange Bowl to face Alabama for the national championship on New Year's night. Earlier that day, Oklahoma played Auburn in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. And when the Sooners led 31-0 at the half, Alabama had to be thinking, 'Oh my, if the Sooners did that to Auburn, what in the heck is Nebraska going to do to us tonight!'"
Johnny Rodgers #20, wingback
"When we beat Bear Bryant's Alabama team, 38-6 in the Orange Bowl for the '71 national championship, it was the worst loss in Bear Bryant's head coaching career. (Bryant coached for 38 years: Maryland (1), Kentucky (8), Texas A&M (4) and Alabama (25).
"And back then, Nebraska and Southern Cal were about the only college football teams that had very many black players. After the loss to Nebraska, Bryant started to recruit black players. I think he did it largely because of the whipping his team got from us."
Back in 1971, Mrs. Husker Dan and I were living in Redondo Beach, California. Both of us had Thanksgiving Day off. One thing you need to know about living in Southern California is that the only "big" game the local football fans cared about was the annual USC-UCLA rivalry game.
So a game between Nebraska and Oklahoma wasn't a big deal to most people in the LA area. But for a transplanted Husker fan like I was, this game was THE football game of all time. There was nothing like it before and there hasn't been anything like it since. It was of such importance that the day before the game, Mrs. Husker Dan and I bought our very first color TV. The screen was about the size of today's laptops.
The game was set to kick off about 11:30 a.m. PST. Mrs. Husker Dan has never been a huge sports fan. And to give you an idea how little she knows about football, she once asked me how long it took a halfback to become a fullback. (I'm not making this up.)
The Thanksgiving turkey was cooking in the oven and the potatoes were boiling on the stove. And during the game, she came downstairs to check on things. "How are they doing?"
I said, It's first down at the Oklahoma 10 yard line! She says, No, I mean the potatoes! How are they doing? And that's how the game went for me.
The Ten Things You Might Not Know About The Game
1.) There was only one penalty during the entire game. Nebraska was flagged for a 5-yard offside penalty.
2.) Both offensive coordinators Barry Switzer (Sooners) and Tom Osborne (Nebraska) would become head coaches at their respective universities in 1973 and would battle each other for conference and national championships for the next 16 years. Those two teams met 17 times over the following 16 years with Switzer getting the best of Osborne with a 12-5 record. Switzer went on to win three national championships at OU ('74, '75 and '85). Osborne didn't win any national championships when Switzer was the head coach at Oklahoma, but Osborne would go on to win national championships in '94, '95 and '97. Switzer retired after the '88 season while Osborne coached until the end of 1997.
3.) Husker QB Jerry Tagge was born at Offutt Air Force Base just south of Omaha, Nebraska.
4.) Husker fans know that Nebraska running back Jeff Kinney scored the winning TD for the Huskers and most know he's from McCook, Nebraska. However, you may not know that there were two other players from McCook who were on the roster for that game. But they were on the Sooners' side, not the Huskers'. (Ken Hulstein and Ron Hull)
5.) There were also two other players from Nebraska on the OU roster. Both were from Omaha: Paul Bunge and Ken Jones. Jones was from Omaha Burke High and started the game on the offensive line for Oklahoma.
6.) Husker play-by-play man Lyell Bremser retired after the 1983 season. It was very fitting that the last game he broadcast was the 1983 Husker-Sooner game at Norman, Oklahoma. Nebraska beat the Sooners that day in a rainstorm, 28-21.
7.) The Big Eight Conference was so strong in '71 that the final polls had Nebraska ranked #1, followed by #2 Oklahoma and #3 Colorado.
8.) And never before or since that year has a Division I college football team beaten the #2 (Oklahoma 35-31), #3 (Colorado 31-7) and #4 (Alabama 38-6) to win a national championship. ('Bama was ranked #2 when Nebraska beat them in Orange Bowl.)
9.) There were several other football games on TV that Thanksgiving Day. At 11 a.m. Central, the Chiefs played at the Detroit Lions on NBC. And at 2:30 p.m., CBS televised the L.A. Rams at Dallas NFL game. The only other college football game on TV that day was the Georgia at Georgia Tech game on ABC at 7:00 that night.
10.) In 2019, ESPN published the Top 150 teams that played during the first 150 years of college football. To no one's surprise, the 1971 Nebraska Cornhusker football team was voted No. 1.
So it's really true: There is no place like Nebraska.