50 years later, the Game of the Century resonates as Nebraska, Oklahoma rekindle faded rivalry

On Saturday morning, they will play in a match in which the home team have a 22-point favorite. The game was deemed so uncompetitive that the visiting team tried to cancel it just six months ago.

Forget the label that was once attached to the most notable game in the history of this rivalry: The Game of the Century. Nebraska-Oklahoma is not even the game of the day as the third week of 2021 kicks off. college football season.

Rivalry is the shell of his former self, the threads of history torn apart by time and the reorientation of conferences. The rivalry that used to measure itself against any Iron Bowl or decade-long war you might call has subsided, but it hasn’t … completely … gone.

Look into the eyes of 70-year-old Johnny Rogers. Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century, which ended with No. 1 Nebraska to top No. 2 in Oklahoma, 35–31, on Thanksgiving 1971.

That’s why Rogers is in Norman, Oklahoma this week to relive, celebrate and hug. The legendary Cornhuskers striker from the early 1970s loves reunions and Saturday is one of the biggest in this series.

The expected explosion still means something, if only because there are two more big Reds who used to hate each other.

“I don’t know if I can say that,” began Oklahoma Athletic Director Joe Castiglione, the man who oversaw the transfer of the program to the SEC this summer. “History and traditions, sometimes it goes unnoticed. Sometimes it’s just a moment. “

Nebraska and Oklahoma battled fiercely over the turf and Orange Bowls in the old G8. They have not met since 2010, when the Sooners squeezed 23-20 wins in the Big 12 Championship. Two years later, the Huskers hit the big ten. Oklahoma is expected to start playing in the SEC in the next four years.

So yes, this is very important.

But half a century ago, Rogers played arguably the biggest game in the biggest game ever, with nine touchdowns, 829 yards in total, and running into the final minutes. Perhaps it was Rogers’ 72-yard return to the punt in the first quarter that played a decisive role in Nebraska’s victory.

“Time has passed,” he said. “We really thought we had something special with Nebraska and Oklahoma at the time. It was the biggest game we’ve ever played and people have ever seen. “

Shake hands with Castiglione. He lived in South Florida at the age of 14 and remembers watching Game of the Century at his grandmother’s house. At the time, a 23-inch black and white TV was considered a large screen.

“It was my first real memory of watching a football game in Oklahoma,” Castiglione said. “That’s when I got to know Oklahoma. It was that game. “

When he was introduced as the 11th sporting director of OU in 1998, Castiglione noted in his introduction that the number matched the form of Jack Mildren, Oklahoma’s quarterback in the Game of the Century.

Castiglione’s jaw dropped when it was revealed that Nebraska coach Scott Frost had been trying to ditch Oklahoma in favor of the Old Dominion or New Mexico State earlier this year for an easy win.

“Disappointment is not the right word,” he said. “It was surreal. It didn’t make any sense. “

You are not playing ball with fine china. You don’t wear white in mud.

Nebraska and Oklahoma is a pearl that cannot be scratched. At least the one that shone so brightly for decades before the annual meetings ended over a decade ago.

Have a drink with Barry Switzer. Sports Illustrated legends Dan Jenkins and Bud Shreik definitely did that week. This is one of Switzer’s most vivid memories from Game of the Century: walking around the city.

As for the game itself, the Oklahoma offensive coordinator that day is still lamenting that he did not receive the ball more than midfielder Greg Pruitt, two-time Olympic champion. Switzer won three national championships in 16 seasons with an OU head coach but called him this week and what didn’t happen that Thanksgiving half a century ago still worries him.

“The tracks meet every week,” Switzer recalls of the Suners attack, which still holds a single-season record at 472 yards per game. “It will never break. Think 472 yards per game. “

On that damp, 47-degree day, the third-place midfielder in the Heisman Trophy vote, averaging 9 yards per carry that season, made just 53 yards in 10 jerks.

“I was a young offensive coordinator. I probably should have made sure that Greg Pruitt carried it 25 times, ”said Switzer.

There were no other goats that day, only GOATS Nebraska’s attack coordinator, Tom Osborne, had two national championships on his resume before replacing Bob Devaney – Bob’s beloved father – as coach in 1973.

Huskers middle-back Rich Glover has a lifelong defensive play with 22 tackles against All-America center Tom Brahany, who then played nine Nfl seasons.

Nebraska I-back Jeff Kinney made program history with 171 yards and four touchdowns. In the middle of the first quarter, Mildren played with half his jersey ripped off. The future lieutenant governor of the state carried him 31 times for 130 yards, which is four landings on himself.

“It was probably the greatest offensive football game I have ever seen,” said Alabama coach Bear Bryant, who has won four national championships to his credit, in an ABC post-match.

The bear will testify. Nebraska beat Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl for their second national title in a row.

The game of the century was so big, so shocking, so amazing. Kinney scored the winning touchdown with 98 seconds remaining. Rogers maintained the winning drive, catching Jerry Tagge’s third and eighth passes, inches off the ground, in Oklahoma’s 35th tally.

“Our rule was: if you touch, you can catch,” said Rogers, who won the 1972 Heisman. “I caught it.”

Look for this; the grainy footage is still there. Over the five decades that have passed since then, the Game of the Century label has scattered like a trifle. But the Saturday anniversary reminds us that there is another anniversary. The # 1 attack in the nation (Oklahoma) clashed with the # 1 defense in the nation (Nebraska).

Fifty-five million people watched ABC, the largest audience of college football at the time. The TV show was filled with advertisements for cars, not too different from today’s. The first ad was for Brylcreem. (Ask your grandfather.)

Two ABC broadcasters have named Owen Field in Oklahoma “Owen’s Stadium.” Analyst Bud Wilkinson, a legendary former Oklahoma coach, was foresighted. He broke the violation of the Nebraska I-formation, noting that it sometimes turned into “spread”. The graph shows a set of four receiver boxes that are all too familiar from 2021.

The crossarm used in Oklahoma was still new and was adopted by trainer Chuck Fairbanks at the urging of Switzer.

“We would have been so good in 1970 if Chuck had let me go there in the spring,” Switzer said. “It was kind of like copying Texas. If it works, who cares? “

You can set your football clock to Nebraska-Oklahoma. They played 86 times, every year from 1921 to 2010. This was the time when trainers were gods, not living funds. Osborne considered filibustering a wonderful science, going through the entire list in the preseason press so he didn’t have to answer questions.

This was the exact opposite of Switzer, who once held a trial with writers at Union Station in Kansas City the night before the 2003 Big 12 Championship. His wingman that evening was Tony Casillas’ fur coat, a protective shell that won championships for Schweitzer in Oklahoma and for the Dallas Cowboys.

There was a 1987 game called Game of the Century II. No. 1 Oklahoma beat No. 2 Nebraska 17-7, ultimately losing the Miami national championship in the Orange Bowl. There was a 2001 game where Eric Crouch pretty much won Heisman in October. Defender of Nebraska caught skip landing at 63 yards.

Osborne became President of Nebraska, then US Senator. He was the driving force behind the hated Texas move to the Big Ten. How did it work?

Nebraska got lost outside the Big 12.

Five decades ago, the G8 was the strongest conference in the country, and it was not that close. The league finished the season with the # 1 (Nebraska), # 2 (Oklahoma) and # 3 (Colorado) teams. The Thanksgiving game was only the fifth such # 1 vs. # 2 game in history. This is a common occurrence these days, given the BCS and College Football playoffs.

“… It’s impossible to turn the pages of history and find one in which both teams performed so well and for so long during the day,” Jenkins wrote in his gaming account next week. He was right.

The stakes were so high that Nebraska brought its own supplies to Oklahoma to avoid food poisoning.

“We don’t want to risk anything,” Rogers said.

Rogers insisted that he never fished honestly with his foot or punt. In this game, he definitely did not do that, returning the first hit from 6 yards in the end zone. On antlers, Rogers suggested, defenders would swap 15-yard personal fouls by hitting him before they risk a long kick.

“Fifteen yards was less than what I would have gotten if I had returned it,” Rogers said.

It was a different television age. There were only a few games aired at the time. Cable television was still about nine years away. Nebraska-Oklahoma was followed by the Georgia-Georgia Institute of Technology at night. Heisman was awarded in the first half of the last game. Two days later they were Army-Navy and Auburn-Alabama. That’s all.

Saturday’s game will be part of a typical 12-hour blizzard of television matches. By the end of the day and the expected debacle in Oklahoma, history may be just a footnote.

Ten years ago, as Nebraska moved from the G12 to the G10, Oklahoma’s Castiglione wanted to capture a piece of the story. He walked over to Osborne, then to Nebraska, with the suggestion, “Let’s play again.”

It turned out that the first debut for both teams took place on Saturday, 50 years after the Game of the Century. The Kornhuskers will receive a return game in Lincoln, Nebraska next year.

But on Friday night they will laugh, drink, shake hands and talk about a story that still needs to be talked about five decades later.


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