Undoubtedly, more people remembered watching the play than actually did on that afternoon in late September of 1965. Not even all of those among the crowd of just over 37,000.
According to Lincoln newspaper accounts, as many as 3,000 ticket-holders were still in cars pulling into the parking lot at the Air Force Academy’s 41,000-seat football stadium.
The cars were backed up for more than a mile, the traffic jam a result of a bridge on the four-lane highway from Denver to Colorado Springs that had been damaged by flooding.
In all likelihood, many of the cars carried Husker fans, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 of whom attended the game. Nebraska’s NCAA-record home sellout streak was underway, and those who couldn’t get tickets for games at Memorial Stadium could drive elsewhere.
Plus, Colorado Springs was closer than Lincoln for many fans in western Nebraska.
Anyway, on the game’s first play from scrimmage, at the Nebraska 20-yard line, Husker quarterback Bob Churchich handed the ball to Frank Solich, who ran 80 yards for a touchdown.
Solich would carry 16 times more, score two more touchdowns and finish with 204 rushing yards to lead the No. 2-ranked Huskers to a 27-17 victory. The rushing yardage broke the school record (187 yards) set by Bobby Reynolds against Indiana in 1950.
Solich was listed at 5-foot-8 and 162 pounds as a senior in 1965, after being listed at 5-8 and 156 the year before. He played some halfback, but mostly he played fullback, which might seem incongruous given his size, sharing time at the position with junior Pete Tatman (6-0, 214) and sophomore Charlie Winters (6-2, 210), whose nickname was “Choo-Choo.”
Nebraska’s offense used an unbalanced line, three interior linemen on one side of the center, one on the other. “It was kind of a weird deal because the guys who made the lead blocks were your halfbacks,” said Tom Osborne, the offensive ends coach – and an instructor in educational psychology.
“You usually think of a fullback being a heavy-duty blocker. But . . . we had guys like Kent McCloughan and Bobby Hohn (who) were halfbacks, and they had to make that lead block. And then guys like Frank and others in there were carrying the ball more than the halfbacks.”
McCloughan (6-2, 196) and Hohn (5-11, 178) were seniors in 1964 – when McCloughan led the Big Eight in scoring with 12 touchdowns.
Ron Kirkland illustrated Osborne’s point even better. He was a 6-2, 210-pound halfback.
Kirkland, a junior in 1965, scored Nebraska’s second touchdown against Air Force and then, along with end Tony Jeter (6-3, 225), helped clear the way for Solich’s second touchdown.
Solich would score only one more touchdown in 1965, on a 29-yard pass from Fred Duda in a 37-0 victory against Wisconsin two weeks later, and he would finish second on the team in rushing with 580 yards on 107 carries. Sophomore halfback Harry Wilson led with 672 yards on 120 carries.
Solich’s single-game rushing record would hold until 1976, when Rick Berns broke it in a 68-3 victory at Hawaii, rushing for 211 yards and four touchdowns.
Since that afternoon in 1965, Huskers have rushed for 200 or more yards 35 times and Solich’s 204 yards against Air Force are near the bottom of the list.
HUSKER RUSHING RECORD PROGRESSION
Roy Helu, Jr., IB 307 yards (Missouri, 2010)
Calvin Jones, IB 294 (Kansas, 1991)
Mike Rozier, IB 285 (Kansas, 1983)
Rick Berns, IB 255 (Missouri, 1978)
I.M. Hipp, IB 254 (Indiana, 1977)
Rick Berns, IB 211 (Hawaii, 1976)
Frank Solich, FB 204 (Air Force, 1965)
Bobby Reynolds, HB 187 (Indiana, 1950)
Bill Mueller, HB 124 (Kansas State, 1949)
Bill Mueller, HB 105 (South Dakota, 1949)
(Photo courtesy of NU Media Relations)