Dennis Claridge Q&A
HV: Is there any funny incident that comes to mind when you think back to your playing days?
Oh jeepers. The one that comes to mind was after beating Miami in the Gotham Bowl, and some sportswriter said: “Coach Devaney, why don’t you kiss Claridge?” And Devaney said: “Back in Nebraska, we kiss girls.” There were others, but that was probably as good as any. I wish I could relate just half of Bob’s talks because he always had people in stitches. I’d pay money to have some of those moments recorded.
HV: Who were your closest friends among Husker teammates?
I roomed with Kent McCloughan and Dennis Stuewe most of the time on road trips. Lloyd Voss and John Kirby were very, very good friends. (The late) Bill Thornton was a guy I always admired. He was one of the two best football players I was ever around, pro or college. The other was Ray Nitschke with the Packers.
HV: What did you think when Bill Jennings was fired and Bob Devaney was hired?
At that time of your life, you like continuity and don’t like abrupt change. It disrupts the way things are. I was scared. I was nervous. I didn’t know if this guy (Devaney) would do something different that I didn’t do. You don’t know what someone’s like until you work with them. It turned out great because when Bob came, he said, “I don’t know any of you. You’re all starting on page one, and those of you who are on the fourth team will be given an opportunity to be on the first team, and those of you on first are going to move down and work your way up.” With Bob, everyone gets an even shot. When he and Jim Ross came in, they pretty much told us in a meeting what was going to happen. Bob couldn’t have done it without Jim. The personalities of all those guys really mixed well. They were all so different. Mike Corgan. Carl Selmer. They were good people, good coaches, solid individuals.
HV: What was the fan support like in the early 1960s?
The stadium held about 35 or 36,000. The first year for a major game we probably sold seats between the 40-yard lines. I think the fan support was there. They were just waiting for something to get excited about. We sold out the Missouri game for Homecoming in ’62 and the sellout streak started. We didn’t win that game, but they were seeing enough positive things to keep it going and here we are 50 years later, and it’s still going.
HV: How many Husker games do you see now?
We go to most of them. My wife and son are major fans just like I am.
HV: Are you in favor of a playoff system for college football?
I like the bowl system, and I don’t believe in a playoff. We’ve already diluted the bowl system. Remember when we were co-champs with Michigan one year (1997)? What’s the matter with two teams with 100 players on each team getting national championship rings? They were all No. 1, and they will all be remembered by their fans forever.
HV: What’s your opinion of Nebraska’s decision to move to the Big Ten?
I think it was the best of all worlds, and I think Nebraska will thrive. I think it will take us another two or three years in most of the sports to acclimate and figure out our place and I think we’ll do well. The Big Ten is a great place for us academically and everyplace else. It couldn’t be better. There is no down side that I can see … period. I think Tom (Osborne) knew, and I think Harvey (Perlman) knew that the other culture was not working for us, and it wasn’t going to. I think we will be thankful for a long time that both of them helped us make this move.
HV: What was it like playing both offense and defense?
First of all, I was a better offensive player than I was a defensive guy. But if you like to play football, there is nothing like playing and not coming off the field. If that’s your love, then it is awesome. I think for a couple of years I mostly came out when it was a punt return or kick return. As a senior, they changed the rules and you could sub two people in and I think Ron Michka, the center, came out and I came out. Defensive guys came in and took our place. As a sophomore and a junior, I loved every minute of it. There are some guys that thrive on contact. Guys like Jerry Murtaugh relish it. I could do it and did it and enjoyed it, but I didn’t relish it. There is a big difference between guys that want to put a helmet into somebody whether they have the ball or not. That’s just part of their physical make-up.
HV: Did you pick your jersey number at Nebraska or was it assigned?
My number was assigned. Bill Jennings had three backs and he wanted the running backs in the teens. He wanted his quarterbacks in the 20s and I was No. 24. When Devaney came in, it changed. The backs were in the 20s, 30s and 40s and the quarterbacks were in the teens. I was No. 14.
To read the entire interview, check out Hail Varsity Magazine – 50 Years of Sellouts