A rabbit made it onto the field at Camp Randall Stadium when Nebraska played Wisconsin in 1966. And the rabbit made the front page of the Omaha World-Herald as well.
The photo’s cutline said: “There’s no safer place for a rabbit at the Wisconsin-Nebraska football game than with the Husker defensive unit, and co-captain Larry Wachholtz.”
Wachholtz, a safety, was also prominent in the photo.
The “safer place” reference was based on Wisconsin’s difficulty in moving the ball against the Huskers in the 31-3 loss. The closest it could get was the Nebraska 15-yard line. The Badgers had to settle for a 33-yard field goal from there, late in the first quarter.
Otherwise, they were ineffective, finishing with nine first downs and 216 yards of offense. They turned over the ball seven times, including four interceptions.
For the purposes here, Barry Alvarez, a Husker linebacker, made one of the interceptions and helped pressure quarterback John Ryan into another – by Len Janik, also a linebacker.
Alvarez, now Wisconsin’s Athletic Director, backed up Rick Coleman as a junior in 1966. He got his first start at Nebraska that season, against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
He earned a letter as a reserve linebacker as a sophomore in 1965.
Husker middle guard Wayne Meylan blocked two punts in the 1966 Wisconsin game, recovering the first block in the end zone for a touchdown.
“I happen to know the punter (Don Schaffner) now, so I got that clip out and made sure he’d seen it at a couple of our functions, alumni functions,” Alvarez said this week on Hail Varsity Radio.
As for his interception, “some of my friends still tell jokes about that,” he said.
Alvarez stepped in as a starter in 1967, and finished second only to Meylan in tackles, with 112; Meylan had 119. The Blackshirts led the nation in total defense and pass defense, as well as ranking third in scoring defense and fourth in rushing defense that season.
“You put Wayne Meylan in the middle of it up-front, (and) guys had a hard time blocking him,” Alvarez said. “So he occupied a lot of guys and let guys like myself and Adrian Fiala make tackles.”
Fiala, a sophomore linebacker, was credited with 61 tackles.
Tackle Jim McCord was third on the team with 89 tackles. Ken Geddes, also a sophomore linebacker, had 69 tackles to rank fourth.
Meylan was a two-time All-American and finished ninth in voting for the Heisman Trophy in 1967. “He’s one of the best ones (defensive players) I’ve ever seen,” Alvarez said. “He did some things at noseguard . . . I think if you go back and ask Monte Kiffin, I think Monte studied some of the things Wayne was doing just naturally because he wasn’t taught anything.”
Meylan began his sophomore season at offensive guard before moving to defense. Kiffin was in his first year as a full-time assistant, coaching the freshman line.
He would succeed George Kelly as defensive line coach in 1969 and be the first to have the title “defensive coordinator” in Tom Osborne’s first season as head coach, 1973.
“I think he (Kiffin) studied what Wayne did as far as running the nose and doing all those things and taught ‘em to Richie Glover and noseguards after that,” said Alvarez.
Glover was the first Husker to win both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, in 1972.
“But Wayne was uniquely . . . very strong. I call him ‘farmer strong,’” Alvarez said. “I mean, he could run as fast as our backs. He was a freak.”
Despite the top-ranked defense, Nebraska finished with a 6-4 record. The Huskers turned over the ball a school-record 40 times, with a minus-18 differential, also a school record.
They also didn’t play in a bowl game for the first time under Coach Bob Devaney.
Nebraska lost its final regular-season game at Oklahoma 21-14, despite out-yarding the Sooners 413-253 – four interceptions and three lost fumbles will do that.
After Alvarez got home, “I got a call from George Kelly and thought we had a bid to play Georgia in some bowl,” Alvarez said. “And then the next thing I heard, our Board of Regents said no.”
Times, and attitudes, were different then.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.