When Bob Devaney arrived at Nebraska in 1962, the Huskers had played in only two bowl games, the 1941 Rose Bowl and the 1955 Orange Bowl. Both were losses.
However, “I had been at Nebraska for five years before I found out the Huskers lost that game to Stanford,” Devaney wrote of the ’41 Rose Bowl in his 1981 autobiography.
Such was Nebraskans’ passion for the first bowl, a 21-13 loss to Stanford.
The Huskers lost to Duke 34-7 in the ‘55 Orange Bowl. Coach Bill Glassford’s next-to-last team made the trip to Miami because Big Seven rules didn’t allow its champion to play in back-to-back bowl games. So No. 3-ranked Oklahoma, which defeated the Huskers 55-7 (victory No. 18 in the Sooners’ NCAA record 47-game winning streak) at Norman, stayed home for the holidays.
Oklahoma had upset No. 1 Maryland 7-0 in the 1954 Orange Bowl.
Nebraska wasn’t necessarily the first choice to play Pacific Coast Conference champion Stanford in the 1941 Rose Bowl. Texas A&M, No. 2 in the Associated Press rankings, was at the top of the list before its final regular-season game against Texas, which Coach D.X Bible’s Longhorns won 7-0.
Bible called it among his “most satisfying” victories because it helped Nebraska. He had coached the Huskers from 1929 to 1936 and served as athletic director the final five years. His record was 50-15-7 (.743) with six Big Six championships. He also coached the golf team to two titles.
According to Lincoln Star sports editor Cy Sherman, Bible’s 1935 Big Six championship team turned down a Sugar Bowl bid. “In respect to the decencies, Nebraska refrained from giving publicity either to the invitation or the declination,” Sherman wrote in late November of 1937.
“Nevertheless the first Sugar Bowl bid was dropped in Nebraska’s lap.”
Make of that what you will. Sherman’s time frame was off by a year. The first Sugar Bowl was played on Jan. 1, 1935. The Huskers finished second to Kansas State in the Big Six in 1934.
Also according to Lincoln newspaper accounts, Coach Jumbo Stiehm’s final Nebraska team earned an invitation to play in the second Rose Bowl, on Jan. 1, 1916, but the administration declined.
In any case, Texas A&M was knocked out of consideration for the ’41 Rose Bowl, and No. 1-ranked Minnesota, which handed Nebraska its only loss in the season-opener 13-7, didn’t consider bowl bids. Also, Boston College opted to play Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl, giving Coach Biff Jones’ Huskers, who had won eight in a row following the Minnesota loss, their chance.
Boston College and Tennessee were both ranked ahead of Nebraska, which moved from No. 8 to No. 7 after defeating Kansas State 20-0 in its final regular-season game. But Tennessee, No. 4 in the final AP poll (Boston College was No. 5), had lost to USC in the 1940 Rose Bowl.
In that context, Devaney’s first Nebraska team earning a Gotham Bowl bid was significant, even though the 36-34 victory against Miami at frigid Yankee Stadium in New York City on Dec. 15, 1962, was played for an audience officially listed as 6,166 – Devaney said if even that total had been accurate, many must have come to the storied stadium in the Bronx dressed as empty seats.
Nevertheless, it was a bowl game, and Devaney’s teams would also play in a bowl in eight of his remaining 10 seasons: five Orange Bowls, a Cotton Bowl, a Sugar Bowl and a Sun Bowl.
His 1967 and 1968 teams didn’t play in bowls.
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.