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Hot Reads: The One Time Nebraska Played Football on Christmas
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: The One Time Nebraska Played Football on Christmas

December 24, 2018

If there is less than eight feet of snow on the ground this afternoon the Nebraska university team will meet the Young Men's Christian association team of Omaha at Association park, there to see if that other game was really a test of strength of the teams.

That's the lede to the story that lead the second page of the Omaha Daily Bee on Dec. 25, 1894. It remains the only Christmas Day game in the history of Nebraska football. The Huskers came close to playing on the holiday early in Tom Osborne's tenure, facing Arizona State on Dec. 26, 1975 in the Fiesta Bowl. A year later the Fiesta Bowl, still less than a decade old, moved to Christmas Day for the next four years but Nebraska didn't make a return trip in that window. 

There was also the 2015 Foster Farms Bowl, another Dec. 26 game, and two Dec. 27 bowl games in the 2000s, but if you've ever dreamed of getting Husker football for Christmas –– real, live football –– 1894 is the only time it has happened.

Nebraska football made its debut against Omaha YMCA in 1890, a 10-0 win for the Huskers. The two teams played in November of 1894 –– the "other game," a 36-6 Nebraska win, mentioned in the Bee story –– but the Christmas matchup was supposed to be different.

Iowa and Nebraska had played on Thanksgiving Day in Omaha in front of a reported 5,000 fans, a 36-0 NU win, and the Bee reported that the Christmas Day "struggle" was to be "a much grander one in every respect" and that there was "every reason to anticipate another great turnout."

The cold, however, may have kept numbers low, both in the stands and on the scoreboard. The Omaha World Herald reported that "400 admirers of foot ball shivered as with the ague as they watched the game between the Y.M.C.A. and the University of Nebraska elevens." Next sentence: "It was far too cold a day for a game." (19th Century newspaper writing was great.)

But there was a game. The underdog YMCA team took a 6-0 lead before the half. "Talk about your enthusiasm! Just let your imagination run riot!" the World Herald account read. 

Then Nebraska's great halfback and captain, George Flippin, ran riot in the second half. He scored two touchdowns  –– then worth four points, point-after kicks two –– and Nebraska made one of two kicks for a 10-6 win. "Flippin," the World Herald reported, "did not seem to realize his strength as he roughly threw the local boys and fairly trod upon them."

The Omaha Daily Bee billed the game as a "new method of celebrating the holiday." It was new, the one time it happened, then extinct. Nebraska hasn't played on Christmas since –– something now more or less impossible with modern college football scheduling –– and that game was also the last of three meetings between the Huskers and Omaha YMCA.

I think about that game every time Christmas rolls around, for the obvious reason. But I also like that only around 400 people got to witness it. I also like that, later that night, the "Nebraska eleven" were the guests of honor at an Omaha banquet reserved for "college men" in Omaha. That included graduates of any college, and Harvard, Yale and Princeton were all represented. According to accounts of the banquet, nearly 300 young men dined for nearly 90 minutes and finished the night with cigars.

Kind of a one-of-a-kind Christmas.

Hope yours, however you celebrate it, is as well.

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