Once again we’re in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine for what would be the final Gotham Bowl football game. The date was Dec. 15, 1962, the place, New York City—the Bronx.
The temperature at kickoff, 11 a.m. EST, was 14 degrees according to a New York Times account looking back on the game; the turf at Yankee Stadium was frozen.
Players wore tennis shoes to compensate.
The game matched Miami, 7-3, against Nebraska, 8-2 and playing in a bowl for only the third time. The Husker team was Bob Devaney’s first as head coach. And had the decision been Devaney’s and his assistants, Nebraska might not have accepted the Gotham Bowl bid.
Nebraska wasn’t the bowl’s first choice to play Miami—which had received a bid three weeks earlier, with games still to play—or the second. However, a Gotham Bowl official was quoted as saying the bowl wanted a Nebraska-Miami match-up all along, regardless of what had been reported.
There was also concern about whether the bowl, which was associated with the March of Dimes, could afford the payouts to the participating teams.
The Huskers were unanimous in wanting to play one more game, however, even though the invitation had come 10 days after the final regular-season game, a 34-6 loss at Oklahoma.
I had watched the Oklahoma game on a closed-circuit telecast at Pershing Auditorium in Lincoln. And I would watch the Gotham Bowl on television at home, despite the fact that the ABC affiliate out of Omaha didn’t have a strong signal in my area and the picture was, at best, blurred.
It was Husker football, though, even if the images were indistinct.
Only a couple of stations in Nebraska carried the game live. The rest of the country would have had to wait until later in the day to watch it on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.”
The early kickoff was to accommodate an American Football League playoff game between the New York Titans and Houston Oilers at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan. The Polo Grounds, where the first Gotham Bowl had been played in 1961, was just across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium.
You could have seen one stadium from the other.
Nebraska hadn’t practiced since the Oklahoma game, 11 days off. And only seven practices were scheduled before the team flew to New York on the Friday before the Saturday game. The team’s departure from the Lincoln airport was delayed until a certified check for travel expenses was placed in escrow. There had been some speculation that the game might be cancelled.
Because of that and because of a newspaper strike in New York City that eliminated the most significant pre-game publicity, ticket sales suffered. Add to that the frigid weather and it’s not surprising that official paid attendance was 6,166, with 5,000 youngsters allowed in free.
“That would have made about 11,000 people in a 63,000-seat stadium,” Devaney wrote in his 1981 autobiography. “If that was true, about 10,000 of them went home before kickoff.
“There wasn’t even next of kin out there.”
Devaney also joked that if there were 6,166 paid, many came dressed as empty seats.
During his pre-game talk, Devaney wrote that the weather conditions and near-empty stadium “reminded me of the days when I was a kid and we used to have fights in the back alley. There wouldn’t be anyone watching there either, but pride was still the most important thing in the world.”
Such a speech worked in 1962, Devaney wrote. When his teams won back-to-back national championships in 1970 and 1971, it might not have “because kids had become more sophisticated.”
Nebraska won the Gotham Bowl, despite the passing of Miami quarterback George Mira, who completed 24-of-46 for 321 yards and two touchdowns—the Hurricanes also rushed for 181 yards to finish with 502 yards of total offense.
But two of Mira’s passes were intercepted, the first by Dennis Claridge to set up the winning touchdown, the second by Bob Brown with 1:09 remaining to end Miami’s comeback hopes.
Fullback Bill Thornton and halfback Willie Ross each scored two touchdowns, Ross’s first on a 92-yard kickoff return. Claridge passed to Mike Eager for 6 yards and a fifth touchdown. Claridge ran for a two-point conversion and Rudy Johnson kicked two extra points.
Final score: Nebraska 36, Miami 34.
A year later, the Hurricanes tried to hire Devaney to replace Andy Gustafson, who was stepping aside to focus on being athletic director. Devaney, of course, stayed—he said wife Phyllis had just bought new snow tires and he didn’t want them to go to waste.
Peabody’s Wayback Machine seemed appropriate this week as Nebraska struggles to become bowl-eligible, needing to win at least two of its remaining three games. Should that somehow happen, the Huskers might be headed to New York City to play an ACC team in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Might be . . .
Wisconsin played in Yankee Stadium a year ago, winning 35-3—against Miami.
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.