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Nebraska Mashes Notre Dame on Thanksgiving

November 23, 2017

A dozen special trains brought fans from as far away as Kansas City and Denver as well as from South Bend, Indiana, by way of Chicago to watch Nebraska play Notre Dame – known as the “Ramblers” until 1929 – at Memorial Stadium on Thanksgiving Day 1925.

A train also came from Superior, Nebraska, home of Nebraska All-America tackle and captain Ed Weir, among the Husker seniors who would be playing their final game.

Temporary bleachers were erected to accommodate the crowd. Gates opened at 12:30 p.m. for the 2 o’clock kickoff. The game was broadcast on Lincoln radio station KFAB and Chicago’s WGN.

Nebraska’s series with Notre Dame had begun in 1915, Jumbo Stiehm’s final season as Husker head coach and three years before Knute Rockne would succeed Jesse Harper as the coach in South Bend. The Ramblers held a 5-4-1 advantage in the series going into the 1915 game, including a 34-6 victory at South Bend the previous season against the famed “Four Horsemen.”

The Horsemen – Harry Stuhldreher, Jim Crowley, Don Miller and Elmer Layden – lost only two of 30 games during their three seasons together, both to the Huskers, in 1922 (14-6) and 1923 (14-7), though Grantland Rice didn’t give them the nickname until a game against Army in October of 1924.

The 1922 and 1923 games had been played in Lincoln. The 1922 game was the last at Nebraska Field. According to “Fifty Years of Football: A Condensed History of the Game at the University of Nebraska,” by Frederick Ware and Gregg McBride, 15,000 “paid their way within the fence” with another 5,000 watching from “roofs and poles and coal piles and in trees” nearby.

Notre Dame was unbeaten, the only blemish a tie with Army.

Rockne’s post-Horsemen Ramblers came to Lincoln with a 7-1-1 record in 1925. First-year Coach Ernie Bearg’s Huskers were 3-2-2, the losses to Missouri and Drake, the ties with Washington and the Kansas (State) Aggies. Missouri, Drake and the Aggies were Missouri Valley Conference foes.

Hail Varsity
Game program from the 1925 Nebraska-Notre Dame game.

Despite light rain in the morning, Memorial Stadium was packed. Accounts varied, from 40,000 to as many as 45,000. Cy Sherman, sports editor of the Lincoln Star, reported 45,000, but right beside his story was an insert that indicated 43,000, with a record $81,000 in ticket receipts.

Nebraska fans had plenty to cheer. John “Choppy” Rhodes and Avard Mandery scored first-quarter touchdowns, Weir kicked a third-quarter field goal, and the Huskers won 17-0.

Weir, who would earn All-America recognition for a second time, also earned the respect of Rockne, who called him the “greatest tackle of all-time.”

Excitement over the victory was such that university students forced cancellation of classes the next day. One professor reportedly tried to lock the door to his classroom, but to no avail.

Despite the interest in the games, and the fact that Rockne was on the record as wanting the series to continue, Notre Dame and Nebraska wouldn’t play again until 1947 and 1948.

Notre Dame cancelled the series two weeks after the 1925 game, citing poor treatment by Husker fans, as reflected by an offensive halftime skit in which the Four Horsemen were portrayed as hod carriers – common laborers, mercenaries who didn’t belong in college.

Anti-Catholic sentiment was fueled by the growth of the Ku Klux Klan in and around Lincoln.

According to the South Bend Tribune in a 2001 story, the treatment of Notre Dame fans at Memorial Stadium wasn’t much improved in 1948, when Frank Leahy’s Fighting Irish won 44-13.

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