Nebraska drove 78 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown, from 1 yard out by quarterback Turner Gill, on its second possession, and with Dave Schneider’s extra-point kick, took a 7-0 lead on Penn State in the first Kickoff Classic, played at Giants Stadium on Aug. 29, 1983.
Gill, director of the Huskers’ “Scoring Explosion” offense, completed 3-of-3 passes for 63 yards during the drive. Another completion was nullified by penalty.
Nebraska drove 86 yards on seven plays for a touchdown on its next possession, the touchdown coming on the last play of the first quarter, a 19-yard pass from Gill to tight end Monte Engebritson. Schneider added the extra-point kick, and the Huskers led 14-0. They would score 30 more points before Penn State could get on the board with 20 seconds remaining on a 35-yard pass. The kick was blocked. Final score: 44-6. Starting spreading the news . . .
Well, Times Square was about 8 miles away, so it wasn’t exactly “New York, New York.” But it was close enough. Had that been Nebraska’s motivation, revenge was sweet. You remember what happened at State College, Pennsylvania, in 1982, the controversial 27-24 loss.
Penn State lost to Alabama by 21 in Birmingham two weeks later and still ended up the national champion. The Huskers finished third, behind undefeated, once tied, SMU.
Anyway, the subject here is the first Kickoff Classic and rather than try to create a game story, here’s a notebook of details you might (or might not) find interesting from 34 years ago.
- Giants Stadium, located in East Rutherford, New Jersey, was built in 1976 by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. The field had an AstroTurf surface. The final game there, Jets-Bengals, was played on Jan. 3, 2010. MetLife Stadium is built where a Giants Stadium parking lot had been located. Stadium capacity was listed at 76,891 in 1983. Official attendance for the Kickoff Classic was 71,123.
- The game was televised nationally by Katz Communications, which out-bid NBC, Turner Broadcasting, Mislou and ESPN. Curt Gowdy handled play-by-play with Lee Corso as color analyst. The CBS radio broadcast included Lindsey Nelson doing play-by-play. Kickoff was at 9:11 p.m. Eastern, and the game ended at 12:17 a.m. Temperature at kickoff was 74 degrees.
- Nebraska rushed for 322 yards, averaging 5.6 per carry, and finished with 500 yards of total offense. I-back Mike Rozier, who would win the Heisman Trophy that season, had a game-high 71 yards on 16 carries. Gill rushed for 53 yards and completed 11-of-14 passes for 158 yards and the touchdown to Engebritson. Back-up quarterback Nate Mason threw only two passes, one complete to tight end Todd Frain for a second-quarter touchdown. Mason also ran 21 yards for a touchdown.
- The other Husker touchdowns came on linebacker Mike Knox’s 27-yard interception return early in the third quarter and, the last, I-back Paul Miles’ 1-yard run. Schneider was 5-of-6 on extra-point kicks and kicked a 34-yard field goal late in the third quarter for a 30-0 lead.
- Nebraska fumbled nine times – yes, nine, tying a stadium record – but lost only one. Penn State lost 1-of-5 fumbles. The Nittany Lions managed only 82 yards rushing (2.5 per carry) and completed just 13-of-39 passes, for 227 yards, to finish with 309 total yards.
- “I’m a little concerned at the moment because I’m not sure just how good Penn State is or just how good we are,” Husker Coach Tom Osborne said afterward. “We thought we might be able to win by seven or 10 points, but we certainly didn’t expect to win by the final margin.” Penn State, No. 4 to Nebraska’s No. 1, finished the season 8-4-1 and out of the Associated Press final Top 20. The Huskers, of course, finished 12-1 and No. 2, losing to Miami in the Orange Bowl.
- “I don’t think our defense played too badly,” Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said. “You don’t beat Nebraska with defense. You have to score some points.” Defensively, “Nebraska did what we expected them to do. They came after us all the time . . . dared us to throw the football. They were stunting all around the football and we couldn’t get our running game going."
- Nine Huskers had four or more tackles, led by monster back Mike McCashland with six. Knox was named the game’s Outstanding Defensive Player, Gill the Outstanding Offensive Player.
- Nebraska received a reported $400,000-plus for playing in the game. The money was to fund a new training table.
- The Lincoln Star reported that “hundreds of exuberant University of Nebraska-Lincoln students took to the streets around the downtown campus early Tuesday (the game was on Monday night)” and police “stood by while at least one bonfire burned in celebration . . ."
- The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority petitioned the NCAA to allow two teams an extra game for this purpose in 1978, but the petition was rejected. Full NCAA membership had to sanction the game and finally did so. A maximum of 11 regular-season games was allowed. The final game – Notre Dame 22, Maryland 0 – was played Aug. 31, 2002. The NCAA didn’t allow 12-game regular-season schedules until 2006.
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.