It was a signature moment according legendary Lincoln sports writer “Cy” Sherman. Nebraska would “qualify as the only institution of the middle west which has sent its teams to both sea coasts of the American continent,” he wrote in The Star in the fall of 1920.
The Cornhuskers played as an independent that season, as they had the season before, with Kansas the only Missouri Valley Conference school still on their schedule. Nebraska had left the conference after deciding to violate a rule requiring home games to be played in Lincoln. It scheduled a game against Oklahoma for Omaha in late October. Ironically, Oklahoma was added to the conference replacing Nebraska, which returned in 1921.
The Cornhuskers had been to the west coast, playing at Oregon State – Oregon Aggies as they were known then – in 1916. In the fall of 1920, when Sherman’s column was written and after four home games, they were preparing to board a train for New York City, where they would play Rutgers. Then they would travel to State College, Pennsylvania, to play Penn State before returning home.
Prior to that, the Huskers had traveled no farther east than Michigan, Sherman wrote.
The team left for New York City on a Friday. Two days before, it had scrimmaged its freshman team. And it had lost, allowing four touchdowns and scoring only one, a reason for optimism about the future, perhaps, but not necessarily for the upcoming eastern swing.
Second-year Husker coach Henry “Pa” Schulte left the night before the team left to scout Rutgers in a game against Cornell at Ithaca, New York, on Saturday. P.J. Schissler, the Husker freshman coach, traveled to Philadelphia to scout Penn State against Pennsylvania, also on Saturday.
Cornell would defeat Rutgers 24-0, while Penn State would win 28-7.
Nebraska’s travel roster included 25 players. Schulte wanted to take at least 30, but Athletic Director Fred Luehring was concerned about expenses, estimated at $7,500. Rutgers offered a guarantee of $2,500, Penn State $4,000. Or Nebraska could receive a percentage of the gate.
As it turned out, the Huskers almost covered their travel costs with their percentage of the gate for the Rutgers game, played at the Polo Grounds before 15,000 – on a Tuesday afternoon.
Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights, wore black jerseys rather than scarlet to avoid confusion, to the displeasure of Rutgers students, who must have been even more displeased with the outcome. End Clarence Swanson, who’s in the College Football Hall of Fame, caught two touchdown passes, while Chick Hartley and Verne Moore ran for touchdowns in a 28-0 Husker victory, described by Sherman as a “pulverizing defeat.” Four days later, Penn State pulverized Nebraska 20-0.
Interest in the games was such that Sherman sent play-by-play details to Lincoln by wire, and a play-by-play account was announced by megaphone outside the newspaper offices.
Nebraska’s shutout of Rutgers was its fourth in five games, the second of what would be five in a row for Rutgers. The Huskers finished the season with a 5-3-1 record, after which Schulte was replaced by Fred Dawson as head coach. Schulte would coach the line under Dawson as well as his successor, Ernie Bearg, in addition to coaching the Husker track and field team through the 1938 season.
Nebraska and Rutgers wouldn’t play again until the Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten. The Huskers won in Lincoln in 2014, 42-24, and again in Piscataway, New Jersey, in 2015, 31-14.
Rutgers played Princeton in what is considered the first intercollegiate football game on Nov. 6, 1869, on a field in New Brunswick, New Jersey. According to the Rutgers website, scarletknights.com, the Rutgers gymnasium is located where the field was. Each team included 25 players, and the game was “played under rugby-like rules.” Rutgers won, 6-4.
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.