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Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: As Lopsided As It Gets

July 17, 2018

Whoa, Nellie! 

Legendary sportscaster Keith Jackson probably would have used that exclamation at some point during the Nebraska-Minnesota football game at the Metrodome in 1983. 

If he had been calling it.

The game was televised, but only in Nebraska on Omaha’s KETV. Bob Cullinan handled the play-by-play, with Husker Athletic Director and Hall of Fame coach Bob Devaney the analyst.

The final score was 84-13, Nebraska. 

The Huskers have scored more points, but never against a major college opponent. Coach “King” Cole went out with a bang. His final team, in his final game in 1910, defeated Haskell 119-0 at Nebraska Field, payback for a 16-5 loss at Lawrence, Kansas, the year before. And “Jumbo” Stiehm’s first team, in his first game at Nebraska in 1911, defeated Nebraska Wesleyan 117-0 at Nebraska Field. 

The game was much different back then.

It was much the same in 1983 as it is now, however, though Nebraska was far and away the nation’s highest-scoring team, with an offense nicknamed the “Scoring Explosion.”

The Huskers averaged 52 points per game, eight more than the second-highest-scoring team that season, BYU, and just over 17 more than the third-highest, Ohio State. They racked up points as if playing a video game – or, more appropriate to the time, perhaps, a pinball machine.

Minnesota contributed to the problem by blitzing on nearly every down, what Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne described as a “feast or famine,” gambling approach.

And it was mostly famine for the not-so-Golden Gophers of Coach Joe Salem. And no, the pounding was not payback for Salem’s being hired for the head coach’s job at South Dakota in 1966, a job for which Osborne also applied after completing his doctorate at Nebraska in August of 1965.

Salem, who had played at Minnesota, coached South Dakota from 1966 through 1974. His record was 51-39-2. He had been a Minnesota assistant from 1961 to 1965. His final season there was 1983.

The Nebraska loss was the first of 10 in a row, following an opening victory at Rice.

That Minnesota blitzed on just about every down, as Osborne said, allowed the Huskers to break big play after big play. In addition to the blitzing, the Gophers were victimized by a 60-player Big Eight travel-roster limit. Nebraska used 50 in the first half and by the end of the third quarter, all 60 had played.

The Cornhuskers threw only 15 passes, including just four in the second half, and ran fewer plays than Minnesota, 66 to the Gophers’ 82. But Nebraska rolled up 780 yards, an average of 11.2 per play, including 585 yards rushing. Only one of 52 rushes lost yardage.

Fullback Mark Schellen was dropped for a 1-yard loss early in the third quarter.

Schellen was among 11 Huskers who carried the ball. Mike Rozier led the way, rushing for 196 yards and three touchdowns on only 15 carries. Quarterback Turner Gill carried four times for 100 yards, and wingback Irving Fryar carried three times for 92 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 138 yards; both receptions, from Gill, went for touchdowns.

The Huskers had a sense of symmetry, scoring 21 points in each quarter.

“I hope the people up here don’t think we were trying to pour it on or be vindictive, but toward the end our second-stringers were so tuckered out, we had to put some first-team players back in to relieve them,” Osborne was quoted in Lincoln’s Sunday Journal and Star. 

Earlier in the day the Minnesota Twins suffered a similar fate at the Metrodome, losing to Toronto 13-3 before 6,300 – the football game drew 62,687. The Blue Jays hit five home runs.

The baseball game ended just after 2 p.m. Kickoff for the football game was 7:07 p.m.

At least one Minnesotan took exception when Rozier, back in for worn-out reserves, broke loose on a 71-yard touchdown run near the end of the third quarter. 

The Minnesotan, a Minneapolis sports writer and columnist, exclaimed that he hoped Rozier broke his leg. There’s no cheering in the pressbox. But a wish apparently didn’t count as a cheer.

Tom's Time is a regular feature that will take a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.

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