Two days before, Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in what was billed as a “battle of the sexes” tennis match at the Houston Astrodome in straight sets.
The 29-year-old King was a five-time Wimbledon champion. Riggs, 56-years-old, won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in 1939. The event drew 30,472 to the world’s first domed stadium, which opened in 1965. The match was nationally televised. King earned a reported $200,000.
Nebraskans, no doubt, were among the millions who tuned in. But their attention was also focused on the Cornhusker football team’s game against North Carolina State on Saturday.
Coach Tom Osborne’s Huskers moved from No. 4 to No. 2 in the Associated Press rankings, behind USC, following a 40-13, opening-game victory against UCLA and an off-week. North Carolina State, coached by Lou Holtz, was ranked No. 14, with victories against East Carolina (57-8) and Virginia (43-23). Even so, Nebraska was as much as a three-touchdown favorite.
Interestingly enough, the Huskers had played North Carolina State only once, in Bob Devaney’s first season in Lincoln, the fourth game, coming back to win 19-14.
Nebraska also had to rally to win in 1973. The Wolfpack scored first on the final play of the first quarter, a 59-yard run by fullback Stan Fritts, who lived in Omaha until age 9, according to newspaper accounts. Fritts also scored North Carolina State’s second touchdown on a 16-yard run with 4:38 remaining in the third quarter, and the Wolfpack took a 14-10 lead into the final period.
The Huskers scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter for a 31-14 victory.
Senior Steve Runty, who had stepped in for an injured Dave Humm to direct the UCLA victory, got his second career start. But after two first-quarter interceptions, he gave way to Humm, who was 8-of-14 passing for 102 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
The touchdown passes went to split end Frosty Anderson, 40 yards, and tight end Brent Longwell, 7 yards. Humm also scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter from a yard out.
I-back Tony Davis rushed for 106 yards and the other touchdown, and Rich Sanger kicked a 24-yard field goal and three extra points. Sophomore Mike Coyle, Nebraska’s first soccer-style kicker, added the final extra point with 4:43 remaining. His name wasn’t included in the 1973 media guide.
Though a sellout, bolstered by an estimated 1,000 enthusiastic Wolfpack fans, “for the second time in a row, attendance fell short of capacity with 75,975 on hand for the game,” the Sunday Journal and Star reported. That despite the official capacity being 73,650.
All but one home game in 1972, when seating was increased by 9,400 with a section added atop the South Stadium, had exceeded 76,000, including a then-record 76,587 for Devaney’s final home game, a 17-14 loss to No. 4-ranked rival Oklahoma. The other five home games in 1972 followed on the list of all-time attendance totals, second through sixth. Holtz, in his second of four seasons at North Carolina State, described the atmosphere as “something else.”
Senior middle guard John Bell, among the California junior college transfers Osborne had helped recruit, led defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s Blackshirts with 18 tackles.
“People may not have been as impressed with this one,” Osborne was quoted. “But I was more pleased with it than with the UCLA game . . . It was a good game for us because we learned that we can’t take anyone lightly and we learned we could come from behind.”
The lesson of not taking any opponent lightly was reflected in the fact that during Osborne’s 25 seasons as head coach, 307 games, only one of 49 losses was against an opponent that finished with a losing record, Iowa State in 1992.
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.
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.