Oklahoma Coach Barry Switzer made a surprise appearance during Bob Devaney’s television prediction show on the Friday night before the 1980 Nebraska-Oklahoma game at Memorial Stadium. Switzer presented the Cornhusker Athletic Director with a sack of tacos.
The tacos were symbolic of the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, where the next-day’s loser was almost certainly going to play. The winner would represent the Big Eight in the Orange Bowl. The only hitch might be if Oklahoma were to lose to Oklahoma State the next week, dropping the Sooners into a tie with Nebraska for the conference title. That wouldn’t happen, however.
Though the Huskers had beaten Oklahoma only once since the 1971 “Game of the Century,” they appeared to have the advantage in 1980. Nebraska was 9-1 and had won six in a row following an 18-14 loss to Florida State, which was ranked No. 3 with the Huskers at No. 4.
Oklahoma, ranked No. 9, was 7-2, its losses to Stanford and Texas. The Sooners had won five in a row, but had squeaked past Kansas 21-19. Nebraska had won at Lawrence 54-0.
The Huskers had outscored six Big Eight opponents, on average, 46-6. None of the six had managed more than one touchdown. Missouri had scored 16 points but nine had come on field goals.
Oklahoma, with J.C. Watts directing its wishbone, ranked second nationally in rushing, averaging 379.1 yards per game. But Nebraska ranked first (384.7) and was not as one-dimensional.
In that context, 76,322 came to Memorial Stadium prepared to celebrate a Husker trip to Miami. Some brought oranges, with which they pelted the field after Jarvis Redwine ran 89 yards for a touchdown, the game’s first score, just over 6 minutes in.
Redwine was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct because he turned and pointed at Oklahoma’s Ken Sitton on the way to the end zone. The stadium’s public address announcer indicated, erroneously, that the penalty had been a result of the fans throwing the oranges.
A Kevin Seibel field goal in the final seconds of the first quarter increased the lead, and the excitement. But Oklahoma scored twice in the second quarter to take a 14-10 lead to the locker room at intermission and set the stage for an exciting, and frustrating, fourth-quarter finish.
Fan enthusiasm ramped up when Husker quarterback Jeff Quinn punched in a touchdown from 1 yard out and Seibel kicked the extra point with 3:16 remaining for a 17-14 lead.
Oklahoma started at its own 20-yard line after Seibel’s kickoff went into the end zone. A penalty on the first play from scrimmage moved the ball to the 38. Freshman George Rhymes – who went by his nickname, “Buster” – took an option pitch from Watts and carried to the Nebraska 14-yard line.
“They’re doing it to us again,” Husker SID Don Bryant, who had left the pressbox and gone to the sideline, exclaimed as Rhymes ran down the field.
On third down, the Sooners were still at the 14-yard line. But Watts, who had completed one-of-six passes, completed a second for 13 yards to the Nebraska 1-yard line. Rhymes, playing for an injured David Overstreet, carried twice, scoring on the second. Mike Keeling added the kick.
Oklahoma led 21-17. Only 56 seconds remained.
A Quinn interception ended Nebraska’s hopes. The Sooners had done it again.
Nebraska would head to El Paso, where it defeated Mississippi State 31-14. Oklahoma would defeat No. 2-ranked Florida State 18-17 in the Orange Bowl and finish No. 3.
The Huskers finished No. 7 in both the AP and UPI polls. And help was on the way.
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.