It was an echo of the not-too-distant past, you could say. Eleven seasons before, Bob Devaney’s first loss as Nebraska’s head coach had come against Missouri. The Tigers won in Lincoln, 16-7, Nebraska’s Homecoming game. Memorial Stadium’s sellout streak began that day.
Tom Osborne’s first loss as Husker head coach also came against Missouri, which the Huskers had defeated 62-0 in Devaney’s final season. Osborne’s loss happened at Columbia – and foreshadowed what would happen at the end of the 1984 Orange Bowl game.
The date was Oct. 13, 1973. Osborne elected to go for 2 points and the win instead of settling for an almost-certain tie at Faurot Field. Had there been “three or four minutes left,” Osborne was quoted, he might have sent in Rich Sanger to kick the extra point. But the game clock showed 1:00 remaining when quarterback Dave Humm and wingback Ritch Bahe teamed up on a 22-yard touchdown pass.
That cut Missouri’s lead to 13-12. The conversion attempt was a Humm pass intended for I-back Tony Davis, who had lined up in the slot. It was tipped and intercepted.
The onside kick that followed failed to go 10 yards, and Nebraska, which had gone to Missouri ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, left Columbia with a 4-1 record. The four wins were against non-conference opponents, including two in which the Huskers came from behind.
They outscored North Carolina State 21-0 in the fourth quarter to win 31-14, and Davis ran 14 yards for a touchdown with 2:48 remaining for a 20-16 victory against Wisconsin. The Badgers had taken a 16-14 lead on a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 5:09 remaining.
The finish of the Missouri game looked as if it might be similar. The Tigers took a 13-6 lead with 2:01 remaining, after recovering Randy Borg’s mishandled punt at the Nebraska 4-yard line.
Had you considered only the statistics, you probably would’ve concluded the Huskers won. They finished with 444 yards of offense to Missouri’s 170. Humm completed 20-of-29 passes for 292 yards and the touchdown to Bahe, with one interception, and Davis rushed for 109 yards.
Nebraska’s passing success was without split end Frosty Anderson, the Big Eight’s leading receiver. The previous week in a 48-7 victory at Minnesota, Anderson caught five passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns to tie the school record held by Johnny Rodgers.
Anderson suffered a shoulder separation on the game’s second series.
Missouri’s leading rusher was quarterback John Cherry (70 yards on 20 carries), who completed just 2-of-9 passes for 7 yards, with two interceptions, both by Borg, a cornerback.
But Nebraska faltered in the kicking game and the resulting field position. Six of its offensive series started inside its own 20-yard line, including two from the 5 and one from the 7. The Huskers also lost a Davis fumble at the Missouri 17-yard line, another fumble at the Husker 24-yard line when Humm collided in the backfield with Bahe on a reverse, and had a field goal attempt blocked.
The game’s first 12 points came on four field goals, two by each team. Sanger’s, from 42 and 29 yards, in the first quarter, Missouri’s, by Greg Hill, in the second quarter, 35 and 31 yards.
From the beginning, Osborne’s Big Eight nemesis was Oklahoma, of course. But Missouri was a problem early on. The Tigers came to Memorial Stadium and won in 1974, 1976 and 1978 before Osborne’s first victory against them in Lincoln in 1980.
His career record against Missouri was 21-4.
The early problems were another echo of the not-too-distant past. The Tigers also were a Devaney nemesis, winning four of the first seven games between the teams, including another in Lincoln (1968). Dan Devine Missouri’s head coach, adding to Devaney’s irritation. He and Devine had been assistants together under Duffy Daugherty at Michigan State 1953 and 1954.
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.