The referee was Vincent Price. Not THE Vincent Price. But the name, or at least its association, was appropriate from Syracuse’s point of view on the first day of October 1983.
Syracuse’s visit to Memorial Stadium on that warm afternoon was a little like something from a movie based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe you might say: a horror story.
Nebraska used 91 players, 14 of whom carried the ball at least once. The Huskers scored touchdowns on nine of their first 11 possessions. And won 63-7.
Syracuse didn’t score until 10 minutes remained.
In the issue of Sports Illustrated that followed the game, dated Oct. 10, a headline read: “STAKING A CLAIM TO THE BEST EVER.” And writer Douglas Looney presented a case for that. “Not that they will finish 13-0, although they will,” he wrote of the top-ranked Huskers.
“And not that they will be national champions, although that is so.”
Looney quoted LSU Coach Jerry Stovall as saying Nebraska’s first team should be No. 1 in the polls and its second team should be No. 2, “with everyone else fighting for third . . .”
The Syracuse game “had provided more evidence” that the Huskers were the best ever, he wrote. He even quoted Husker monster back Kevin Biggers saying as much. The junior college transfer had seen action late in the game. He had one tackle, though not in that game – for the season.
Everyone from starter to reserve believed, a reflection of what current Coach Scott Frost said during his first pre-season news conference. The process involves getting players to think they can win, then knowing they can win and finally expecting to win.
The 1983 Huskers, top to bottom, thought, knew and expected.
Nebraska was leading the nation in scoring (57.8 ppg), total offense (595.8 ypg) and rushing (420.4 ypg). Based on those numbers, it was an off-day for the Huskers in the latter categories. They rushed for only 354 yards, on 69 carries, and finished with 458 total yards against Syracuse.
Mike Rozier again led the way, rushing for 142 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Turner Gill rushed for two touchdowns but threw an interception near the end of the first half, his first since the Colorado game in 1982 – after a school record 125 consecutive passes without one.
Rozier and Gill were legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates, Looney wrote, along with Irving Fryar and offensive guard Dean Steinkuhler, who would also be a Heisman candidate if voters “could be educated to cast their ballots for someone besides a back,” Looney wrote.
Steinkuhler would have to “settle” for winning the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award, wrote Looney, who conceded the Heisman to Rozier. He was right about all three awards.
Gill would finish fourth in voting for the Heisman.
Nebraska’s defense limited Syracuse to 54 yards rushing, recovered a fumble and intercepted three passes. Linebackers Mark Daum and Mike Knox had a combined 13 tackles.
Syracuse was penalized 10 times for 96 yards, another aspect of the horror show.
Next up for the 5-0 Huskers would be a trip to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State, which defeated Tulsa 9-0 for a fourth consecutive victory, its best start since 1975.
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.