Let’s play some football. Bring on those Seminoles.
During a noon luncheon on the Thursday before Nebraska’s 1986 season-opener against Florida State at Memorial Stadium, Tom Osborne said the game would be played.
And, he said, all 60 Huskers would serve their one-game suspensions imposed by the NCAA for pass-list violations, noting that it “might be better to take your medicine in one dose than to bleed to death for seven weeks.” The NCAA had indicated the suspensions could be served 10 players at a time, alphabetically. Seven players were to be suspended for two games, hence the seventh week.
Earlier there had been consideration of Nebraska’s forfeiting rather than playing without the 60. But it would have lost an estimated $635,000, according to Business Manager Gary Fouraker.
Plus, the game was to be televised nationally by ABC. It would be the first night game played at Memorial Stadium. Lights were provided by Musco Mobile Lighting of Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Permanent lighting wouldn’t be added to Memorial Stadium until 1999.
In any case, by day’s end on that Thursday in early September of 1986, playing without 60 suspensions was moot, at least for the time being. Nebraska had filed an appeal, which the NCAA granted. A hearing by teleconference was set for the following Tuesday.
The Huskers would be at full-strength—except, of course, for I-back Doug DuBose, a pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate who had rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the two previous seasons. DuBose had suffered a season- and Husker-career-ending knee injury.
Junior Keith Jones replaced DuBose. Jones, part of Nebraska’s Omaha Central connection, would rush for 830 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1986—DuBose had rushed for 16 touchdowns during his career. Jones, who would rush for 13 more as a senior, earned the nickname “End Zone.”
Despite the possibility of a forfeit earlier in the week, the Associated Press reported that all Lincoln Lodging Association rooms were booked. Memorial Stadium was soldout for the 144th consecutive time, 77,865. The crowd was rain-soaked according to one account. It had rained that day. Officially, the temperature was 55 degrees, with “damp” conditions, for the 7:10 p.m. kickoff.
While DuBose watched from the sideline, on crutches, Steve Taylor, the first true sophomore to start at quarterback in 17 years, stole the show with his play. He completed 10-of-16 passes, without an interception, for 130 yards and two touchdowns and carried 22 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns. The rushing yardage was the most by a Husker quarterback since 1952.
Johnny Bordogna rushed for 143 yards against Kansas State.
Taylor, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds, was the difference.
“I would definitely say that,” said Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden. “How much better was Turner Gill than him? I don’t remember him (Gill) being that much better. He’s fantastic.”
All-America noseguard Danny Noonan anchored a Husker defense that limited the Seminoles to 173 yards, including a net of 76 rushing. The Blackshirts had seven sacks.
“They stuffed us back and forced us out of what we wanted to do,” Bowden said. “I didn’t have enough stuff in there (on offense) to keep them off-balance (defensively).”
Even so, Florida State led 17-10 after a field goal, set up by a fumbled punt, nearly 5 minutes into the second half. Before the third quarter was over, however, Taylor had run 6 yards for a touchdown and passed 12 yards to tight end Todd Millikan for another.
Taylor and wingback Von Sheppard teamed up on a 46-yard touchdown pass 5 minutes into the fourth quarter, and Dale Klein capped the 34-17 victory with his second field goal.
“They might be a great team,” Bowden said of the Huskers, No. 8 in the AP pre-season poll. But “I don’t want our kids to get down because we may have gotten beat by a great football team.”
Florida State would finish the season 7-4-1 and unranked.
The entire Nebraska team was restored the next Tuesday, the suspensions lifted by the NCAA Sub-Committee on Eligibility Appeals. The chairwoman of the sub-committee, Mary Jean Mulvaney from the University of Chicago, was a Nebraska graduate and disqualified herself from the proceedings.
Nebraska handled the penalties for the pass-list violations in-house, revoking pass-list privileges for the 60 players based on the number of times they included non-relatives on the list.
The Huskers would win their next five games and climb to No. 3 in the rankings. Game seven was at Colorado, which had beaten Nebraska only once since Bob Devaney arrived in 1962.
The winning streak against the Buffaloes had reached 18.
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.