Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery. But Tom Osborne wasn’t exactly flattered when Oklahoma ran the “fumbleroosky” against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in 1989.
The Sooners’ left guard, Mike Sawatzky, ran the play not once but twice. And the 6-foot-2, 272-pound former walk-on from Weatherford, Oklahoma, gained 22 yards on the carries, both times taking the ball to the Nebraska 1-yard line, with fullback Leon Perry scoring on the next play.
All’s well that ends well, however. The Huskers won 42-25.
On the “fumbleroosky” (also spelled “fumblerooski” and “fumblerooskie”) the ball was dropped to the ground on the center-snap, as if fumbled, and then picked up by a guard.
Obviously, it required guards with sure hands and speed.
Osborne first called the trick play against Oklahoma in 1979, also twice. Left guard John Havekost was the first to run it, carrying for an 11-yard gain.
Apparently, the play didn’t catch only the Sooners by surprise. “All I remember was Tim Smith was a wideout, and he stood there and just watched,” Havekost recalled many years later.
The second time, right guard Randy Schleusener carried for 15 yards and a touchdown with 4:43 remaining. Even so, the Huskers lost 17-14.
Nebraska was 10-0 and third in the Associated Press poll when it went to Norman – the Sooners were 9-1, their only loss to Texas in mid-October, and ranked No. 8.
Stop me if you’ve read this before . . .
Expectations among Husker fans had again been sky-high for Osborne’s seventh season. The Huskers were third in Sports Illustrated’s pre-season rankings, behind USC and Alabama, the defending national champion. The Huskers “figure to be tougher than they’ve been since they won the national championships in 1970 and ’71,” the magazine said.
The Associated Press media rankings were less optimistic; Nebraska was No. 8, where it had finished in 1978, after being in a late-season position to play for a national title. The Huskers will “be driven by the desire to gobble up the honors they missed last year,” Sports Illustrated said.
With the victory, Oklahoma won the Big Eight title and went to the Orange Bowl, while the Huskers, who had dropped to No. 7, played No. 8 Houston in the Cotton Bowl – and lost 17-14.
“We were just six points away from being national champions,” tight end Jeff Finn said.
Nebraska didn’t use the “fumbleroosky” against the Cougars, but Osborne did have a couple of tricks up his sleeve. Late in the fourth quarter, trailing 10-7, quarterback Jeff Quinn caught a pass from I-back Jarvis Redwine, good for 13 yards to the Houston 6-yard line.
Then, on third down from the 6, everyone lined up to the left of the ball except Quinn, who lateraled to Redwine behind the wall of blockers – the “swinging gate.” Redwine scored, but officials ruled illegal procedure, that Quinn hadn’t scooped the ball in one continuous motion. Instead, he had picked up the ball. Houston was offsides, however, so the down was replayed. Quinn passed to Finn for the touchdown. Dean Sukup added the extra-point kick. And Nebraska led with 3:56 remaining.
The Cougars would score on a 6-yard touchdown pass that glanced off cornerback Ric Lindquist on fourth down, with 6 seconds remaining, to pull out the victory.
Because of the “fumbleroosky” touchdown run, Schleusener was described in the 1980 Nebraska media guide as “probably the most famous guard in college football for the 1980 season.”
Husker right guard Dean Steinkuhler ran the “fumbleroosky” on an even bigger stage, the 1984 Orange Bowl game against Miami, carrying 19 yards for a second-quarter touchdown.
Again, however, Nebraska lost, 31-30.
Will Shields, also a right guard, was the last Husker to run the “fumbleroosky,” gaining 16 yards to the Colorado 5-yard line to set up a touchdown near the end of the first half of a 52-7 victory against the Buffaloes at Memorial Stadium on Halloween night in 1992. Because of difficulty in officiating it, the NCAA changed the rules following that season, making the play as Nebraska ran it illegal.
That was three years after Oklahoma ran it against the Huskers. “It was comical,” Husker assistant George Darlington said recently. “The only person who showed any emotion was ‘Cool Hand Luke.’”
Darlington was referring to the almost always composed Osborne.
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.