No, Rod Serling wasn’t at mid-field for the coin toss at Memorial Stadium prior to the Nebraska-Oklahoma game in 1989, though he might as well have been.
Maybe you’re too young to remember Serling. He created the television series “The Twilight Zone.” And at least some in the sellout crowd of 76,404 might have thought they had stepped into it when they entered the stadium that appropriately overcast afternoon in mid-November.
Consider the first quarter, which saw Nebraska build a 22-7 lead—by passing. Yes, after a Tahaun Lewis fumble recovery on Oklahoma’s second play from scrimmage set up the Huskers’ first touchdown on an 8-yard run by quarterback Gerry Gdowski, the offense would become “Air Nebraska.”
Gdowski would throw two touchdown passes—to wingback Richard Bell and tight end Chris Garrett before the quarter was over—and two more in the 42-25 victory.
After the first of the passing touchdowns, a 31-yarder to Bell, the Huskers went for two, of necessity.
Back-up quarterback Jerry Dunlap, a walk-on, was the holder on placekicks. Gregg Barrios, who also had walked on, was the kicker. Dunlap mishandled the snap and as Barrios prepared to plant his foot he saw the bobble and yelled “fire,” which meant try for two. Dunlap grabbed the ball, ran away from on-rushing Sooner defenders and found fullback Bryan Carpenter wide-open in the end zone.
Another scoring pass, if you will.
Gdowski completed 12-of-15 for 225 yards without an interception on the afternoon.
The Sunday Journal and Star quoted Jake Young, Nebraska’s All-America center, as saying an Oklahoma defensive tackle had asked: “When did y’all start throwing so much?”
Young had replied: “Today.”
“When they have that kind of production throwing the football, it really puts you in a bind,” said Oklahoma Coach Gary Gibbs, in his first year after replacing Barry Switzer.
Gibbs, who had played at Oklahoma, was Switzer’s defensive coordinator for nine seasons, after coaching the linebackers and serving as a graduate assistant.
Despite Gibbs’ Norman connections, however, it was strange not seeing Switzer on the sideline after 16 seasons as Sooner head coach, and before that offensive coordinator.
Nebraska led the nation in rushing, averaging nearly 400 yards per game. Oklahoma “limited” the Huskers to 236 yards on 50 rushes, led by I-back Ken Clark’s 91 yards on 23 carries.
Nebraska’s passing and the absence of Switzer weren’t the game’s only oddities. Mike Sawatzky, Oklahoma’s left guard, ran the “fumbleroosky” not once but twice, setting up touchdowns both times.
Ran the “fumbleroosky”? Wait a minute. That’s a Nebraska trick play, on which the quarterback lets the center-snap fall to the ground, a guard picks up the ball and runs with it.
Husker guards John Havekost and Randy Schleusener both carried on the “fumbleroosky” in the 1979 Oklahoma game, Schleusener running 15 yards for a touchdown. And Dean Steinkuhler had scored a touchdown on the play in the 1984 Orange Bowl game against Miami.
But Oklahoma running the play? Nobody saw that coming.
The first Sooner “fumbleroosky” came early in the second quarter on second-and-12 from the Huskers’ 17-yard line. Sawatzky carried to the 1 and Leon Perry scored on the next play. The second came early in the fourth quarter on second-and-goal from the Huskers’ 8-yard line. Sawatzky again carried to the 1 and Perry carried up the middle for Oklahoma’s final touchdown with 12:49 remaining.
Osborne’s dismay seeing the “fumbleroosky” used against Nebraska was apparent by his sideline demeanor. Typically composed, he was not in this case.
That Osborne sent in Barrios to kick a 35-yard field goal, his second of the game, with only 2 minutes remaining, reflected Osborne’s concern for what had become “Sooner Magic.”
There was none on this afternoon, however, at least not at the end. Husker free safety Tyrone Byrd stopped Oklahoma’s final possession with an interception of quarterback Steve Collins, who completed only 2-of-10 for the game, with two interceptions; he was sacked twice.
Both of the sacks, by Kent Wells and Kenny Walker, came on the Sooners’ final possession.
The first of Collins’ completions, on his first attempt, however, went to split end Arthur Guess and was good for 82 yards and Oklahoma’s first touchdown 3 minutes into the game.
That might’ve been an early reminder of “Sooner Magic,” a kind of “Twilight Zone.”
There would be what some might consider another “Twilight Zone” experience for Nebraska in the Fiesta Bowl, where it would play Florida State—an experience of the negative kind.
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.