Photo by Eric Francis
Nebraska Football

Huskers Have a Long History with the Gophers

October 11, 2019
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Jack Best dreamt that the Nebraska football team would defeat Minnesota in 1913, just as he had dreamt of a Cornhusker victory in 1902. And before you question this, know that newspapers included stories about Best’s dreams preceding the games—the 1913 game for sure.

On the Thursday before the game, in the school gymnasium, the Lincoln Daily Star reported that: “Best told his dream . . . confident Nebraska would win Saturday.” 

Not only that, he dreamt that the win would be “by a single touchdown and goal.”

“Goal” meant extra point, 7-0, which was the final score.

“In 1902 Best had a vision that Nebraska would win by a single touchdown,” the Daily Star also reported. “That the Huskers did win by this score is now a matter of history.”

Nebraska won 6-0 at Minneapolis in 1902.

There is no indication Best dreamt of the outcome of any other games. He claimed he hadn’t.

Before proceeding, some context is in order.

Best was Nebraska’s trainer from the first football game through the 1922 season, although his health had declined significantly to the point of his being bundled in blankets and carried to an automobile from which he watched his final game, the last at Nebraska Field, Notre Dame in 1922.

Best was so “beloved” that he was made an honorary member of the “N” Club. 

Minnesota had defeated Nebraska 10 times going into the 1913 game. In addition to the 1902 victory, the 1908 Huskers had played the Gophers to a scoreless tie.

Ten of those first 12 games had been played in Minneapolis, one in Omaha, the first in Lincoln. That made the 1913 victory against “Doc” Williams’ team even more special. 

A vial of dirt from the end zone in which Gordon Beck touched the ball down, scoring the touchdown after catching a pass from Max Towle in the third quarter, was kept in the “N” Club trophy room until “a few years ago (when) the prize was reported missing,” Omaha World-Herald sports editor Frederick Ware, working with Gregg McBride, wrote in a history of Husker football published in 1940.

According to newspaper accounts, a “record” crowd of 8,000 was on-hand at Nebraska Field.

Kickoff was 2:45 p.m., a 15-minute compromise. Nebraska Coach “Jumbo” Stiehm wanted a 3 p.m. kickoff to accommodate Omaha boosters on a train slated to arrive in Lincoln at 2:30 p.m. Williams wanted a 2:30 p.m. kickoff to ensure Minnesota would be at the station for its 6 p.m. train home.

Stiehm had assigned assistant Owen Frank to take photographs of Minnesota’s famed shift the previous season, a 13-0 Gopher victory. Williams lined up his tackles behind the guards and just before the ball was snapped, they moved up between the guards and ends, with the halfbacks shifting behind the tackles. Using the photographs in preparation, Nebraska shut down the Gophers.

As was typically the case, Stiehm didn’t substitute. Only 11 played. Those who played for him had to be tough, almost never coming out of games, even when injured.

The celebration afterward spilled onto downtown Lincoln streets, clogging O Street. The university band, in a “usual procedure” according to the Lincoln Daily Star, marched through hotels and theaters, knocking out a plate-glass window in the Lindell Hotel, where Minnesota had stayed.

Revelers recognized Stiehm in the downtown crowd and raised him on their shoulders.

Students “had been gathering gates, fences, boxes and barrels—anything that would burn—and breaking into the football field piled it high in preparation for the big bonfire that was to close the evening’s festivities,” the Daily Star reported. Police received reports of a rocking chair taken from a porch for that purpose, a fence “demolished” by celebrating students.

At the bonfire, Husker Clint Ross, the fifth African-American athlete to earn a letter at Nebraska, was recognized at the bonfire and hoisted on the “broad shoulders” of celebrants.

The celebration might have continued well into the night if not for rain.

Williams was upset enough about the loss that the series with Nebraska—the teams had played every season except one since 1900—was discontinued. The schools would play only once until the series was resumed in 1932. In Minnesota’s place, Stiehm would schedule Notre Dame.

The first Notre Dame game was played two years later.

Minnesota is among only a few schools that hold a significant all-time advantage over Nebraska. The Gophers lead the series 32-23-2. When Bob Devaney arrived in 1962, it stood at 6-29-2. The Huskers won 16 in a row, including their first two in the Big Ten, before Minnesota won again.

The victories were without Best’s prescience, of course. That was long-since part of Husker lore.

 
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