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History of the Nebraska Cornhuskers


Written by Mike "Red" Beran, '68-'72

Nebraska Football began play in 1890, when many of the 500 University students expressed a desire to become a “real college” and be recognized for more than just being an agricultural institution. “Real colleges” like Harvard, Yale and Princeton played football. From that exhortation by the NU student body, emerged a football program currently ranking eighth among Division One FBS teams with 902 wins.

The Nebraska Football team was initially called the Bug Eaters. That moniker was given to the team because of the hardships of droughts and depressions that plagued the State during the 1890’s. The team name was changed to Cornhuskers in 1900. From that year through 1940, the Cornhusker teams experienced tremendous gridiron success. Perennial  powerhouse teams such as Notre Dame, Minnesota, Syracuse and Pittsburg were scheduled in order to give Nebraska more relevance on the national perspective. The 1902 and 1903 seasons yielded undefeated Husker teams, for the first two of eleven such stellar accomplishments in team history. A team-record 34 game unbeaten streak, marshaled by Coach Ewald O. “Jumbo”  Stiehm, began on Oct. 20, 1912, with a 41-0 win over Adrian College  and ended Nov. 18, 1916, with a 7-3 loss to Kansas. Nebraska handed the fabled Four Horseman of Notre Dame their only career losses in 1922 and 1923. The latter year also witnessed the opening of Nebraska Football’s new home. On October 6th, the Cornhuskers shellacked the visiting Oklahoma Sooners  24-0, in their debut at Memorial Stadium. During the remainder of the roaring 20’s and through the 1930’s, the Huskers continued their prolific winning penchant, capped by the team of 1940 receiving the school’s first post-season Bowl invitation to participate in the 1941 Rose Bowl. These cornucopian years, stretching from 1900 to 1940, yielded a 76% win total; indeed, an auspicious beginning to the Big Red Legacy.

World War II impacted Nebraska Football in a particularly negative way. The University did not offer any military officer training programs. Many prominent college football schools had these programs and benefited greatly because of them. Nebraska had to draw its football talent from those men that were unfit for military duty. The Cornhuskers suffered a drop-off in talent and the start of a head coach revolving door scenario. In 1946, a player from Omaha South High left a memorable legacy.  Tom “Train Wreck” Novak, played center, fullback and linebacker. He is the only Cornhusker Football player to earn all-conference honors four times and have his jersey number permanently retired. Under Coach Bill Glassford (1949-55) the University began offering athletic scholarships to its football team members, a practice that other schools had been doing for decades. The Cornhusker teams fortunes improved during Coach Glassford’s tenure, but not enough to overcome his strife with some players and boosters. Former Oklahoma assistant coach Bill Jennings took the Husker Head Coach position in 1957. He won a number of games against opponents that were prohibitive favorites, including the 1959 Halloween afternoon toppling of Oklahoma that ended the Sooner’s 74  conference game winning streak. However, he suffered some head-scratching defeats to teams that were inferior to his Cornhuskers.

In 1962, Coach Bob Devaney was hired away from the University of Wyoming as the replacement for Coach Jennings. He immediately took advantage of Coach Jennings ability to recruit outstanding talent. His first Cornhusker squad conquered perennial power Michigan in route to a 1962 Gotham Bowl victory. Coach Devaney won four consecutive Big-8 Championships from 1963 through 1966. Each of those teams was in hunt for the National Championship. The Cornhuskers hit a bit of a rut the following two years. However, they bounced-back in fine fashion to win four more Big 8 Conference titles from 1969-72, and the 1970 and 1971 National Championships. Coach Devaney retired at the conclusion of the 1972 season after posting a 101-20-2 record at Nebraska.

In 1973, Tom Osborne, Nebraska Football Assistant Coach (1962-72), ascended to the Nebraska Head Coach position and began a 25-year career that concluded in 1997. Coach Osborne marshaled his football charges to the 1994, 1995 and 1997 National Championships,
13 conference titles and garnered 25 consecutive post-season bowl appearances. Coach Osborne reached 200 and 250 wins faster than any coach in college football history. His 60-3 record in his final five years is the most wins by any college football team in that amount of time. Coach Osborne’s over-all record at Nebraska is 255-49-3.

Coach Osborne’s replacement also served as a Nebraska assistant coach (1979-97) and played for Coach Bob Devaney (1962-65), garnering All-Big 8 status at the fullback position in 1965. Frank Solich succeeded Coach Osborne as Cornhusker Head Coach in 1998. Coach
Solich had a 58-19 record during a 1998-2003 tenure as the head coach. His 1999 team won Nebraska’s last conference title.

Bill Callahan followed Coach Solich as Head Coach. He was at the Husker helm from 2004-2007, guiding the 2006 Cornhusker squad to the Big 12 Runner-up position. Coach Callahan’s Nebraska coaching record was 27-22.

Bo Pelini, a former Ohio State Buckeye safety, took over the Nebraska Football reigns in 2008. His teams posted a very respectable 67-27 during his seven-year term as head coach.

Former Alabama quarterback Mike Riley succeeded Bo Pelini as Nebraska Head Football Coach and held the position from 2015 to 2017. His win-loss tally at Nebraska was 19-19.

Another former quarterback presently guides the Cornhuskers as the Nebraska Head Coach. Scott is the son of former Nebraska wingback Larry Frost (1966-69). Scott played quarterback for the Cornhuskers in 1996-97, and led  the 1997 team to its fifth National Championship. 

In addition to winning five National Championships and 46 Conference Championships as a member of either the Missouri Valley, the Big 6, the Big 7, the Big 8 or the Big 12 Conference. Nebraska Football has experienced 11 undefeated seasons. Cornhusker teams have graced the gridiron in 53 bowl games, including an NCAA-record 35 straight from 1969 to 2003.

Cornhusker players and staff have captured many individual awards, including three Heisman Trophies, eight Outland Trophies, and five Lombardi Awards. 20 players and six coaches reside in the College Football Hall of Fame. Nebraska Football has produced 110 First Team, 56 consensus and 20 unanimous All-Americans during its storied 129 year existence. 

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