History of the Nebraska Cornhuskers
BRIEF HISTORY A OF UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA FOOTBALL
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.