Huskers' Historic 1959 Upset of Oklahoma Was Greatest One Ever
The date: Oct. 31, 1959. The score: Nebraska 25, Oklahoma 21.
Fifty years later, the game is still considered the greatest upset in Nebraska football history, and 33 players from that 1959 team will be Lincoln this weekend to celebrate the golden anniversary of an upset that ended the longest conference unbeaten streak in NCAA history ... 74 consecutive games.
"It was the first time we'd beaten Oklahoma in 17 years, and the first time any team in the conference had beaten OU in 13 years, so it was a happy day for the whole Big Eight Conference," recalled quarterback Harry Tolly, who threw a touchdown pass in the first half and scored himself early in the fourth quarter to give the Huskers a 22-14 lead.
Nebraska's second touchdown was scored by former Lincoln East High School Coach Lee Zentic, a guard who picked up a blocked Oklahoma punt and was credited with a 36-yard touchdown return. "It was a great victory, and this weekend will be a great reunion," Zentic said. "It'll be fun for all of us to get back together and rehash some old times. The thing about our team was we could beat anybody, and we could lose to anybody."
The win over OU was by far the biggest. "They called off school the next Monday, so we were all very popular people on campus," recalled fullback Don Fricke, one of the team's tri-captains with Pat Fischer and Ron McDole.
Fricke, who still practices three days a week as a Lincoln dentist, said he'd like to think that the 1959 Huskers "laid the foundation for what (Bob) Devaney and (Tom) Osborne did in the coming years."
A Day When the Goal Posts Came Down
Don Bryant, the sports editor of the Lincoln Star at the time before becoming Nebraska's longtime sports information director, called the victory "sensational" and said "the town went crazy. The fans stormed the field and down came the goal posts." They came down shortly after Ron Meade intercepted an OU pass in the end zone to end the Sooners' final threat to score. Meade also was Nebraska's quarterback at the end and kicked a 22-yard field goal in the third quarter and a 33-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to provide the game's winning points.
Bryant said the Extra Point Club later tore up those historic goal posts and sold small pieces of them as paper weights to make money for the Huskers' first major football booster club.
Oklahoma dominated the game's statistics, recording 19 first downs to the Huskers' 8, outrushing Nebraska, 240-127 and out-passing NU, 100-34.
The only thing that mattered, though, was a scoreboard that will forever be burned into the hearts and minds of the players who pulled off the upset.
Those players will relive that memory and many more Friday night at a banquet in Lincoln and be honored Saturday night before the Huskers host the 20th-ranked Sooners at Memorial Stadium.
A special video has been created to honor the 50th anniversary of that 1959 NU-OU game and will become available next week in the Huskers.com DVD Store. An NU-OU Rivalry DVD is available now.
Click the play button above and watch history unfold in Nebraska's greatest football upset ever.
Editor's note: The 1959 team will be honored in pregame ceremonies on Saturday. Team members who will be in attendance include: Roger Brede, Pat Clare, Dennison Doyle, Jerry Dragoo, Dallas Dyer, Russell Edeal, Al Fischer, Pat Fischer, Don Fricke, George Haney, Don Heldt, Jim Huge, Tom Jacob, Leon Janovy, Dick Kosier, Jim Lafleur, Noel Martin, Max Martz, Ron McDole, Ron Meade, Steve Olsen, Don Olson, John Ponseigo, Jed Rood, Pat Salerno, Guy Sapp, Dale Siemer, Mick Tingelhoff, Harry Tolly, Gary Toogood, Gene Ward, Al Wellman, Clay White Jr., Lee Zentic. Coaches: LeRoy Pearce, Coaches Wives: Mary Jennings, Carol Strasheim, Trainer George Sullivan.