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Saturday was a sauna inside Memorial Stadium, but 30 minutes before kickoff, fans were able to see the Orange Bowl Committee honor one of Nebraska’s most storied football teams. It’s the 50th Anniversary of the first Nebraska team to win a major bowl game – the 1963 Huskers that jolted Auburn on the game’s second play, then held on to beat the Tigers, 13-7, in the 1964 Orange Bowl in Miami. Nearly a dozen players from that 10-1 team, which lost only to Air Force (17-13), stood in the stadium’s northwest corner of Tom Osborne Field to accept a commemorative game ball from Orange Bowl Committee member Darryl Robinson.
I was in the ninth grade and living in Alliance, Neb., and still remember almost missing the game’s biggest highlight – Dennis Claridge’s 68-yard touchdown burst one minute into the game out of the Winged T. I have a friend who’s a doctor and can do the play-by-play of Claridge’s fabled run … Willie Ross goes in motion … Claridge takes the snap, fakes the handoff to Kent McCloughan, finds a hole …he’s near the right sideline with one man left to beat … he’s gone! Touchdown!!
With the benefit of a half-century old video, my friend and I can identify the two Husker linemen who cleared a huge hole to spring Claridge loose – unanimous All-America guard Bob Brown and tackle Lloyd Voss – two veterans with a combined 19 years of NFL experience. Nebraska football historian Mike Babcock can go one better than that, recalling how 40 yards into his record Orange Bowl run, Claridge had to out-wrestle Billy Edge, who tried to pull down Nebraska’s senior quarterback from Robbinsdale, Minn., to no avail. Babcock points out that Claridge, listed at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds in the 30th anniversary Orange Bowl program, was going one-on-one against Auburn’s lightest player at 5-11 and 175 pounds.
Claridge Led Huskers to Two Historic Bowl Wins
Claridge owns a unique place in Nebraska football. He not only led Nebraska to its first ever bowl win (36-34 in the 1962 Gotham Bowl in New York City) but also to the Huskers' first major bowl win. The Orange Bowl run has to be his career highlight because that’s the play everyone remembers. But here's the interesting part: His proudest moment was being named an Academic All-American, and I encourage you to read our Q&A in a related link above. That will enable you to get the full measure of Claridge's genuine humility and sharp wit. Surprisingly, Nebraska’s 1963 co-captain didn’t see his famous Orange Bowl run on film until last summer when his son coerced him to watch it three or four times at home. His one-word description of that experience? "Wow," he told me.
Joining Claridge on the field Saturday were the following players from that 1963 team – James Brown, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore right tackle from Omaha; Fred Duda, a 5-10, 183-pound sophomore quarterback from Chicago; Ron Griesse, a 5-11, 220-pound senior right guard from Kearney, Neb.; Tony Jeter, a 6-3, 210-pound sophomore end from Weirton, W. Va.; Bill Johnson, a 5-11, 195-pound junior fullback from Stanton, Neb.; John Kirby, a 6-3, 209-pound senior left guard from David City, Neb.; Preston Love, a 6-2, 180-pound junior end from Omaha; Willie Paschell, a 5-10, 185-pound junior from San Antonio; Lyle Sittler, a 6-0, 203-pound junior center from Crete, Neb.; and Larry Tomlinson, a 6-1, 204-pound senior from O’Neill, Neb.
Three players who helped accept the game ball Saturday played in the NFL. Kirby, a co-captain with Claridge in ‘63, played five years with Minnesota and three years with the New York Giants. Jeter played three years with Pittsburgh, and Claridge played two years with Green Bay and one with Atlanta. Interestingly, six players on Nebraska’s 1963 team earned first-team All-America status at least once in their Husker careers – Brown, Jeter, then sophomore left guard LaVerne Allers from Davenport, Iowa; sophomore center Walt Barnes from Chicago; junior left tackle Larry Kramer from Austin, Minn., and sophomore end Freeman White from Detroit. Claridge said three starters from that ‘63 team are deceased – Voss, center Ron Michka from Omaha and halfback/defensive back Bob Hohn from Beatrice, Neb. Hohn and Sittler were co-captains of Nebraska’s ‘64 team that finished 9-2 and lost to Arkansas, 10-7, in the Cotton Bowl.
Shortly after the 50th anniversary acknowledgement of Nebraska's Orange Bowl win over Auburn, George Sullivan and his wife, Jeannie, along with son Greg and his wife Linda, presented Jake Long with the George Finley Sullivan Scholarship, awarded annually to a football student-athlete. A walk-on who is now a senior starter at tight end, Jake will use the fully endowed scholarship from the Touchdown Club to pursue a medical degree.
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Loved your article about the Orange Bowl team. My congrats to George Sullivan, a true blue Husker, who influenced many folks during his tenure at NU. Dirk Rolston, Fredericksburg, Texas