Fans Rate 17-14 Win Over OU in 1978 NU's Top Game in NCAA Sellout Streak
Randy York's N-Sider
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Rick Berns remembers a conversation he had with Greg Roberts when both were playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL.
One day, out of the blue, Roberts, an Outland Trophy winner for Oklahoma, looked at Berns and said flatly: "Texas was more of a rival for us than you all were!"
Berns thought about letting the remark pass. But then the soft-spoken Texas native and hard-charging Husker running back changed his mind. ABC's Offensive Player of the Game in Nebraska's 17-14 upset of No. 1-ranked OU in 1978, Berns turned around, looked Roberts in the eye and said: "There's no way you can make that statement with a straight face ... no way!"
Roberts "gave me that sly grin of his," Berns recalled. "Then he set the record straight, admitting that Nebraska, not Texas, was OU's No. 1 rival. He was just trying to get my dander up."
It didn't work. NU and OU both may have hit certain ruts in their road to excellence, but the rivalry has stood the test of time, and that 1978 game is one of the biggest reasons why.
The '78 win, of course, will live forever in the shadow of the 1971 NU-OU Game of the Century, but it also will forever hold a very special place in the history of this highly competitive series.
In a recent Huskers.com poll, the 1978 upset was voted the fans' favorite game in NU's NCAA record 300 consecutive home sellouts over 47 years at Memorial Stadium.
Players Wanted It for Coaches, Especially Osborne
Rick Berns thinks he knows why. "I don't know how else to put it, but I think our entire team just felt we gave every ounce we had to lift a giant burden off the shoulders of our coaching staff," he said. "It was a great feeling for everyone, but especially for our senior class and for Coach Osborne. We really wanted to win that game for him."
The Huskers had lost their first five games against OU under Osborne before the Blackshirts took on the challenge to make sure it didn't happen again.
"Our defense just hit Oklahoma all day long" said Berns, who rushed for 113 yards and a second-quarter touchdown that helped Nebraska take a 7-7 tie into the locker room at halftime. "Oklahoma fumbled nine times and lost six of them because the hits were so hard ... all day long."
Berns remembers Rod Horn and George Andrews getting big hits against the Sooners' vaunted offense that featured Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims. He remembers Husker monster back Jim Pillen having a monster game that included eight tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Pillen's second recovery came with 1:31 remaining when Sims, who had a 44-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and a 30-yard scoring scamper in the third quarter, coughed up the football on the Nebraska three-yard line. Husker safety Jeff Hansen delivered the jarring hit that caused the fumble.
Sims, in Lincoln this weekend for the NU-OU game, learned long ago that it's easier to laugh about that game than let it fester any longer than it already had.
"Every time my teammates bring up that fumble, I tell them they were part of the play, too," he said, "and if they would have been blocking the people they were supposed to block, that safety wouldn't have had such a clean shot at me."
John Ruud Delivers The Hit ... a Signature Play
OU lost five more fumbles that day and, in fact, should have had one more turnover when Nebraska's John Ruud knocked the ball out of Kelly Phelps' hands on a second-half kickoff return.
"That was the biggest hit of the game, and we got a break on that one," Sims said. "That should have been ruled a fumble, and Nebraska would have only needed about 17 yards to score."
"Ruud almost de-cleated Phelps on that play," Berns said. "To this day, I've never seen a harder hit - in college or the pros. It was a signature play because it showed how much we wanted it and how much we were willing to give up to get it. Whenever it shows up in all the highlight reels, it doesn't surprise me. Every time you see it, you ooh, and you aah."
Ruud, brother of former Nebraska All-America linebacker Tom Ruud and uncle of Barrett and Bo Ruud, says people he doesn't even know still ask him about "The Hit."
"I've seen the play no more than five times in my life, but a lot of people tell me they can't even count the number of times they've seen it, and they never get tired of it," said Ruud, who has sold patio furniture for 25 years in Dallas.
"I live in Addison, Texas, and there's this neighborhood bar called Vernon's," Ruud said. "It's a Green Bay Packer bar, and they love the Huskers, too. I don't know how or why, but they know I made that hit."
NU-OU game brings 'The Hit' into high-definition
"I'm flattered that it's still considered a signature play in Nebraska football," Ruud said, admitting that rules now protect a ball carrier from getting hit that hard in the face.
Hopes to See More Players Like Burkhead
A signature play is nice, and it will always help John Ruud be a part of Nebraska football lore with his brother and his nephews.
But frankly, he's more interested in a certain program and a certain coach getting a signature win.
"It's time for the Huskers," John Ruud said. "It's time for the players to give Bo a signature win, and no one will be rooting for it harder than I will."
For years, people at Vernon's have talked about Rex Burkhead, Nebraska's freshman running back who inspired and impressed in Dallas before a broken foot put him on the sidelines at Nebraska. "He's the kind of kid who will bring Nebraska football back," Ruud said. "The more guys we recruit like Rex Burkhead, the sooner we'll get back to the way we were."