Show-Stealer Kinney Comes to ’71 Reunion without His Championship Ring
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Clocks slay time... time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. ~William Faulkner
The clock will stop, if only for a few minutes, when Nebraska hosts Tennessee-Chattanooga in its first-ever game as a member of the storied Big Ten Conference. And Jeff Kinney, the author of four touchdowns in the Game of the Century, will probably be the only Husker player on the field celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1971 team without his national championship ring.
"Someone stole it from my locker at a Lincoln health club sometime in the late 1970s," Kinney said. "I got done working out and it was gone. Obviously, it was pretty special, but I figured I had the one from 1970, so I'd be all right without it."
Oh, how the years go by.
"Forty years ... that really makes a guy stop and think how fast time goes by," Kinney said. "That's a vapor. Life's a vapor. Time's a vapor. We still think the same way, but after 40 years, we all look a lot different."
And feel a lot different. Take the ring that Kinney lost. The Husker All-America I-back gave his 1970 national championship ring to his daughter, Kristin. Now, for the first time in three decades, he's thinking about finding a vendor that can replace his '71 ring.
The Ring: A Championship Legacy
"I've never been one to make a big deal out of things like that," Kinney said. "I have all kinds of scrapbooks sitting in tubs in storage, and I don't put stuff on the wall. But as the years go by, I realize that little ring is part of a legacy, and I'd like to pass it on and say: "Here, take this. Your dad was part of this, and I'd like you to have it."
In July, Kinney moved to Castle Rock, Colo. He makes a 30-minute drive to downtown Denver every day where he is now the senior vice president of institutional sales in the middle market group for the Royal Bank of Canada. "I see the snow caps on the Rocky Mountains every day," he said. "It's a gorgeous drive, absolutely gorgeous."
The scenery makes Kinney think about the opportunity Nebraska football now has to paint some beauty of its own. "I'm excited about us joining the Big Ten and getting the opportunity to play in all of those new stadiums," he said. "It's going to be tough, but it's going to be fun."
It's also going to create some interesting conversations when Kinney joins his '71 teammates at a Memorial Stadium celebration honoring what many still call the best college football team of all time. "Can't wait to see Tags (Jerry Tagge) and all of those great linemen and fullbacks who blocked for us," Kinney said. "We were a great football team loaded with talent and leaders, and we had a mindset to go out every single week to show everyone how great we were."
The '71 Huskers beat the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 teams that finished behind Nebraska in the final poll of the season - Oklahoma, Colorado and Alabama. The OU game was the only one of the three that was close, and Kinney's fourth touchdown that Thanksgiving afternoon decided it, 35-31. There was 1 minute and 38 seconds remaining on the clock.
That time is still a treasure, and it still lives in Jeff Kinney's mind.
So maybe, just maybe, it's time that he gets that ring back.
Jeff Kinney: The Warrior
For all the excitement the Game of the Century provided, including Johnny Rodgers and his famous punt return touchdown, legendary Omaha World-Herald columnist Wally Provost called Kinney the "show-stealer" and wrote that even though he had outstanding talent, his greatest gift to that game was his "old-fashioned Husker dedication."
No wonder the World-Herald used the title "The Warrior" to describe the action shot at the top of this column from the Game of the Century. Kinney rushed for 171 yards in that historic showdown and will be a guest speaker at the next Huskers Athletic Fund Luncheon on Thursday, Sept. 1 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in downtown Lincoln. Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne, a member of Bob Devaney's coaching staff in 1971, is the keynote speaker.
One of 50 players from the '71 team that will return to Lincoln for next weekend's 40th anniversary national championship reunion, Kinney will be honored with his teammates at a Friday night banquet and Saturday at the Huskers' season opener.
Bob Devaney: The Decision-Maker
One of the few remaining pictures of Kinney in the Huskers.com archives shows him finding daylight in the Game of the Century behind a crunching block delivered by sophomore fullback Maury Damkroger. The fabled No. 35 jersey on Kinney's right shoulder pad has about an 18-inch rip, and even though the picture conjures up fond memories of that game, the photo's reproduction quality fell short of our online standards.
We found a suitable replacement that serves as a lasting memory from the World-Herald's magnificent book, Big Red Rivals: Farewell to a Conference.
On the same page as Kinney's action photo, where he surveys his blocking to find a crease in Oklahoma's defense, are mug shots of Bob Devaney and Mike Corgan. They were used to dramatize an important element from that classic game.
Corgan, a Nebraska assistant, had kicker Rich Sanger on his feet and ready to attempt a field goal as the Huskers drove into OU territory late in the game and trailing by three points.
"We want to go for the win," Devaney told Corgan after seeing Sanger on the sideline, and the matter was settled. No ties for Devaney - the same mantra Tom Osborne would use 12 years later in the Orange Bowl against Miami.
Mike Corgan: The Innovator
Devaney may have overruled Corgan's late-game mindset, but Corgan deserves credit for a winning idea that influenced the Game-of-the-Century outcome ..."tear-away" jerseys.
While preparing for the NU-OU showdown, Corgan noticed that Husker opponents had been slowing down Nebraska quarterback Jerry Tagge by pulling on his jersey, so NU's running backs coach placed an order for tear-away jerseys in the Game of the Century.
"It's a real cheap shirt that they put some chemical on," Corgan explained in his usual cryptic style.
Cheap or not, the jerseys certainly helped Kinney lose some OU defenders.
Now, if the Husker All-American and 1972 NFL first-round draft choice can just find a way to replace that stolen championship ring, Kinney can quit thinking about all the sand that keeps passing through the hour glass.
Life may be a vapor, and time may be a vapor. But wouldn't we all agree that the "show-stealer" from the greatest college game of all time and perhaps the greatest college team of all time deserves a ring from that championship season?
Voices from Husker Nation
Thanks for the memories and the column on Jeff Kinney. Love reliving the nostalgia. I wasn't in Norman to watch 1 vs 2, but I've never felt more inside a stadium than I did that day. Like every true Nebraska fan I know, we turned off the sound on our TVs and turned on Lyell Bremser and his team ...it was the most fun we've ever had "at" a football game. Yes, watching at home had to be better than being there because we could see replays at the same time we were pounding the floor with excitement followed by heartbreak followed by more excitement. I remember the Game of the Century like it was yesterday, and yes, Kinney's tear-away jersey is something I will never forget, right up to his touchdown that sealed the deal with 1:38 remaining. I know Husker fans remember the :01 on the clock in the 2010 Big 12 Championship Game in Arlington with disgust, but that 1:38 really does freeze time for me. I will never forget it and will always honor it. Congratulations, 1971 national championship team. Memorial Stadium should give you one of the loudest roars ever. I just wish I could be there. Steve Anderson, Independence, Missouri
I graduated in 1971, so I was very fortunate to witness the wonders of Jeff Kinney. It's sad to think someone stole his national championship ring. For a legend he is and what he's done for Nebraska football, someone should reproduce a ring for him. He deserves the recognition. GO BIG RED!! Dan Larsen, Class of '71
Such a colorful game will always have black-and-white images etched in my mind, thanks to a 21-inch black-and-white Zenith TV, plus the game's photos the following day in the World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. They were mostly of a black-and-white nature. I'm just glad I was around to view one of the greatest events in the history of American sports! Kevin Horn, Alliance, Nebraska
You wrote it, and we all believe it ... oh, how the years go by. I can't believe it's been 40 years since Jeff Kinney stole the show and Johnny Rodgers tore 'em loose from their shoes. Don Pederson, Omaha, Nebraska
Thank you for the exceptional article on Jeff Kinney and the '71 team. I graduated in '72 so I feel fortunate in getting to see this fantastic team play. I think someone should purchase a '71 ring for Jeff. What a misfortune, and he is so well-known among football supporters. I wish all these guys well and continue to talk about that NU-OU Game of the Century … it truly was! Thanks for bringing back great memories of terrific football! Ginny May, Santa Fe, New Mexico