Toughness Helped Huskers Get Back on Their Feet
By Randy York
Say what you want about the wild and wacky world of college football, but understand this – if Nebraska falls behind in the weeks or months ahead, do not give up and leave the stadium. Stay in your seats and help the Huskers strive and thrive despite seemingly unreachable odds.
Steve Sinclair, a longtime friend and retired sportswriter who spent his last 15 years as the sports editor for the Omaha World-Herald, stayed in his seat at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore., despite Nebraska’s disappointing 42-14 halftime deficit.
Sinclair told me that a small group of Big Red fans in the row ahead of him and his wife, Kathy, left their seats at halftime and never returned to see the Huskers outscore the Ducks, 21-0, in the second half. That means they missed an incredible opportunity for the Huskers to tie or win the game in the final minutes before a turnover ended a remarkable comeback in a 42-35 non-conference loss.
Fans Remember Greatest Comeback in Nebraska Football History, NU's 34-27 Win Over Ohio State
Since each ticket in Sinclair's row carried a high price, Steve was surprised to see fans give up on their favorite team, especially since six days earlier, in a national telecast, UCLA was behind by the same amount of points that Nebraska was behind by at halftime, yet managed to beat Texas A&M.
“That was one of the best comebacks you’ll ever see,” Sinclair said. “UCLA was down 38-10 at half and outscored A&M, 28-0, in the fourth quarter to win the game, 45-44.”
The unlikely chance to see another miracle comeback less than a week later seemed semi-impossible, but dedicated Nebraska fans seem to believe in miracles, especially when they think back to 2011 when the Huskers upset Ohio State, 34-27.
Every Nebraska football fan remembers that game. It was dark, raining, and the Buckeyes were leading, 27-6, early in the third quarter. A hush fell over 85,000 fans. Then Lavonte David made arguably the biggest play of the season, stripping the ball from the Buckeyes’ quarterback and recovering a fumble at the OSU 23. Two plays later, Nebraska cut the lead to 27-13, and the greatest comeback in Nebraska football history was on.
Within an hour, hope turned to euphoria and the Huskers won their first-ever football game in the Big Ten Conference. Taylor Martinez rocked and Rex Burkhead rolled with 96 yards rushing in the fourth quarter alone.
David, who went on to a solid NFL career, led the Huskers with 13 tackles, and the magical, emotional victory is notable for one other thing – two weeks later, Nebraska fans finally learned who received the game ball after an unprecedented turnaround – Bo Pelini, a former Buckeye.
Nebraska Senior Receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El (No. 15 above) Caught a 23-yard Touchdown Pass
Nebraska's historic achievement in 2011, in my mind, authenticates what former football coach Lou Holtz once said. “How you respond to the challenge of the second half will determine what you become after the game, whether you are a winner or a loser,” Holtz said.
That quote connects correctly with what the Huskers learned from Saturday’s embarrassing first half and how it can anchor an unselfish team that is determined to do whatever it takes to compete at the Big Ten’s highest level.
The 2017 season will be anything but easy. Sunday’s USA Today College Football Poll has Big Ten power Penn State ranked at No. 5, Michigan at No. 7, Ohio State at No. 9 and Wisconsin at No. 12.
Two of those four Big Ten powers – the Badgers (Oct. 7) and the Buckeyes (Oct. 14) – will play back-to-back at Memorial Stadium next month. Nebraska also has the honor to play at Penn State (Nov. 18) in State College, Pa., a place that cost Nebraska what likely would have been a fourth national championship under Tom Osborne.
Make no mistake. Football players share a motto at all levels – If you can believe, the mind can achieve.
For that to happen, fans can play a major role both at home inside Memorial Stadium and on the road at Illinois (9-29), Purdue (10-28), Minnesota (11-11), and Penn State (11-18).
It seems appropriate to add the wisdom of legendary Green Bay Packer Coach Vince Lombardi, who said: “It’s not whether you get knocked down in football; it’s whether you get back up.” Saturday proved how true that really is. The Ducks dominated Nebraska Saturday in the first half, but the Huskers showed what they are made of, outscoring Oregon, 28-zip, in the second half. Operation Bounce Back begins Saturday against Northern Illinois at 11 a.m.
Linebacker Luke Gifford Delivered an Emotional Halftime Speech to Elevate His Fellow Blackshirts
We end this blog with a special kudo for an emerging leader. At halftime, Husker junior linebacker Luke Gifford preached how pride can be a pivotal factor in Nebraska’s second-half comeback. “We weren’t going to give up,” said Gifford, a Lincoln Southeast graduate. “We wanted to show we’re not a team that’s going to lay down and take a beating.”
Gifford delivered a halftime speech that came straight from his heart. “We have pride and we remember who we play for,” he said. “We wear an ‘N’ on the side of our helmet. We want to play hard and represent our state.”
“Luke played his heart out,” Husker sophomore linebacker Mohamed Berry said. “He led by example.”
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Husker Fans Enjoyed Oregon’s Hospitality
Great article. We were at the game and saw no NU fans leave but did see lots of Oregon fans head to the parking lots at half and not return. It was a tough loss, but a great comeback and left us feeling as good as you could with a loss. It was great to be around Oregon fans. One fan told me they were lucky NU had so many turnovers or the Ducks would have lost. The game felt like our last trip to Miami when we made a great comeback before throwing an interception in OT. Still, we saw enough to have hope! Larry Andrews, Elkhorn, Nebraska