Kinney Hoping Huskers Can Tear 'Em Loose from Their Shoes' One Last Time
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A couple of weekends ago, Jeff Kinney was taking his dog out for a walk in Kansas City.
"We like to walk through the woods, but all of a sudden, I tripped and landed square on my nose," he said, admitting the fall required stitches and made that hard head of his hurt.
Saturday, though, Kinney was in Dallas, hoping his Huskers "can tear 'em loose from their shoes" one last time against Oklahoma in what will be the final Big 12 Conference Football Championship as we know it.
Could anything have kept one of the stars of the show from the 1971 Game of the Century from making this pilgrimage?
"Not really," Kinney said. "I guess it was time for me to suit up again and play hurt. I was never really excited when the Big Eight became the Big 12. But I love Nebraska, and I've always had a great deal of respect for Oklahoma. This is a huge deal that this last championship comes down to these two teams. To me, it's the most fitting way to go out of this league, and I wanted to make sure I was there to see it."
Kinney has had a great time rehashing the Game of the Century the past two years with Oklahoma hosting a reunion for that chart-topping NU-OU Classic in 2008 and Nebraska returning the favor last year in Lincoln.
Kinney rushed for 171 yards and four touchdowns on that memorable Thanksgiving Day in Norman, but laughs about how four decades can dull the memories of the men who played in '71.
"I'm not going to name names, but one OU player insists that I fumbled on that final drive," Kinney said. "He told me he distinctly remembers how he ripped the ball right out of my hands. He went into great detail about it happening right before that fourth touchdown (with 1:38 left in the game)."
Kinney has seen a lot of replays and a lot of game film from those faded pictures, but none that would have provided even a hint of what a certain Sooner is convinced is truth. Finally, last year, he decided to end the one-sided debate, telling his friend and one of his Sooner teammates: "Guys, that game was played 40 years ago. Let it go."
He's right, of course. But today, we can't let it go. That 1971 game remains at the top of our 10 all-time favorite Nebraska wins over Oklahoma. Please check out this list and feel free to share your favorite Husker-Sooner memory after doing so.
1. Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31, Nov. 25, 1971, Norman
Kinney, Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers and Rich Glover were the stars of this classic, still considered by many to be the greatest college football game of all time. Kinney's jersey got shredded more than once, but he was unstoppable. Rodgers, in the immortal words of Lyell Bremser, "just tore 'em loose from their shoes!" on that 72-yard, first-quarter punt return where he faked, cut, juked and ran away from everyone. Chris Schenkel, who called the nationally televised game for ABC, said he'd put the 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma game up against any other game he's ever done, and that says it all, because he also called perhaps the most famous NFL game of all time - the Baltimore Colts' overtime win over the New York Giants in the NFL Championship Game in 1958.
2. Nebraska 17, Oklahoma 14, Nov. 11, 1978, Lincoln
There was so much at stake and so many magical moments in Tom Osborne's first win over Oklahoma in six games. OU came into the game with the "greatest Oklahoma team ever" tag, but lost six of nine fumbles - the last when Billy Sims, that year's Heisman Trophy winner, fumbled at Nebraska 3-yard line with 3:27 remaining. This one is hard to describe in compressed form. Great defense, led by Jim Pillen's eight tackles and two fumble recoveries. Linebackers Bruce Dunning and Lee Kunz were stellar that day. So were defensive back Jeff Hansen and defensive end George Andrews. Pillen was the Defensive Player of the Game, and Rick Berns, who rushed for 113 yards on 25 carries, was the Offensive Player of the Game. The late Andra Franklin bulled his way to 65 yards rushing, and I.M. Hipp added 62 rushing yards, including eight for a tone-setting third-quarter touchdown that broke a 7-7 halftime tie. Billy Todd's 24-yard field goal was the only scoring play for either team in the fourth quarter. Not surprisingly, in a 2009 poll on Huskers.com, fans voted this game as their favorite of all-time during Nebraska's NCAA record-setting 300 home game sellout streak.
3. Nebraska 25, Oklahoma 21, Oct. 31, 1959, Lincoln
Yes, this happened before Bob Devaney and before Tom Osborne, but it ranks among the greatest college football upsets of all-time - Nebraska's first win over Oklahoma in 17 years and Oklahoma's first conference loss to any team in 74 games. The Lincoln Journal-Star called it the "Tolly-Meade-Fischer combo" that "stole the show this happy afternoon." Quarterback Harry Tolly scored Nebraska's last touchdown in the fourth quarter and directed the upset. Ron Meade kicked two second-half field goals and came up with a game-saving pass interception, and Pat Fischer produced a 61-yard punt return that set up Nebraska's third touchdown. Those were all pivotal plays, to be sure, but no more crucial than Lee Zentic's 36-yard return of a blocked punt for Nebraska's second touchdown.
4. Nebraska 29, Oklahoma 20, Nov. 23, 1963, Lincoln
This was an emotional experience for a high school freshman growing up in Alliance, Nebraska, watching Nebraska beat Oklahoma in the midst of a nation mourning the heart-breaking assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Dennis Claridge, Rudy Johnson and Kent McCloughan led the Huskers to this win that decided the Big Eight championship. But as offensive lineman Bob Brown told me, the Huskers played that day with a heavy heart and out of respect for a much admired national leader. Brown, the only modern-day Husker player in both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame, said he was "stunned and confused" because "It was a very sad and somber time." Devaney met with his team to determine whether the Huskers should play. "We decided the game would be a way for us to honor the President and show our respect for his family," Brown said. Nebraska canceled all pre-planned activities that day, and the crowd stood in silent tribute to its leader.
5. Nebraska 20, Oklahoma 10, Oct. 27, 2001, Lincoln
Who can forget Eric Crouch's signature play in a Heisman Trophy season against the top-ranked team in the BCS standings? For the record, it was called black flash 41 reverse pass where Crouch handed off to Thunder Collins, who pitched to Mike Stuntz, who threw a perfect pass to a streaking Crouch, who hauled in a 63-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown catch. The play gave Nebraska its 20-10 lead and solidified Crouch's Heisman hopes.
6. Nebraska 10, Oklahoma 3, Nov. 7, 2009, Lincoln
The Huskers were coming off home-field losses to Texas Tech and Iowa State and needed an upset to change the course of their season. Thanks to Matt O'Hanlon intercepting three passes and Prince Amukamara and Phillip Dillard one each, the Huskers held the only Bob Stoops-coached team in 11 years without a touchdown. Amukamara's pick and 22-yard return set up Nebraska's only touchdown. Roy Helu Jr.rushed for 138 yards on 20 carries, and Alex Henery kicked a 28-yard field goal.
7. Nebraska 28, Oklahoma 21, Nov. 26, 1983, Norman
Cornerback Neil Harris saved the day, batting away a fourth-down pass intended for Buster Rhymes in the end zone to preserve Nebraska's 22nd consecutive victory with 32 seconds left on a clock that seemed to run forever. Mike Rozier, that year's Heisman Trophy winner, rushed for 205 yards to help the Huskers cement their third straight unbeaten Big Eight championship season. He finished the game as the all-time rushing leader in the Big Eight and became only the second player in NCAA history to top 2,000 yards in a single season.
8. Nebraska 28, Oklahoma 24, Nov. 26, 1982, Lincoln
We've already written about Scott Strasburger's memorable interception in what may have been the most exciting game in the series other than the Game of the Century. Nebraska had some big stars deliver - Turner Gill, Mike Rozier, Roger Craig and Irving Fryar. But no one should forget Doug Wilkening, a fullback from Colorado. He scored the Huskers' second and third touchdowns.
9. Nebraska 37, Oklahoma 14, Nov. 21, 1981, Norman
Few understand the historical significance of winning this important Big Eight road game when Turner Gill was unable to start, and Mark Mauer replaced him. Mauer completed 11 of 16 passes for 148 yards and a touchdown to Mitch Krenk, and the Huskers rolled like a juggernaut. It didn't hurt that Mike Rozier rushed for 105 yards, Roger Craig for 102 and Phil Bates for 75. Nebraska outrushed OU's vaunted wishbone, 314-277.
10. Nebraska 19, Oklahoma 14, Nov. 29, 1991, Lincoln
Over the years, Nebraska fans tired of Sooner magic, something that seemed to happen year after year in close games - OU pulling another rabbit out of a hat full of tricks. Well, Nebraska's magic in this particular game was freshman running back Calvin Jones, who scored a 15-yard touchdown with 2:57 remaining in the game. The Huskers rallied from a 14-0 first-half deficit to turn the tide in a series that always will be known for its competitive outcomes and mutual respect.
Voices from Husker Nation
I just want to let the Nebraska football team know that even a lowly fan like me could see how they played their hearts out in the Big 12 Championship Game. As a former teacher of student-athletes at Creighton, I know that your challenge is greater than the average student. I applaud you for your hard work in sports and in the classroom. Best wishes to the seniors leaving, and to those who will still be with us next season, this year will only make you better. What a fine school Nebraska is! Merry Christmas folks! Stephen Byrd, Omaha, Nebraska
I was a freshman at UNL in 1959 and have to say the '59 game has to be my favorite. We yelled the whole fourth quarter "No School Monday!" because we were promised that if the Cornhuskers could end Oklahoma's 74-game conference win streak, there would be no school. I even helped tear down one of the goal posts and have never lost my love for the Huskers. My children have enjoyed mocking my description of the game over the years, but it remains at the top of my memories of the great NU-OU series.That's why I just had attend the last one in Texas. It was so fitting for the last Big 12 game. Keep up the good articles. I always look forward to reading them. Glen Wiens, Ayr, Nebraska
My very first memory of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers was the great '71 Oklahoma game. I'm 53 years old now, and I've been a Husker fan ever since that game! Some things remain sacred to true fans. Tom Cudney, London, Ontario, Canada
The 1982 game was a special memory for me. I was poised to run onto the field that day before the game officially ended. We climbed the fence on the Nebraska sideline and were amongst thousands of students getting ready to go to the North goal post and tear it down. I couldn't see the end other than knowing the interception almost went for a touchdown. As I ran on the field I was in front of the OU quarterback and pulled off his helmet. I felt really bad about that and ran after him to give it back. It wasn't very smart on my part, but the excitement put me in that position, and the helmet was there saying "take me home." To this day, I'm glad I gave it back. Fans do stupid things that cause players to react, but he didn't. I jumped on the North goal post as it came down, then ran to the South end zone and was on its West cross bar as it came down towards me. The corner of the crossbar and upright just missed my shoulder as it hit the ground. Bad things can happen in such excitement, but I'll never forget that day. I remember going on that year to watch the Orange Bowl and missing the opportunity for a National Championship against Clemson. So many writers forget how close we came that year to winning it all. Greg Balfany, Kearney, Nebraska
The '82 NU/OU game is a tremendous highlight event for me - being there, as a high school senior with my best friend, having just ended our 8-man playoffs out west. What a great game. The Husker D responded strong after Dupree opened the second half with a long TD run that tempored the festivities for a moment! We had made our way down into that northeast corner of the end zone and were part of the rush onto the field after Strasberger's pick. We had such a great time slapping pads with players after the game. A piece of that day is still with me. I'll be wearing the cap I bought that day when I watch the game Saturday night. Neil Hilton, Cheyenne, Wyoming
I just want you to know that I believe the OU-NU rivalry will go on regardless of conference affiliation. From the beginning of the Big 12, my biggest regret was that NU and OU would not likely play each other every year. We would plan our entire Thanksgiving around game time! I pray that I will still be around in 2022 (or whenever we get a chance to play each other again) to see this great spectacle continue. GO BIG RED, but... BOOMER SOONER!!! Now, go show the Big 10 how it's done! God bless! Steve Brookes, Terrell, Texas
Thanks for the memories! I know there are thousands of fans who have been passionate about the Huskers longer than I have been, but my memories go back to the Bill Jennings Era when I was just starting to play organized football in the late 1950's. So, I'll never forget the many NU-OU battles over those many years. I even remember in 1965 when the McCook Junior College football team was in Savannah, Georgia, for the National Junior College Championship. Even though we were there for the championship and focusing on the game, we had to gather around the black-and-white television in the hotel to cheer on the Huskers for their annual NU-OU Thanksgiving battle. Go Big Red as the Huskers (and all NU sports teams) move ahead in the new journey! Bob Cappell, Yankton, South Dakota
I know the 1971 game will always be at the top of most people's all-time list of favorite NU-OU games, but I still put that 1978 upset of the No. 1 Sooners at the top of my list. That hit that John Ruud laid on OU to begin the second half set the tone for the hardest-hitting Blackshirt effort I've ever seen. When Billy Sims fumbled, the game was not over. Rick Berns had to get first downs and protect the football to run out the clock. The fans poured onto the field, and the goal posts went down because we had just beaten what Oklahoma considered to be its best team of all time. If you think playing Washington twice in less than three months is hard, try playing a vintage OU team twice in six weeks. Getting them in the Orange Bowl was a bad break for Nebraska, but we stayed within a touchdown and outperformed the oddsmakers again when Junior Miller caught a touchdown pass on the last play of the game (a 31-24 loss). That was a feisty Nebraska team with names like Sorley, Berns, Hipp, Franklin, Wurth, Miller, Smith, Saalfeld and Lockett on offense and guys like Andrews, Dunning, Cole, Kunz, Pillen, Horn, Fischer, Hansen, Means, Pensick, Weinmaster, Nelson, Cotton and Gary on defense. I will always love that team for breaking the mold on OU's dominance. Gary Anderson, Scottsdale, Arizona
I vividly remember the 28-24 win over OU in 1984, and KFAB's Lyell Bremser exclaiming: "Get those turkeys off the field! What's wrong with fans these days!" after Dr. S's near TD interception. What a game. What a series. What a player. Kevin Horn, Alliance, Nebraska
I will never forget the 1959 NU-OU game. I was a 14-year-old sitting in the knot-hole section. For me, that was the start of my love affair with Nebraska football. My grandchildren will be watching this game with my wife and me. Thomas Wilson, Omaha, Nebraska
I was at the 1959 and 1963 NU-OU games that you mention in your Top 10. The announcers on Norman's Sports Animal Radio Talk Show were talking about the "Greatest OU - NU games of all time" and never mentioned either of those two games. One of the most significant had to be the 1959 game. The Sooners remember the Notre Dame loss to halt the longest winning streak, but don't seem to remember the loss that halted the longest conference winning streak. That win streak is also outstanding. Randolph and Carla Clark, Edmond, Oklahoma
How big was that 1971 game? Big enough for everyone I know to schedule their Thanksgiving dinners around that 1 versus 2 game in Norman. In our house, we even made sure to allow time before and after the game so we could listen to the radio. Back then, football truly became the center of the universe. I remember a certain uncle, who shall remain nameless, leaping to the ceiling and running in place on Johnny the Jet's famous punt return, then going to his knees and pounding our living room floor to celebrate. We all still laugh about that insame moment from an otherwise sane person. As a family, we think we've seen that punt return a total of 100 times. If everyone told the truth, that number might be closer to 200. Anyway, it's fun to remember Jeff Kinney running through the Sooners that memorable day and now admitting that he can be brought down while walking his dog. Thanks from taking us all back again, and let's make sure we never forget those games that made us all the fans we are today. Tom Anderson, Omaha, Nebraska