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Kansas City Star Columnist Blair Kerkhoff isn't 100 percent certain, but he'd bet an expensive latte with just about anyone that Nebraska's 90 wins over Kansas are the most by one school over another in the history of major college football.
"The Huskers once owned a 36-game winning streak over the Jayhawks and haven't lost to KU at home since 1968," Kerkhoff said, pointing out that the Nebraska-Kansas football series - the longest uninterrupted series in NCAA history - survived two world wars, the influenza epidemic of 1919 and its greatest threat in 1920 when NU was an independent and Kansas was the only Missouri Valley Conference school that played the Huskers that year.
Obviously, over the years, there have been many memorable NU-KU games, and every Nebraska fan probably has at least one particular game that means more than any other.
But the truth is, because so many outcomes were lopsided in a decidedly one-sided series, the NU-KU football rivalry is known more for its incredible individual performances than any classic games.
Take Nov. 9, 1991. Things looked bleak for Nebraska in Lawrence, Kan., that day. The No. 11 Huskers were down 17-0, when No. 1 I-back Derek Brown took himself out of the game for blurred vision.
In stepped Calvin Jones, a redshirt freshman from Omaha Central. He came off the bench in the second quarter and immediately into the spotlight with a Nebraska single-game rushing record of 294 yards on 27 carries. He also scored a Big Eight record six touchdowns, including one for 68 yards and another for 47.
From Relative Anonymity to Household Name
I remember driving from my Overland Park, Kan., home that morning having no idea who Calvin Jones was and driving back that evening wondering how long that record might last.
You know the answer. Jones' single-game Nebraska rushing record lasted 19 years - from a game in which Nebraska rallied from a 17-point deficit to a 59-23 win until one Helu of a game two weeks ago when Roy Helu Jr. rushed for 307 yards against Missouri.
Jones, you might remember, broke Mike Rozier's 285-yard, school-record performance in a 67-13 Nebraska win over Kansas in 1983. Watch any video highlight reel of Rozier's Heisman season, and you will find that performance mentioned prominently.
Jones remains among Nebraska's top five career rushers, but he was happy to see Helu shatter his single-game record. Just ask California Husker fan David Max, who was standing next to Jones at a Lincoln tailgate party the second Helu rewrote the record.
"Calvin was very gracious as he prepared for the record to fall," Max said. "He said he had the pleasure of having it for a very long time, and it was time for it to get broken."
Jones' phone "went crazy" immediately after Helu's record run. "Within minutes," Max said, "the number of phone calls and text messages Calvin got were in double digits."
Talking a couple of days later, Jones told me he was so excited about Helu breaking his record that he wants to find a time when he can congratulate him personally.
With Helu's demanding schedule, that time may not come until Jones puts together his annual post-season basketball tour for Nebraska's graduating football seniors.
Fans Gripe One Year, then Celebrate the Next
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne remembers his first game against Kansas as Nebraska's head coach - a 10-9 win over the Jayhawks in 1973. The game was billed as a showdown between KU All-America quarterback candidate David Jaynes and Nebraska quarterback Dave Humm.
"I remember people were mad because we weren't throwing enough," Osborne said this week, referring to the battle among top 20 teams. Jaynes completed only 10 of 32 passes for 90 yards that day. Humm completed four of seven passes for 54 yards - Nebraska's lowest passing output in eight years.
The next year in Lawrence was a completely different story between No. 12 Nebraska and No. 13 KU. Humm completed 15 straight passes for a Big Eight and national record. He finished 23 of 27 through the air for 230 yards. He also threw three touchdown passes to wingback Don Westbrook. After neither team scored in the first quarter, Nebraska won that "showdown" on the road, 56-0. Ouch!
Personally, my favorite Nebraska-Kansas game was the unranked Jayhawks almost upsetting the sixth-ranked Huskers before falling short, 21-20, in 1993. A KU donor, expecting another lopsided result, provided 50-yard line seats for me that day. For some reason, though, Nebraska could not stop KU running back June Henley that October afternoon. Inexplicably, after Henley scored a touchdown in the final 52 seconds, he was not in the lineup for the two-point conversion try.
Nebraska broke up a pass in an end zone without Henley, and the Huskers advanced to 9-0 en route to an 11-1 season.
Fortunately, the man who saved the day again for the Huskers in '93 was none other than Calvin Jones. Two years after his record performance, Jones rushed for 195 yards and a touchdown on the same field.
I know KU fans that still don't want to hear Calvin Jones' name. Painful memories for them, but not quite as painful as the 76-39 score the Jayhawks hung on the Huskers in Lawrence three years ago. Most Nebraska fans leaving KU's Memorial Stadium that day would have preferred experiencing back-to-back root canals to a drubbing like that. If there is one anomaly in the history of this series, that would be your game. It was strange, unusual, humiliating and a complete deviation from the pattern throughout the series.
Remember I.M. Hipp and Craig Johnson?
Surely, you have a memorable game or a memorable moment of your own, but if you're like me, you're more likely to remember such incredible individual performances against KU as:
- I.M. Hipp's 200-yard effort in a 52-7 win in 1977.
- Craig Johnson's 192-yard afternoon and 3-touchdown day in a 63-21 win in 1978. A third-team I-back, Johnson played because injuries sidelined Rick Berns and Tim Wurth.
- Ken Clark's 177-yard performance in a 51-14 win in 1989.
- Scott Baldwin's 21-carry, 170-yard game in a 41-9 win in 1990.
- Tom Rathman's 159 yards rushing on only nine carries in a 56-6 win in 1985.
- Derek Brown's 156 yards on only 15 carries in a 49-7 win in 1992.
- Roy Helu Jr.'s 156-yard, 3-touchdown effort in a 31-17 win over the Jayhawks last year.
- Lawrence Phillips' 153-yard, 2-touchdown, 21-carry day in a 45-17 win in 1994.
- Ron Kirkland's 147-yard afternoon in a 42-6 win in 1965.
- Dahrran Diedrick's 136-yard, 21-carry, 2-touchdown day in a 51-7 win in 2001.
- Correll Buckhalter's 18-carry, 3-touchdown, 133-yard performance in a 41-0 win in 1998.
- Eric Crouch's 127-yard, 4-touchdown, 13-carry performance in a 56-17 win in 2000. Interestingly, Dan Alexander had 119 yards and Buckhalter 100 yards in the same game.
- Ahman Green's 123 yards on 25 carries in a 35-0 win in 1997.
- David Horne's 122 yards on only nine carries in a 45-7 win in 2002.
- Tyreese Knox's 120 yards on only six carries in a 63-10 win in 1988
Kerkhoff Sees Both Sides of Historic Series
By Saturday night, Nebraska and Kansas will have played for 105 consecutive years, but, as Kerkhoff points out, the series will end because "non-conference schedules are set (in 2011), and conference affiliation will tear apart what took more than a century to create."
Calling himself "a sucker for history and longevity streaks", Kerkhoff, whose son, Nate, is a sophomore redshirt pitcher for the Husker baseball team, wishes the NCAA record-breaking NU-KU series could continue.
"I know what Einstein said about the definition of insanity - doing the same thing over again and expecting the same result," Kerkhoff wrote before coming to this conclusion: "Ending this series isn't a terrible football move for Kansas."
Voices from Husker Nation
I am Husker Red, pro-Nebraska though-and-through. But the player I always remember most when I hear "Nebraska-Kansas football" played for Kansas. I was sitting in the East Stadium near the south 40-yard line,13 years old, in October 1963 when I saw Gale Sayers (actually a Nebraskan, after all) run 99 yards south to north, left to right, like one smooth, fluid motion, to score a touchdown. Nebraska did win, and I was happy. Matt Bosley, Lincoln, Nebraska
Editor's confession: Thanks for submitting what I knew would come. Sayers' record run came on the third play of the final quarter after Dave Theisen punted the ball dead on the KU 1-yard-line. Sayers cut around left end, sidestepped one tackler, sprinted away from two others and accelerated down the west sidelines to score. The Jayhawks, however, missed the extra-point kick, and trailed 10-9, in a game in which they never led. Willie Ross scored quickly thereafter to give Nebraska a 17-9 lead, and the late Bobby Hohn returned an interception for a 53-yard touchdown to complete the 23-9 outcome. This game was a strong candidate to be mentioned as a memorable moment, but as an eighth-grader listening on the radio in Alliance, Nebraska, I had a prejudicial view long ago. If the best of Gale Sayers wasn't good enough to beat a Nebraska team with its starting quarterback, Dennis Claridge, injured and on the sidelines, the game wasn't good enough to be singled out. Besides, the year before, when Bob Devaney's first team played at Kansas with Claridge in the lineup, Nebraska led, 32-0, at halftime and coasted to a 40-16 win. Like most Nebraskans, it took me years to forgive Sayers for going to Kansas when Devaney was transforming the Huskers into a football power. Let the record show, however, that once the movie "Brian's Song" (a poignant story about Sayers and Bears' teammate Brian Piccolo) was released, I became a big Sayers' fan and Bears' fan. I even helped convince the NFL legend to come back to Lincoln and help the Nebraska Shrine Bowl celebrate its silver anniversary. And let's be honest. To this day, Nebraska fans wish the Omaha Central grad had worn red rather than blue.
I remember listening to Nebraska football while carrying the Omaha World-Herald in South Omaha when Gale Sayers ran for 99.5 yards against the Huskers. Sayers said he was glad Kent McCloughan wasn't on the field because he thought McCloughan might have been able to catch him. I've been a Husker fan since 1962. Go Big Red. J.P. Manna, Hastings, Nebraska
Most remembered moment for me was the NU - KU game in 1963. Nebraska was flying high and pinned the Jayhawks on their 1 or 2-yard line with a great punt (south end of the field). About 11 seconds later, Gale Sayers was in the North end zone with the longest run from scrimmage ever in Memorial Stadium. Just a simple off-left tackle run, and Gale took it to the house. Nebraska did win the game. Randy Clark
I have experienced so many Nebraska-Kansas games - from sitting in the snow in the student section in 1968 when KU won with Bobby Douglass at QB to that high-scoring affair in Lawrence when Joe Ganz made his NU debut in the 76-39 loss three years ago. I saw all of those great performances you stated in the article, and all were fond memories for me. I do remember a non-football occurrence when Bill Shepherd rode a tractor in an extended halftime to remove snow from the field. I thought that was a Kansas game but can't remember the year. Can anyone help? Dennis Jorgensen, Omaha, Nebraska
I also remember another Omaha Central grad besides Calvin Jones with a big game in 1963, but he was called the Kansas Comet and played for the Jayhawks. I'm old enough to have seen Gale Sayers' 99-yard run from scrimmage. John Rownd, Lincoln, Nebraska
If you think Nebraska was disappointed that Gale Sayers went to Lawrence instead of Lincoln, how do you think Iowa fans feel? Two months ago, Sayers was interviewed during a Chicago Cubs' broadcast and said he originally intended to go to Iowa. But Jerry Burns, the Iowa head coach, couldn't find the time to meet him when Sayers visited the Iowa City campus. Hawkeye fans and Husker fans finally have a common bond - missing the boat on the biggest fish in the pond. Jerry Green, Davenport, Iowa
In my opinion, when Tom Osborne helped lead Nebraska into the Big Ten Conference, Kansas football fans should have rejoiced instead of complained. I used your website to figure out how his teams fared against the Jayhawks over his 25 years as head coach and was even more startled than I thought I would be. In those 25 years, Nebraska finished 25-0 against KU, scored 1,163 points and gave up only 193 points. That means Nebraska scored an average of 46.5 points a game during that span and gave up an average of only 7.7 points a game. In other words, Nebraska beat Kansas by almost 40 points a game for 25 consecutive years, proving your point that individual performances were the highlights of this series, not the games themselves. I can also see why Blair Kerkhoff would conclude that ending this series is hardly a terrible move for Kansas. Steve Smith, Duncanville, Texas
I agree that the 76-39 loss at KU in 2007 was strange, unusual and humiliating, but I think it was humiliating for Kansas, too. I have a cousin who lives in Kansas, and he tried to tell me that Nebraska beat KU 70-0 in 1986, so turnabout was fair play. I had to remind him about a huge difference. Nebraska was playing third-teamers in the third quarter of that rout while Kansas kept its first-team players in the game right up until the end. No one in our family, Kansas cousins included, shed tears when KU replaced a certain coach with another named Turner Gill. Turner's teams may be on the short end of some lopsided scores now, but like Tom Osborne says, give him some time, and he'll produce winners that will make everyone proud. It's going to be fun to be one of the thousands upon thousands who will be rooting for Turner Gill and his Kansas Jayhawks. Good luck, KU, in the future. You will have a Red Army of Cornhuskers cheering for you every year from here on out. Keith Thompson, Omaha, Nebraska
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind about my favorite Nebraska-KU football memory. It was 1969 when the Huskers came from behind to beat the Jayhawks, 21-17, in Lincoln. The win was important because we lost back-to-back games to Bobby Douglass & Co. the previous two years (10-0 in Lawrence and 23-13 in Lincoln). The best thing about that game was it was the first win in a record 32-game unbeaten streak for Nebraska, and it was the coming out party for Jeff Kinney as one of the nation's best running backs, even if he was just a sophomore. I don't know what his stats were that day, but they were solid. Lonnie Irvine, Cheyenne, Wyoming
Editor's note: Nebraska trailed KU 17-6 in the fourth quarter in 1969, but Kinney scored from the 1 with 8:26 remaining and caught a 2-point conversion pass from Jerry Tagge to close the deficit to 17-14. Kinney scored the game-winning 6-yard touchdown with 1:22 remaining. He carried 24 times that day for 80 yards and caught nine passes for another 94 yards.
I vividly remember listening to Lyell Bremser announce the 1972 NU at Kansas game on a rainy Saturday afternoon in both Lawrence and Lincoln. NU and KU were scoreless after one quarter, but NU outscored the Jayhawks 28-0 in the second quarter. Dave Humm had a field day passing the football, including a 72-yard TD bomb to Johnny Rodgers. The Blackshirts smothered KU quarterback David Jaynes that day, as the Big Red rolled, 56-0. Kevin Horn, Alliance, Nebraska