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Jim Thorpe is second from left, top row, in this photo of the Carlisle team that appeared in the Omaha Bee several days before the game. It is probably the 1907 team, however.

Carlisle 37
Nebraska 6

Dec. 2, 1908


carlisle_thorpe (4K) JIM THORPE

It was a big deal when Jim Thorpe and the 1908 Carlisle Indians came to Lincoln in early December.

Though not yet an Olympic hero, Thorpe was a budding legend on the gridiron in his second season with the Pennsylvania school. The Indians were gaining a mystique by going toe to toe with the top programs of the era — and often coming out on top. In October, they battled the season’s mythical national champion, Penn, to a 6-6 tie.

In some circles, they were derided as a de-facto professional team. Nebraska’s faculty, in fact, protested the late addition of Carlisle to the schedule. The Cornhuskers, the faculty charged, had gone “crassly commercial,” wrote the Omaha World-Herald’s Frederick Ware in a 1940 history of NU football.

But fans weren’t about to protest. Anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 of them showed up on a cold Wednesday afternoon at Antelope Park, the Cornhuskers’ temporary home field for the season, to see how Nebraska stacked up against coach Glenn “Pop” Warner’s squad.

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Nebraska got off to a promising start. On Carlisle’s first possession, a punt by Thorpe went practically nowhere, and the Cornhuskers got the ball at the Indians’ 10-yard line. Three plays later, fullback Ernest Kroeger scored from the 2-yard line.

But after that, it was all Carlisle.

As author Lars Anderson described it, Warner “used virtually every play his Indians had ever practiced in the Nebraska game: Carlisle ran reverses, fake kicks, catch-and-laterals, and several long passes. This was football as entertainment like none of the fans had ever seen.”

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After Thorpe returned a fumble more than 30 yards for Carlisle’s second touchdown, the score was 19-6 and the rout was on.

Said the Nebraska State Journal: “The Nebraskans were outclassed by a style of football the like of which they had never dreamed being presented to them.” The Lincoln Star described the game as “one of professionalism pitted against amateurism.” The Cornhuskers, the Star said, were “outclassed in every department” and “wilted before the powerful charges of the Indian backfield.”

But, as author Anderson noted, the fans were entertained. “After the final whistle blew,” he wrote, “the polite midwestern crowd roundly applauded the Indians.”

NOTES: About 50 American Indians from the reservations of Nebraska and South Dakota came to Lincoln to see “the vaunted redskins from the east,” the Omaha Bee reported. During the game, “many of these Indians, together with the subs of the Carlisle team, huddled together along the north side lines, wrapped in colored blankets, until it looked like a real Indian pow pow.” ... The game was the Indians’ ninth in a row away from Carlisle. Their final home game of the season was in September.