Stryker: Great moments reborn while examining the Huskers by number
Memorable moments are like cherished snapshots, and Husker football history is filled with them.
As I look back at my favorite Nebraska football moments of all time, it quickly becomes obvious that not many of them took place last fall, but there’s one I’ll always remember. Although wins over Michigan State and UCLA were the highlights, and the Tommy Armstrong-to-Brandon Reilly game-winner over the No. 6-rated Spartans was memorable, the best single moment of the 2015 football season was Andy Janovich bursting through the line of scrimmage and stampeding 55 yards for a touchdown to give Nebraska a 21-20 late fourth-quarter lead over Wisconsin. It always felt right to see Janovich wearing number 35 for Nebraska. He is as Cornhusker as they come, and I have a soft spot in my heart for jersey number 35, having grown up watching Jeff Kinney and Rick Berns bring honor to it.
Kinney, the I-back from McCook, scored four touchdowns in in perhaps the single most important football game in Husker history. Along the way, his supply of newfangled tearaway jerseys was shredded during the epic 35-31 win over Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day 1971. Berns, the I-back from Wichita Falls, Texas, put the jersey on the cover of Sports Illustrated in November 1978. “Rick Berns shreds the Sooners” a subhead proclaimed after the Huskers’ 17-14 win. I thought of both soon after Jano’s big run brought a massive roar from Memorial Stadium.
Stories and memories surround most jersey numbers, and they’re personal to all of us who live and die with Husker football. Like me, you are affected by something that stood out to you on a Husker telecast, or a sight you saw in the stadium with your father, son, grandfather or brother.
Since looking back at Husker glory is one of my favorite pastimes, I decided – as many have – to compile my own list of the best Huskers ever to wear each jersey number from 1 to 99. The first half of my list is here. One of the benefits of doing research is that you start to get to know people who lived and made memories long before your time. While researching this project, I discovered (through the excellent archives of Husker Max) that NU football players started wearing numbers in 1921, and that Ed Weir wore 35 for at least his senior year in 1925.
Ultimately, as I pondered all the great Huskers who have worn 35, I decided to give the top spot to Weir, a tackle who played both offense and defense. He sometimes was called upon to run or pass the ball, and also saw duty as the Huskers’ punter and placekicker. The native Nebraskan (raised in Superior) led the Huskers to a win over Notre Dame and its “Four Horsemen” backfield in 1923 and then, in the 1925 season opener, was largely responsible for keeping legendary Illinois running back Red Grange out of the end zone for the only time in Grange’s college career. Weir was a Missouri Valley Conference hurdling champion, and the NU track and field facility just east of Memorial Stadium is named for him. A charter member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Weir is simply one of the greatest names in Husker football. How many men could say Knute Rockne called him the greatest tackle he’d ever seen? Only Weir.
This kind of fact-checking could go on for months, and it took awhile to go three-deep at each number (except for Tom Novak, whose number 60 was retired in 1949 – Nebraska’s only four-time first-team all-conference selection stands alone, but more on that next month), yet it was relatively easy to put five Husker 35s ahead of Janovich. Nothing against Jano, but it shows how incredibly rich Husker history is at number 35.
Don’t get me started about Huskers who wore the number 12, where I quickly came up with seven worthy nominees. Patrick O’Brien has a lot to live up to when he puts on the “12” the first time. How do you decide among Turner Gill, Jarvis Redwine and Bobby Reynolds?
In the list below, I’ll rate the best Husker players ever to wear the number, as objectively as I can, followed by my own best memory of a Husker moment involving that number. You’ll see it was hard in some cases to limit it to just one.
I hope it gives you a flood of good Cornhusker memories. Mike Riley is right; you can’t buy this kind of history. Here are – in my opinion – the best Husker players to ever wear their jersey number while at Lincoln. Two disclaimers: 1. No current players. 2. Guy Chamberlin and Vic Halligan, NU’s first two All-Americans, are not represented here because as far as I know, the Huskers did not assign numbers during their careers.
1 – Lawrence Phillips (All-Big 8 I-back 1994) over Zackary Bowman (DB 2007) over Dale Klein (PK 1986) over Mike Grant (QB 1991). Memory: LP was the best athlete I ever saw carry the ball for the Huskers, and my favorite lasting image is his gut-check 126 yards on 31 carries with an injured thumb as a sophomore against the 1994 Kansas State defense geared to stop him.
2 – Jeff Krejci (all-Big 8 safety 1981) over Jimmy Burrow (second-team all-Big 8 DB) over Corey Dixon (hon mention All-Big 8 SE) over Cortney Grixby (hon mention All-Big 8 PR/KR 2007). Memory: Grixby’s 94-yard kickoff return against Kansas State in 2007 was a candidate, but I’ll take one that didn’t count – Dixon’s 71-yard punt return for a touchdown against Florida State in the 1994 Orange Bowl 18-16 loss (the play that was called back for a phantom illegal block). Yes, the Huskers were that close to four national titles in five seasons.
3 – Keyuo Craver (All-America DB 2001, All-Big 12 DB 2000-01, hon mention All-Big 12 DB 1999) over Taylor Martinez (All-Big 12 QB 2012, hon mention All-Big 12 QB 2010) over Fabian Washington (third team all-Big 12 CB 2003, hon mention All-Big 12 CB 2004) over Matt Davison (hon mention All-Big 12 SE 1999-2000). Memory: Martinez made one of the greatest individual plays in Husker history with his incredible 76-yard scramble for a touchdown against Wisconsin in the 2012 Big Ten Championship, but Davison owns the best moment for number 3 with his national championship season-saving catch of a pass deflected off Shevin Wiggins’ foot to force overtime at Columbia in 1997.
4 – Lavonte David (All-America LB 2011) over Troy Dumas (All-Big 8 LB 1994) over Tim Jackson (All-Big 8 S 1988). Memory: DeAngelo Evans had a couple of big TD runs (69 yards against Kansas State in 1996 and 60 yards against Washington in 1998), but David stands out in my mind for two game-changing tackles. At Penn State in 2011 (the week of Joe Paterno’s firing) David stonewalled Silas Redd on fourth-and-1 near midfield to clinch the Huskers’ 17-14 win. But the most memorable? It came a few weeks earlier, when David woke up a slumbering Husker team with a strip of Ohio State freshman Braxton Miller, giving Nebraska the short field, knocking Miller out of the game and setting up Nebraska’s biggest come-from-behind win ever.
5 – DeJuan Groce (All-America punt returner 2002) over Rodney Lewis (all-conference DB 1981) over Jammal Lord (hon mention All-Big 12 2003). Memory: 2002 was a bad year for Frank Solich and the Huskers, but if Groce hadn’t saved the day with an 89-yard punt return against Missouri, it would have been even worse. Groce’s 71-yard TD return against Miami in the Rose Bowl the previous year took some sting out of the national championship game loss, but his return against the Tigers bailed out a sluggish Husker team and sparked a 24-13 home win.
6 – Sammy Sims (1981 all-conference DB) over Darin Erstad (honorable mention All Big 8 P) over Kenny Cheatham (hon mention All Big 12 SE 1998). Memory: Cheatham punctuated a 73-21 win over Oklahoma in 1996 with his 83-yard kickoff return for a TD, but I’ll opt for Darin Erstad’s two-point conversion catch on an improvised pass from Jon Vedral vs Oklahoma State at Memorial Stadium in 1994 – even though Vedral played the key role in that play. I have a different south end zone memory for No. 25 below.
7 – Eric Crouch (Heisman Trophy winner 2001, All-America QB 2001, third-team All-America QB 2000, All-Big 12 QB 2001, second-team All-Big 12 QB 1999-2000) over Scott Frost (second-team All-Big 12 QB 1997) over Maliek Collins (second-team All Big Ten DT). Memory: Crouch narrowly escaped a safety and went for 95 ankle-breaking yards against Missouri in 2001, one of two signature plays that clinched his Heisman Trophy. This one is the most memorable by just a fraction, although Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass and Scott Frost’s final touchdown to bury Peyton Manning and the Tennessee Volunteers in the 1998 Orange Bowl, and Frost’s eloquent postgame speech all have to be mentioned.
8 – Ameer Abdullah (All-Big Ten RB 2013-2014, second-team All-Big Ten RB 2012) over Tyrone Williams (All-Big 8 CB 1994-1995) over Tyrone Byrd (hon mention All-America S 1992, All-Big 8 S 1992, hon mention All-Big 8 1991) over Bobby Thomas (SE 1975). Memory: Abdullah saved the day with his game-winning 58-yard screen catch-and-run against McNeese State in 2014, and he showed off his Jaguar-like moves the previous year with a balance-defying 39-yard option run against Illinois, but I cannot shake the image of Thomas’s sideline catches against Missouri in 1975. I must have been highly impressionable at age 15. In the third quarter, Thomas caught Vince Ferragamo’s pass at the 3, evaded a diving tackle with a pirouette and somehow stayed inbounds to finish a 43-yard touchdown play. Thomas and Ferragamo added a 61-yard fly route for a TD later for good measure.
9 – Steve Taylor (All-Big 8 QB 1988) over Russell Gary (hon mention All-America S 1980, All-Big 8 S 1980) over Tony Veland (second-team All Big 8 1995) over Jason Ankrah (hon mention All-Big Ten DE 2013). Memory: Always a smooth operator, Taylor hit Rod Smith with a 48-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter against UCLA in 1987, one of a school-record five TD passes the junior QB threw that day against the No. 3-rated Bruins.
10 – Mike Minter (All-Big 12 DB 1996) over Bret Clark (All-Big 8 S 1983) over Roy Helu Jr. (third-team all-Big 12 I-back 2010). Memory: A lot to choose from here. Clark’s end zone interception on the final play of the game saved the Huskers 14-10 win over Oklahoma State in Stillwater in 1983. I still remember the sense of relief after that play, and since it was NU’s only close test that entire unbeaten regular season, it eclipses Jamal Turner’s game-winning catch from Taylor Martinez in the final seconds at Michigan State in 2012, but I finally gave the nod to Helu for his body of work on a single-game rushing record day against Missouri in 2010 in which he torched the Tigers for TD runs of 66, 73 and 53 yards.
11 – Matt Herian (All-Big 12 TE 2003) over Neil Harris (1983 all-Big 8 DB) over Terry Luck (1974) over Jeff Quinn (second-team all-Big 8 QB 1980). Memory: Harris knocked away Oklahoma QB Danny Bradley’s fourth-down pass in the end zone with 32 seconds left to clinch a 28-21 road win in 1983, keeping the Huskers undefeated and rated No. 1.
12 – Turner Gill (second-team All-America QB 1983, hon mention All-America QB 1982, All-Big 8 QB 1982-1983) over Jarvis Redwine (second team All-America RB 1980, All-Big 8 RB 1979-80) over Bobby Reynolds (1950 All-America RB, Big 7 Player of the Year 1950, All-Big 7 RB 1950) over David Humm (second-team All-America QB 1974, All-Big 8 QB 1974) over Van Brownson (second-team All-Big 8 QB 1970) over Tom Sorley (hon mention All-Big 8 QB 1977-78). Memory: I’ve got to pay homage to Bobby Reynolds for his amazing reverse-his-field-twice touchdown run against Missouri in 1950 and will not argue with anyone in the previous generation who argues for this play (look it up on YouTube if you’ve never seen it), but I’ll go with Turner Gill, who exuded athleticism every moment he stepped on the field. The moment? I’ll never forget the excitement of Gill lining up over center for his final play as a Husker, when Tom Osborne went for two points and the outright victory against Miami in the 1984 Orange Bowl. That moment came a couple of minutes after Gill made one of the finest option pitches I’ve ever seen on Jeff Smith’s TD run (see No. 28 below).
13 – Zac Taylor (2006 All-Big 12 QB and offensive player of year) over Carlos Polk (All-Big 12 LB 1999-2000) over Byron Bennett (hon mention All-Big 8 PK 1993) over P.J. Smith (hon mention All-Big Ten DB 2012). Memory: Senior LB Polk had a pick-six against Colorado in 2000 and blitzing redshirt freshman defensive back Smith knocked down a fourth-down pass in the red zone in the final two minutes to preserve the shutout against Arizona in the 2009 Holiday Bowl, but the most memorable moment for number 13 is Taylor’s fourth-and-3 rollout completion to Todd Peterson with just over a minute left in the game-winning drive at Texas A&M in 2006 (also see No. 16 below). He delivered the throw with perfect touch into a tight window in a pressure situation.
14- Jerry Tagge (second team All-America QB, All-Big 8 QB 1971) over Barron Miles (second-team All America CB 1994, All-Big 8 CB 1994) over Dennis Claridge (All-Big 8 QB 1963) over Gerry Gdowski (All-Big 8 QB 1989) over John O’Leary (RB 1975). Memory: Many worthy options here, including Barron Miles smashing Miami’s Yatil Green for a loss on a jailbreak screen in the third quarter, ending the Hurricanes’ last substantial drive of the 1995 Orange Bowl, or maybe Gerry Gdowski’s 74-yard touchdown run against Iowa State in 1989 (sure wish Gdowski would have been redshirted so he could’ve had one more year at QB in 1990), but my most memorable moment involving a No. 14 is Jerry Tagge stretching the ball across the goal line for the winning touchdown against LSU in the 1971 Orange Bowl, a play that would show up on any 60-second video summary of Nebraska football history. It was the first time I remember watching an entire Husker game (I was 10 years old).
15 – Tommie Frazier (All-America and All-Big 8 QB 1995, second-team All-Big 8 QB 1993) over Vince Ferragamo (All-America and All-Big 8 QB 1976) over Alfonzo Dennard (second-team All-America CB 2011, All-Big 12 CB 2010-11) over Bob Churchich (All-Big 8 QB 1966). Memory: Of course Frazier’s 75-yard tackle-busting TD run against Florida near the end of the third quarter will always be a highlight, but I’ll opt for Frazier’s refusal to be sacked by Colorado defender Greg Jones, who had him dead to rights in the second quarter of their 1995 game. Frazier stayed upright, reloaded and flicked a sideline pass to Ahman Green, who gained 34 yards.
16 – Maurice Purify (second-team All-Big 12 WR 2006) over Erwin Swiney (2000 DB) over Tim Fischer (1978 DB). Memory: Mike Stuntz threw the biggest pass of his life against Oklahoma in 2001 on Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass, but I’ll choose 6-foot-4 wide receiver Purify, who went up and snagged the lob pass thrown by Zac Taylor with 20 seconds left in the game, capping a dramatic 74-yard drive to give Nebraska a 28-27 win at Texas A&M in 2006.
17 – Reggie Cooper (Second-team All-America S 1989, All-Big 8 S 1989-90, second-team All-Big 8 S 1988) over Ciante Evans (All-Big 12 DB 2013, third-team All-Big 12 DB 2012) over Dan Hadenfeldt (second-team All-Big 12 P) over Shane Swanson (hon mention All-Big 8 WB 1984) over Todd Peterson (WR 2006). Memory: The cowboy beat the Cowboys, as prep rodeo star Swanson returned a punt 49 yards for a TD, breaking a 3-3 tie midway through the fourth quarter. It was the spark NU needed to beat Oklahoma State 17-3 in a 1984 home game.
18 – Jim Anderson (all-Big 8 safety 1970-71) over Jon Bostick (All-Big 8 SE 1991) over Brook Berringer (second-team All-Big 8 QB 1994) over Allen Lyday (second-team all-Big 8 CB 1982). Memory: Anderson secured the 28-21 win over Oklahoma in 1970 by intercepting a deflected pass in the end zone, running out of bounds as the final gun sounded and tossing the ball into the crowd, but my favorite No. 18 memory is being on the sidelines during Nebraska’s 200th consecutive sellout (sideline passes were easier to get in those days) and watching Berringer play the game of his life to beat Colorado 24-7 in what essentially was a 1994 national championship elimination game. His 30-yard TD pass to tight end Eric Alford was a thing of beauty, and sealed the outcome early in the second half.
19 – Kyle Larson (All-America P 2003, All-Big 12 P 2003, second-team All-Big 12 P 2002) over Jesse Kosch (hon mention All-Big 12 P 1996-97) over Morgan Gregory (hon mention SE 1989). Memory: Randy Borg became the first Husker to score in the Tom Osborne era with his 77-yard punt return vs UCLA in 1973. Bryan Siebler’s red zone interception in final minute clinched the 27-24 win at South Carolina in 1986. Maybe because I wasn’t there to appreciate it in 1973, I’ll go with Fremont native Siebler and his game-saving pick.
20 – Johnny Rodgers (Heisman Trophy winner 1972, All-America and All-Big 8 WB 1971-72, hon mention All-America 1970, All-Big 8 WB 1970) over Josh Bullocks (All-America S 2003, All-Big 12 S 2003, second-team All-Big 12 S 2004) over Michael Booker (second-team All-Big 12 CB 1996). Memory: Bullocks had an out-of-this-world sophomore year in 2003 with 10 picks and Booker made a brilliant athletic 43-yard interception return for a TD in the 62-24 blowout of Florida (1996 Fiesta Bowl), but top billing belongs to Rodgers. This column is already too long to recount all of his astonishing kick returns, but let’s stop to salute his unforgettable 72-yarder against Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day 1971 in Norman, the signature play in Nebraska football history, both for Rodgers’ incredible balance, lateral speed and field vision and for Lyell Bremser’s memorable call. Whenever Johnny the Jet dropped back to field a kick, they stood up all over Memorial Stadium, and I still do when I watch the video of this play.
21 – Mike Brown (All-America DB 1999) over Prince Amukamara (All-America DB 2010) over Roger Craig (All-Big 8 RB 1981) over Derek Brown (hon mention All-America RB 1993, All-Big 8 RB 1992-1993) over Damon Benning (IB 1996). Memory: When Derek Brown hauled a toss sweep 43 yards to the Oklahoma 7-yard line in 1992, he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark (Calvin Jones joined him as a 1,000-yard rusher a few minutes later, making the “We-Backs” the first two Huskers to reach 1,000 yards rushing in the same season) but on that play, Brown sustained a shoulder separation which kept him out of the Orange Bowl against Florida State.
22 – Ralph Brown (All America DB 1999) over over Doug DuBose (second-team All-America RB 1985, All-Big 8 RB 1985) over Rex Burkhead (hon mention All-America RB, All-Big Ten RB 2011) over Jeff Makovicka (hon mention All-Big 8 RB 1995) over Dan Schneiss (1970 FB). Memory: One of the few four-year starters in Husker history, Ralph Brown intercepted a deflected pass in the end zone against Texas in the 1999 Big 12 Championship to help secure the Huskers’ most recent conference title. Jeff Makovicka gave NU some breathing room in a 17-6 win with his 15-yard fourth-quarter TD run against K-State in 1994. Jack Hoffman put on a number 22 jersey before running to glory in the 2013 Red-White game, but my favorite No. 22 moments belong to Jack’s buddy Burkhead, whose jump-cut helped him turn a screen pass into a 30-yard touchdown to tie Ohio State in 2011. A few minutes later, Burkhead barreled home on a 17-yard toss sweep to cap the Huskers’ biggest comeback win ever.
23 – Mark Blazek (hon mention all-Big 8 1987-88) over Ernie Behler (1993 DB) over Kent Smith (DB 1976). Memory: Blazek’s bizarre 75-yard interception return in the 1988 lost cause at UCLA deserves to be mentioned here (it may have been the worst call that ever went in the Huskers’ favor), but I’ll go with Lance Thorell’s interception that set up Nebraska’s first TD in a 24-3 home win over Michigan State in 2011. When a walk-on defensive back from Loomis gets the better of the Spartans’ all-time leading receiver B.J. Cunningham, you know it’s going to be your day.
24 – Lloyd Cardwell (All-Big 6 HB) over Bill Kosch (All-Big 8 DB 1971) over Niles Paul (All-Big 12 kick returner 2010) over Grant Campbell (second-team all-Big 8 P 1982). Memory: Cardwell scored three touchdowns, including a tie-breaking 86-yard kickoff return, and outplayed Chicago’s Jay Berwanger in the Huskers’ 1935 season opener (it was the year Berwanger won the inaugural Downtown Athletic Club Trophy, which was renamed the Heisman Trophy the following year). But since that was six months before my father was born, my memories of that game are based only on Husker Max archives. Fresh indeed is the memory of the torrential downpour which struck Columbia, Mo., the evening of Oct. 8, 2009. The Huskers went scoreless for three quarters before Paul caught two touchdown passes from Zac Lee. On his second, Paul outfought two Missouri defensive backs for the wet football in the back of the end zone on a 13-yard touchdown that gave the Huskers a 13-12 lead.
25 – George Sauer (1925 All-America FB) over Herman Rohrig (All-Big 6 HB and K, 1939-40) over Tony Davis (second-Team All-Big 8 FB 1975) over Kyler Reed (hon mention All-Big 12 TE 2012) over Mark Schellen (FB 1983). Memory: Thirty-five years before Ndamukong Suh punctuated his famous pick-six against Colorado by slamming the ball against the chain link fence behind Memorial Stadium’s the north end zone, Tony Davis laid some punishment on the fence behind the south end zone. It came after Davis scored on a 43-yard run in the fourth quarter against UCLA, in Osborne’s first game as head coach. The Tecumseh Tornado knew how to celebrate; he flagged the ball, leaped with joy in the end zone and punched the fence for good measure. His sheer joy gives him the edge over Joe Walker’s zigzag 70-yard interception return for a TD against K-State in 1997.
26 – Tom Rathman (All-Big 8 FB 1986) over Wonder Monds (All-America DB 1975) over Lance Lewis (hon mention All-Big 8 FB 1992) over Clinton Childs (IB 1995). Memory: Childs showed why he was the nation’s best third-string running back by torching Arizona State for 65 yards and a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage the week after Lawrence Phillips was suspended, but a much bigger moment was fullback Rathman’s 84-yard burst for a touchdown to break a 7-7 tie late in the third quarter, propelling Nebraska past Colorado 17-7 on Homecoming 1985.
27 – Irving Fryar (All-America and All-Big 8 WR 1983, second-team All-Big 8 WR 1982) over Joe Blahak (second-team All-America DB 1972, All-Big 8 DB 1971-72) over Abdul Muhammad (hon mention All-Big 8 WR 1994). Memory: There will always be controversy about the legality of Blahak’s block near the end of Johnny Rodgers’ iconic punt return at Oklahoma in 1971 (see No. 20 above). Fryar’s 82-yard punt return in the third quarter broke open a 34-14 win over Florida State in 1981, but I’ll opt for the “Bounceroosky” when Fryar caught a bounced lateral from Turner Gill and threw a perfect pass to Mitch Krenk for a first down against Oklahoma in 1982. (I watched them practice it earlier that week as a cub sports reporter for the Daily Nebraskan.)
28 – Jeff Smith (second-team All America RB, All-Big 8 RB 1984) over Eric Hagg (second-team All-America DB and all-Big 12 DB 2010) over Jamel Williams (second-team All-Big 12 LB 1996). Memory: NU LB Billy Johnson tackled Oklahoma State’s hard-charging Walt Garrison on the 5-yard line on the game’s final play in Stillwater to keep the 1965 undefeated regular season alive. Williams sacked Florida’s Danny Wuerffel for a safety (why the Gators used a no-back set in that situation is hard to figure) in what turned into the most dominant single quarter in bowl history, a 29-0 second-quarter edge in Nebraska’s 62-24 victory. But the most memorable moment was Smith’s 24-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-8 with 48 seconds left in the 1984 Orange Bowl, setting up a dramatic two-point conversion attempt (see No. 12 above).
29 – Todd Brown (all-conference SE 1982) over Jim Pillen (All-Big 8 DB 1978 DB) over Kareem Moss (second-team All-Big 8 DB 1994). Memory: Brown made two big catches on NU’s fourth-quarter touchdown drive in a 6-0 win at Missouri in 1981, Jim Pillen recovered Billy Sims’ 1978 fumble at the 3-yard line to save Tom Osborne’s first win over Oklahoma (see No. 48 below), but give me Moss’s interception of a deflected Frank Costa pass in the final moments that nailed down the 1994 national championship win over Miami and allowed Kent Pavelka to declare, “Bring that trophy back to Lincoln!”
30 – Mike Rozier (All-America RB 1982-83) over Ahman Green (second-team All-America RB 1997, hon mention All-America RB 1995, All-Big 12 RB 1995, 1997, third-team All-Big 12 RB 1996) over Paul Rogers (All-Big 8 K 1970) over Bill “Thunder” Thornton (All-Big 8 RB 1961). Memory: My earliest memory (although quite hazy as an 8-year-old farm boy) of any Husker football play was the radio call of Paul Rogers’ 55-yard field goal in the final seconds to beat Wyoming in 1968. As a freshman, Green ripped Colorado for a TD on a game-opening 57-yard option pitch in 1995, but I’m most impressed with Rozier’s physical and mental toughness during the Missouri game in 1982, his junior year. When the Huskers lost Turner Gill to a concussion and Roger Craig to a knee injury, Rozier came off the bench suffering from a hip pointer and rushed for 139 yards, setting up the game-winning touchdown with a 27-yard run on a counter dive with about five minutes to go.
31 – Joe Orduna (All-Big 8 RB 1970) over “Light Horse” Harry Wilson (All-Big 8 RB 1966) over Steve Carmer (hon mention All-Big 8 S 1991). Memory: Wilson scored a pair of third-quarter touchdowns to seal a 21-9 win over Oklahoma in Lincoln, giving Nebraska its first undefeated regular season in half a century.
32 – Ken Clark (third-team All-America RB 1989, All-Big 8 RB 1988-89) over Ed Stewart (All-America LB 1994, All-Big 8 LB 1994, second-team all-Big 8 LB 1993, hon mention All-Big 8 LB 1992) over I.M. Hipp (All-Big 8 RB 1979) over Kent McCloughan (All-Big 8 DB 1964) over Adrian Fiala (hon mention All-Big 8 LB 1968). Memory: Clark broke a tackle and busted a 73-yard touchdown run on NU’s first play from scrimmage in 1988, winning a head-to-head battle with Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders and getting the Huskers off to a quick start in a 63-42 win.
33 – Forrest Behm (1940 All-America T) over Dana Brinson (All-Big 8 KR 1988) Clester Johnson (hon mention All-Big 8 WB 1995) over Curtis Craig (WB 1977) over Anthony Steels (WB 1981). Memory: Pianist/vocalist/wingback/kick returner “Slick” Steels got a tremendous ovation for singing the national anthem before his final home game in 1981, and Behm did a fine job singing the Depression-era classic, “The Cornhusker (Come a-Runnin’ Boys)” on NETV’s “Husker Century” series, but my biggest No. 33 moment is owned by Curtis Craig (Roger’s older brother), who scored a 17-yard touchdown on a reverse to give the Huskers a third-quarter lead in their 31-24 win over Alabama in 1977.
34 – Trev Alberts (All-America DE 1993, second-team All-America DE 1992, All-Big 8 DE 1992-93) over Ray Richards (1929 All-America T) over Dave Butterfield (All-America CB 1975-76, All-Big 8 CB 1976) over Andy Means (hon mention All-Big 8 CB 1978-1979). Memory: Randy Stella blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety against Kansas State 1999, helping launch the rout as NU smashed No. 5-rated K-State 41-15, but my best memories of number 34 were fueled by Alberts stalking Heisman winner Charlie Ward all night long in the controversial 18-16 Orange Bowl loss to Florida State at the end of the 1993 season. Alberts sacked Ward three times that night and walked off the field a champion in every sense of the word.
35 – Ed Weir (All-America T in both 1924 and 1925) over Jeff Kinney (third-team All-America RB, All-Big 8 RB 1971, hon mention All-Big 8 RB 1969) over Rick Berns (hon mention All-America RB 1978, All-Big 8 RB 1978, second-team All-Big 8 RB 1977) over Steve Damkroger (1982 All-Big 8 LB) over Kris Brown (second-team All-Big 12 K 1998) over Andy Janovich (hon mention All-Big 10 FB 2015). Memory: Janovich brought the home crowd to a howl with a 55-yard TD against Wisconsin in 2015. When Berns ran 82 yards on the first play from scrimmage against Missouri in 1978, a national title seemed within grasp. Alas, it was not to be. But Kinney’s shoulder-pad-flapping, flashbulb-popping 2-yard TD run with 1:38 left in 1971 in Norman, did provide the margin in a game that decided a national title, so is the most memorable moment by a Husker wearing jersey No. 35.
36 – Larry Wachholtz (All-America S 1965-66, All-Big 8 S 1965-66) over Dana Stephenson (All-America DB 1969, hon mention All-America DB 1968, All-Big 8 DB 1968-69) over Correll Buckhalter (honorable mention All-Big 12 RB 2000). Memory: Not much to choose from here. Buckhalter was a steady back, but I’m struggling to think of a big moment (except for his 1999 goal-line fumble at Austin, Texas, that cost the Huskers an undefeated season). I’ll give it to Wachholtz, who picked off a pass against Oklahoma State in his final home game for his seventh interception of the season, which put him in the Top 10 nationally.
37 – Ken Geddes (hon mention All-America LB 1968, All-Big 8 LB 1968, All-Big 8 MG 1969, hon mention All-Big 8 LB 1967) over Sam Koch (All-Big 12 P 2005, second-team All-Big 12 P 2004) over Lawrence Ely (All-America C 1932). Memory: LB Tony Ortiz intercepted Texas QB Major Applewhite and returned it to the 11-yard line in the second quarter of the 1999 Big 12 Championship, setting up a field goal in the Huskers’ 22-6 win.
38 – Sam Francis (All America and All-Missouri Valley FB 1936) over Barrett Ruud (Huskers’ all time leading tackler, third-team All-America LB 2004, All-Big 12 LB 2004, second-team All-Big 12 LB 2003) over Dan Alexander (All-Big 12 RB 2000). Memory: Francis returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the 1936 season opener against iowa State, but my selection is Alexander, who demoralized Colorado early in 1999, running over DB Rashidi Barnes for a 50-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, then outrunning Colorado’s All-America DB Ben Kelly on an 80-yard burst in the second quarter in what turned into an overtime win.
39 – Andra Franklin (All-Big 8 FB 1980, hon mention All-Big 8 FB 1979) over Randy Lessman (P 1976) over Wayne Blue (1940 HB). Memory: In 1980, Franklin started NU on the way to a 45-7 win on a beautiful day in Boulder with a 3-yard touchdown run, but Randy Lessman’s 68-yard punt against Oklahoma State in 1974 gets the nod because it helped NU salvage a 7-3 Homecoming win. Not a lot to choose from here.
40 – Cory Schlesinger (1994 FB) over Pat Tyrance (1988 LB) over Mark Moravec (1982 FB) Memory: Schlesinger breaks a 15-yard trap play for the winning TD against Miami in the 1995 Orange Bowl – the most memorable of many fullback traps Osborne sprung for touchdowns over the years.
41 – Marc Munford (hon mention All-America LB 1986, All-Big 8 LB 1986) over Phil Ellis (hon mention All-Big 8 LB 1995) over Dane Todd (All-Big 12 FB 2006) over Tim Johnk (1991 FB). Memory: In 2006, Todd wiped out a Texas Longhorn with a crushing sideline block to spring Brandon Jackson to a 49-yard touchdown on a shovel pass.
42 – Jerry Murtaugh (All-America LB 1970) over Jeff Mills (DE Sean Fisher (LB 2012) over Mike Coyle (PK 1975). Memory: Matt Herian’s 60-yard TD catch from Jammal Lord vs Texas in 2002 was made with Herian wearing 42 his freshman year.
43 – Terrell Farley (All-Big 8 LB 1995, third-team All-Big 8 LB 1996) over Todd Millikan (All-Big 8 TE 1988, second-team All-Big 8 TE 1986, 1988 TE) over Ty Steinkuhler (hon mention All-Big 12 DT 2008) over Rich Sanger (1971-1973 K). Memory: Farley opened the floodgates at Oklahoma State in the 1995 season opener, high-stepping into the end zone with a 29-yard pick six, but for sheer drama, I’ll go with Millikan’s 11-yard TD reception from Steve Taylor with 1:26 left, giving the Huskers a 27-24 win at South Carolina in 1986, edging Phil Bates, who scored on a 3-yard run in the final minute for the only points in a 6-0 win at Missouri 1981.
44 – Calvin Jones (Second-team all America RB and all-Big 8 RB 1992, third-team All-American RB 1993 and All-Big 8 RB 1993) over Mike Knox (All-Big 8 LB 1983) over Charlie “Choo Choo” Winters (RB 1967) over Bill Olds (FB 1972). Memory: Mike McNeill scored a touchdown at Missouri in 2009 on a pop fly pass by Zac Lee that barely beat a Mizzou blitz; Jones broke the all-time single-game rushing record at Kansas as a freshman in 1991, but I’ll take Jones’ wind-and-rain-soaked 15-yard TD run in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma later that same season to score the winning points in a 19-14 victory.
45 – Fred Shirey (All-America OL/DL 1937) over Bob Terrio (All-Big 8 LB 1971) over Frank Solich (All-Big 8 FB 1965) over Joel Makovicka (hon mention All-Big 12 1997-98) Memory: Solich broke an 80-yard touchdown in the only game NU has ever played at Air Force, but the biggest moment is Terrio’s interception of LSU’s Bert Jones with 45 seconds left in the 1971 Orange Bowl, which the first national championship for Bob Devaney and the Huskers.
46 – Tony Felici (All-Big 8 DE 1981-1982) over Ted Vactor (All-Big 8 S 1964) over Maury Damkroger (FB 1973) over Doug Colman (LB 1995). Memory: Felici picked off a fumbled kickoff in midair and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown during NU’s 34-14 win over Florida State in 1981.
47 – Leroy Etienne (All-Big 8 LB 1988) over Charles Brock (All-America C 1938) over Tom Vering (hon mention All-Big 8 LB 1979). Memory: Etienne blitzed and sacked Oklahoma sophomore QB Charles Thompson for a 5-yard loss during the third quarter in the wind and cold rain at Norman in 1988. It was his third sack of the game, tying a school record for linebackers.
48 – Mike Anderson (hon mention All-Big 8 LB 1993) over Scott Livingston (All-Big 8 P 1984) over Pete Tatman (FB 1966) over Brent Evans (LB 1982). Memory: Evans intercepted a pass to set up the game-clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the 1982 Missouri game, but the most memorable No. 48 moment has to be S Jeff Hansen’s hit on Billy Sims at the 6-yard line in 1978 (see No. 29 above)
49 – Kevin Seibel (K 1982) over Monte Anthony (IB 1977) over Ken Kaelin (FB 1986). Memory: Seibel had a powerful leg. It was common for him to kick the ball into the Memorial Stadium crowd on a kickoff. I don’t recall which game, but I remember the Huskers being penalized three consecutive times on kickoffs, and Seibel kicking the ball through the end zone for a touchback regardless – the final time, from his own 25-yard line.
50 – Dave Rimington (All-America C 1981-82, All-Big 8 C 1980-81-82) over Julius Jackson (second-team All-Big 12 LB 1999) over Kurt Mann (hon mention All-Big 12 C 2006). Memory: In 1999, Jackson was responsible for the Huskers’ 20-13 win over Southern Miss (he returned a fumble and interception for TDs) but just seeing Rimington line up at center in front of Turner Gill is an indelible memory. It must’ve put doubt into the minds of many defensive linemen. Rimington’s quickness off the ball was unmatched by any center I’ve seen.
Coming in July: Nos. 51-99.
Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. Stryker is a freelance writer, favoring topics related to Nebraska history or Christianity. You can buy his recent book at this link.