Nov 25

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November 25, 1971: The Game of the Century

Johnny Rodgers Returns PuntOn this day in 1971, number-one ranked Nebraska beat number-two ranked Oklahoma 35-31 on Thanksgiving Day in Norman, Oklahoma. This is one “Game of the Century” that lived up to its hype.

Nebraska, the defending national champion, had started the season atop the polls and remained there. Oklahoma averaged an unfathomable NCAA-record 472 rushing yards per game. The Cornhuskers were 10-0 and the Sooners were 9-0, with its final opponent of the season being a dismal Oklahoma State team. The winner would be Big 8 Champion and on its way to Miami to play for the national title in the Orange Bowl.

Nebraska jumped out to a 14-3 lead, thanks in part to a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown by Johnny Rodgers. The Sooners bounced back, as quarterback Jack Mildren rushed for a touchdown and passed for another, and headed into the locker room with a 17-14 halftime lead.

The Cornhuskers went ahead 28-17 with two strong scoring drives in the 3rd quarter. Again, Mildren threw and rushed for a touchdown and the Sooners led 31-28 with minutes left in the game. Nebraska made its game-winning drive with quarterback Jerry Tagge completing a crucial third-down pass to Rodgers. Running back Jeff Kinney ran into the end zone for the winning score with two minutes left. Legend has it that President Richard Nixon called both Nebraska head coach Bob Devaney and Oklahoma head coach Chuck Fairbanks after the game.

The Cornhuskers defeated Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl to win the national title, while the Sooners beat Auburn 40-22 in the Sugar Bowl. So special is this game that even though Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten ended this rivalry, the two schools have scheduled a two game series starting in 2021 to commemorate its 50th anniversary.

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1 comment

  1. Steve

    Back in the late sixties and early seventies, the Oklahoma Journal published predictions of major college games made by a panel of seven sports writers, your grandfather being one of them. I remember this game and the hype before it, and I remember that he was the only reporter to pick Nebraska to win. My friends gave me quite a hard time about it. I asked him why he wanted Nebraska to win, and he told me that knowing which team is the better team is not the same as wanting them to win. Turns out he knew what he was talking about.

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