For many younger Husker fans, Bob Devaney is just a name. A meaningful name, memorialized in the Devaney Center for basketball, mind you. But they don't remember the man who really is the Bobfather of Nebraska athletics. But recent events bring him back to mind. Tippy Dye, who brought Devaney to Lincoln from Wyoming, passed away last month at age 97. Dye was Nebraska's athletic director from 1962-1967, handing over the reigns of the entire athletic department to Devaney at that time. Devaney was athletic director from 1967 to 1993, who was replaced by Bill Byrne, who retired from Texas A&M earlier this week.
So if you think Nebraska's three national championships in the 1990's are ancient history, you likely don't have an appreciation for Bob Devaney. But make no bones about it - without Bob Devaney, Nebraska football would not be what it is today. Heck, it might not even be what Iowa State football is today. Nebraska would not be a member of the Big Ten; heck, the Huskers might not even be in the Big XII. Maybe the Mountain West or Conference USA.Prior to Devaney, Nebraska football was horrid. Bill Jennings went 15-34-1 in five seasons in Lincoln with four straight sixth place finishes in the Big Eight. The Huskers had only been to two bowl games by 1962: the 1941 Rose and 1955 Orange. Heck in the 1950's, Omaha University (now Nebraska-Omaha) had as many bowl games as the Huskers did. Nebraska's Memorial Stadium held the same number of fans that it did when the place opened in 1923: 31,080.
Devaney started winning almost immediately. He caught everybody's attention by upsetting Michigan in the Big House 25-13 in the second game of the season. At the start of November, Nebraska sold out a home game with Missouri with an overflow crowd of 36,000, starting a sellout streak that continues fifty years later. The winning continued, forcing the University to quickly expand Memorial Stadium. The South end zone was enclosed in 1964 to take capacity to 48,000. The next year, seats were added in the North end zone, and by 1966, the stadium was enclosed and capacity had been doubled to 62,644.
After the 1965 season, Nebraska played Alabama for a national championship against Alabama, but lost 39-28 in the Orange Bowl. But Devaney's programs struggled in 1967 and 1968, going 6-4. Fans started to jump off the bandwagon and there was even a petition drive to fire Devaney underway. Assistant coach John Melton used to joke that he signed it. Devaney then handed the playcalling duties to a young assistant coach named Tom Osborne in 1969. The next season, Nebraska won a national championship, and did it again in 1971. And in 1972, Devaney handed Osborne the reigns of the football program, stepping aside with a 101-20-2 (.82) record.
Devaney continued to lead the program until his later years. The stadium continued to expand, and the rest of the athletic department started to flourish. Though it the later years, the football program found itself in debt, and University leadership brought in Bill Byrne to balance the books. Devaney continued as "athletic director emeritus" until a 1995 stroke led to his retirement in 1996. He died on May 9, 1997.
Devaney was known for being a man-about-town, and the stories about Devaney are legendary. Devaney even hosted a football prediction show on Lincoln television on Friday nights, and in 1980, he started talking about sending Barry Switzer to the Sun Bowl the next day. Switzer walked onto the set and handed Devaney a bag of tacos. The next night, Switzer handed Nebraska a defeat...and it was the Huskers heading to El Paso instead of the Sooners.