Purdue's gridiron season got off to a good start with the trouncing of Nebraska's Cornhuskers before 42,914 fans and high school band musicians. The weather was perfect for Band Day with the temperature in the low 70's. Bad breaks cost the Boilermakers two touchdowns in the first half with the first score occurring in the second quarter.
Nebraska's defense appeared solid in the opening players of the game as the Boilermakers pushed downfield, only to be repelled after four downs. Late in the second quarter Bob Jarus plunged over his right guard from the one-yard line, and the scoreless tie ended; Spoo's kick was good, making the halftime score 7-0. Purdue's second touchdown came after only eight plays in the second half, aided by a 14-yard jaunt by Kulbacki for first down on the Nebraska 8. An interception by Tommy Barnett put the Boilers in scoring position again, resulting in the third tally; Fichtner converted. Jim Tiller used his terrific getaway for two more points after the final touchdown to end the game at 28-0.
- Recount from the 1958 Nebraska - Purdue game, taken from pages 268 and 296 of the 1959 Purdue Debris Yearbook
Elvis Presley was shipped off to Germany with the Army three days after the embarrassment in West Lafayette. Perhaps the loss had an influence.
No, that wasn't it. Nebraska football in 1958 wasn't even on the map. Nebraska football was in its dark ages, that era between World War II and the arrival of Bob Devaney. Momma told me once when I was very young that the sun barely shown in the state in those days. There were a few bright spots, Tom "Trainwreck" Novak and "Touchdown" Bobby Reynolds, to name a couple, and without them the whole state would have starved to death. Without those bright spots, corn wouldn't grow, cattle didn't fatten, and hens refused to lay.
People didn't listen to Husker games on the radio in 1958. The state of Nebraska wasn't that connected. I-80 construction had just begun and Scottsbluff and Lincoln might have well as been in foreign countries. The polio vaccine had only come available three years before, schools held nuclear bomb drills, and when Nebraska played Purdue on September 27th, Charlie Starweather's murder spree was still fresh in the minds of the state's citizens as it had happened only eight months before.
There is a fairly long list of schools that Nebraska has played only once. It includes Iowa Pre-Flight, Kearney, Morningside, Carlisle, American Osteopath and even more well-known schools such as Stanford, Georgia Tech, and Duke. But how is it that Nebraska played Purdue only once in history? Both are midwestern public land grant universities. You don't think they might have bumped into each other more that once along the way?
Was there something terrifying about Purdue, something they stole away from Nebraska on that day in 1958 when we could not score a single point? Purdue would go on not too long after that to have enormous impact on NASA, producing not only pioneering astronauts Gus Grissom and Neil Armstrong, but engineers that helped put those guys in space. Might those things have not been were Purdue crushed by Nebraska that day, their self-esteem wounded to the point of impotence?
"We can't feed the ego of the state of Nebraska with a football team", said not very good head football coach Bill Jennings in 1960 and a man who clearly didn't listen to the world around him. He was the head coach at the time at which Nebraska last faced Purdue. Jennings' statement is a qualifier of his limitations more than the men who came after him, Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne, both of whom did a damned good job of feeding the ego of the state with the football team.
So much has changed since that day 55 years ago, but today we are concerned with only college football. Cornhusker football still feeds the ego of the state, and today is the time to take revenge. We may hope to go toe-to-toe with the Boilermakers in basketball, but today is the day we let them known that football is our game. Today we crush the spirit of Purdue to let them know that we own them. Today we take back whatever it is they stole from us years ago. For our fathers, for our grandfathers.
GO BIG RED!