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Big Ten Countdown: 64 - The Legend of the Blackshirts.

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Since we are now Legends, I figured it was appropriate to include the Legend of the Blackshirt tradition in our countdown.  It begins in 1964...


Changes in NCAA rules following the 1963 season allowed for a return to two-platoon football, but Devaney had played most of his starters on both offense and defense in the 1964 opener, a 56-0 victory against out-manned South Dakota at Memorial Stadium. On the Wednesday before the Minnesota game, however, Devaney announced the Huskers would use offensive and defensive units.

The black pullovers, which distinguished defensive players from offensive players, were purchased at a local sporting goods store by assistant coach Mike Corgan, who was in charge of procuring equipment. He was known for his frugality, always looking for bargains.

His purchase of the black pullovers "was an accident of availability," defensive line coach George Kelly once said. "I told Mike the only reason they had black ones was because they didn’t sell."

The story was that the sporting goods store made Corgan a good deal.

The way Kelly told the story, when players were practicing with the defense, they had worn gray pullovers. Then, when the team was divided into offensive and defensive units, the black pullovers were given only to first-team defenders, as a way to motivate those on the lower units.

Initially, the black pullovers were distributed each day at practice and collected afterward. A player might have a black pullover one day and a gray one the next. They had to continually be earned.

Early on, the nickname was two words. That’s how it appeared for the first time in a Nebraska media guide. The 1965 edition refers to the "Black Shirt Battalion."

During the 1970s, both forms – "Black Shirt" and "Blackshirt" – were used in media guides, sometimes in the same section, in at least one instance in the same paragraph.

The 1978 media guide uses the form "Blackshirt," the same as "redshirt," and from that point on, "Blackshirt" appears to be the acceptable spelling, one word.

I can remember as a kid being confused about the "blackshirts". The Huskers' jersey's looked red to me, but I did figure it out after a while.

The Skull/Helmet and Crossbones flags have become a staple at Nebraska games. They make Blackshirt "shirts", sweatshirts, hats, golf balls, sandals, jerseys, robes, lounge wear, baby clothes, stickers, blankets, socks, hoddy's, temporary tattoos, and a die-cast stock car.

"Throwing the Bones" has also become a popular tradition when the defense makes a big play. The defensive player will cross their arms around their neck/upper torso to simulate the skull and crossbones effect. To be perfectly honest with you, I'm shocked that the refs don't throw a taunting flag when our boys do this.

The blackshirt has always been used as a motivational tool. When they were first introduced, it was very common for different people to have a blackshirt every day at practice. It became a motivational tool to give the players a goal to achieve. Eventually, the Blackshirts were handed out right before the first game of the year and would be given out as needed during the season. During the Bo Pelini era, they have typically not been handed out before the season and the players have had to earn them. In 2008, they finally got their Blackshirts on November 11th, after beating Kansas. In 2009, it was mid-October before that studly group got their Blackshirts. In 2010, they were given out after the Washington game. 

Next years Nebraska defense is expected to be one of the tops in the nation. Husker fans are excited for next year because if Tim Beck can get the ball rolling with the offense, it could be a very special year for the Big Red.