This evening, Nebraska will be welcoming home members of the 1997 championship football team who went undefeated and shared the 1997 title because Lee Barfnecht is a contrarian of the highest order. (Or lowest, depending upon which perspective you’d like to take.) While we all wish Nebraska was still that Nebraska or that some of their OL could suit up tonight, we can all be thankful that 1997 is part of the fabric of this program.
As is our bread and butter, we’ve put together a little round table for talking about that squad and its impact on our memories and fandom today.
Nate M: I was 12 at the time. Damn, just saying that out loud makes me realize how long ago that actually was. Get it together Nebraska!
Hoss: I turned 7 the week of the Colorado game that year, so at that point in my life I was too obsessed with Jurassic Park and Star Wars to be into Nebraska football. I didn’t get into Husker football until 2002, so I’ve known nothing but despair for the past 15 seasons.
Jon: I was 7, too, same as Hoss. I remember I used to come home and watch Gilligan’s Island and the Brady Bunch right after school on our crappy little TV (by today’s standards). We used to go down to Mill Park just west outside of Curtis, my hometown, and walk along the railroad tracks and tell each other what we’d do if a train came while we were on the bridge over Medicine Creek. Nobody does that anymore. The tracks are all grown over with weeds now, the rail no longer used. When Osborne retired, we said “Oh, it’ll be the same, Frank will keep winning. We’re Nebraska!”
We were so naive.
Time marches along, despite our best efforts to slow it, eroding everything around it.
It’s funny to recognize that Scott Frost is so revered now when he was at first reviled for going to Stanford. He was fun to watch as Nebraska’s quarterback. Jason Peter, Aaron Taylor, Grant Wistrom... wow. I don’t think there were a lot of people who foresaw the career that Ahman Green would have, and Jay Foreman is usually overlooked amongst all the other stars on that team.
Mike: I was at ten of the 13 games that season, and even made the loong road trip to Baylor in the rain. For the Missouri game, we were sitting in the far south end zone, so I had the worst possible seat to see the final play of regulation. I had my binoculars on, and saw the ball fly up in the air, but that was it. A sea of humanity followed, and then I spotted a ref with both hands up in the air. I screamed “TOUCHDOWN!” and everyone around me asked “WHO???” All I could say was “NEBRASKA!” because I had no idea what had happened. Missouri had just installed a new jumbotron in that end zone, but they weren’t about to show any replays of that play, so we left the stadium not knowing who had scored or how.
And boy, were the natives unhappy. We quickly made our way out of Columbia and got on the highway. The Missouri postgame show was a pity party, and didn’t go into what happened on that play. We eventually started to find some stations carrying ESPN radio, but all they would talk about is that “incredible ending to the Nebraska/Missouri game”, but never say anything more. We just kept heading west on I-70 then north on I-29, blipping between ESPN and various games through the static on AM radio.
I finally got home just before 1 am; we had made this a day trip, so I was exhausted. But not too exhausted to turn on ESPN for the west coast edition of SportsCenter (back in the day when they showed mostly highlights). Of course, it was the lead... and I finally saw what actually happened.
It took about 20 minutes to get my jaw off the floor.
We took a great tour to the Orange Bowl, which was a blast. Going to the beach in January was a huge treat, and our bus to the game got a police escort to the stadium. We had great seats in the upper deck, but my lasting memory was walking out of the stadium knowing that I had just experienced the culmination of the greatest five years in college football history. I didn’t really care what Lee Barfknecht or any sports writer would say. If anybody wants to bring up the kicked ball off of Wiggins’ foot, I simply ask when they are going to put the final two seconds back on the clock at the Rose Bowl.
About 2:30 am, my girlfriend (soon to be wife) woke me up to tell me that the polls were out, and Nebraska had won the UPI poll and won the glass football trophy. Screamed down off the hotel balcony, but everybody was already turning in to finally call it a night.
And to Barfy: Your troll game hasn’t gotten any better in 20 years. You know as well as I do that Nebraska’s defense would have shut down Michigan’s offense much more than Charles Woodson could have shut down Frost and Green.
Paul: I really don’t have a great stories about that season, except that I remember yelling a lot after the Flea Kicker Game. In fact, my most significant memory about that season actually occurred sometime around 2001. I was in a restaurant in Omaha...Fernando’s comes to mind, but I can’t say for certain, and Matt Davison was there with a few other guys. We both hit the bathroom at the same time. I nodded at him and said “Nice catch, Matt”. So, there you go. My brush with greatness.
I wasn’t even in town when we beat Tennessee...I was at the in-laws in London, Ontario. If I had known the wait for another MNC would be more than two decades I might have skipped the trip.