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When My Nebraska Football Veneer Was Pierced: The Ricky Williams Game in 1998

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The end of a 47 game home winning streak.

Correll Buckhalter

I was born in 1985, so I started understanding football right as 1994 and 1995 seasons rolled up. We were so dominant during those time periods that I felt that this was how it was always going to be.

That veneer was pierced when we lost to the Ricky Williams Texas team in 1998. From the Los Angeles Times:

Texas is back, Nebraska is lost and Ricky Williams is still running toward the Heisman Trophy.

Major Applewhite’s two-yard touchdown pass to Wayne McGarity with 2:47 to play gave the revived Longhorns a 20-16 upset of the seventh-ranked Cornhuskers on Saturday, ending Nebraska’s 47-game winning streak at Memorial Stadium.

“I am absolutely thrilled with this win,” first-year Texas Coach Mack Brown said. “It’s hard to find words to explain it.

“When you come in here . . . to be the first team in [48] games to beat Nebraska at home is simply a major accomplishment.”

The Cornhuskers’ home winning streak was the fifth-longest in NCAA history.

Williams enhanced his Heisman chances by running for 150 yards in 37 carries, and the Longhorns, 6-2 overall and 4-1 in the Big 12 Conference, handed the Cornhuskers (7-2, 3-2) their first home loss since Sept. 21, 1991, when Washington beat them, 36-21.

Forty-seven straight wins at Memorial Stadium is crazy. If you want a stat to show our future alien overlords that Nebraska football was the best program for an extended period of time then show them that stat. That was when opposing players would talk about being intimidated by the “sea of red.”

Maybe that loss to Nebraska is when things started to change. Or maybe it was just a blip on the radar giving an indication of what was to come?

Frank Solich

Or it could have just been a dominant performance by a great college running back. Ricky Williams had the most rushing yards against Nebraska since Barry Sanders had 189 in 1988 for Oklahoma State. I think Barry Sanders ended up being okay.

Nebraska players took this loss particularly hard. From Steve Pivovar of the Omaha World-Herald:

“It’s strange to lose in this program, but to lose at home — that’s what hurts the worst,” Nebraska rush end Chad Kelsay said. “Being a senior, I didn’t want to be the class that lost at home. I’d have to say it’s the lowest point of my athletic career.

”I feel like I’ve let so many guys down, guys I don’t even know who started this tradition and this streak at home. When you play at home, you have to play at another level. This is our house, and you don’t want someone to come in here and beat you. That’s what they did today.”

This game might have also started the mythical characterization of Nebraska fans as the greatest in college football. From David Ubben of ESPN in 2012 as he wrote about Ricky William’s historic 1998 season:

For all the bad blood spilled upon Nebraska’s exit from the Big 12 and farewell tour throughout the 2010 season, Texas coach Mack Brown couldn’t stop citing his most memorable interaction with the Huskers.

Ricky Williams walked into Memorial Stadium and into the Sea of Red, and walked out with an upset win and 150 yards rushing. The Huskers’ invincibility — also known as a 47-game home winning streak — was gone. Nebraska fans knew what they had just seen, but had to show their respect. They chanted more than just Williams’ first name, which became the name by which most remember him.

During Ricky Williams’ record-breaking 1998 season, among his most memorable runs was this 60-yarder for a touchdown against rival Texas A&M. AP Photo/Eric Gay

They resorted to another name.

”Heis-man! Heis-man! Heis-man!” they chanted.

I remember walking out of Memorial Stadium that night as the first time I ever left the stadium after a loss. It felt like a leaving a funeral. Nobody was talking as we walked back to our cars.

Nebraska Fans

This was the game where my “Nebraska football invincibility” veneer was pierced or completely ruined.

It was inevitable. We know that, but why did it have to come at the hands of Texas?

Here is the game in full if you hate yourself. Or if you love yourself. I am not sure which.