John and I have had several conversations off-air this week about top-10 moments in Memorial Stadium, so I thought it might be interesting to get a conversation started by ranking the best (and worst) moments in the stadium, for games which I personally attended. I should mention, as a disclaimer, that the first game I ever attended was in 1986 when Oregon came to town, so everything before then has been disqualified. I should also point out that I was never a season ticket holder, so my attendance hasn’t been perfect, but I’ve made my way into the stadium for 80+ games in the ensuing years, whether it be with tickets, as a Val’s and Runza hawker, or with a press pass.
With that, let’s first get to the most painful moments I witnessed in Memorial Stadium:
10. The ten spot goes to a few games I didn’t see in person, but have to be mentioned when it comes to painful experiences in Memorial Stadium post 1985: Texas 2006 (The Terrance Nunn fumble), Texas 1998 (The Ricky Williams Halloween Show) , 1990 Colorado (Eric Bienemy explodes late), and 1987 Oklahoma (Game of the Century Part II).
9. 2002–Colorado 28, Nebraska 13: I didn’t know it at the time, but this game really signaled a huge change in the program. CU came in #13 in the nation and Nebraska had just been dismantled by Ell Roberson in Manhattan, but there was still sense there was no way Nebraska would lose on i’s home field twice in a row for the first time in ages. Nonetheless, Brian Calhoun had a huge rushing day and Nebraska’s defense tired, and it paved the way for an unthinkable 7-7 season.
8. 2008–Missouri 52, Nebraska 17: This was supposed to have been the changing of the guard in the Big XII North, and the stadium was electric before kickoff, but the game’s beginning took the air out of the crowd more quickly than any other time I’ve seen (except perhaps #6 below).
7. 2004–Colorado 26, Nebraska 20: Joe Dailey threw four picks and Nebraska’s season was over in November for the first time during my lifetime. It was even more devastating as Nebraska put together what looked like might be a miracle comeback with two touchdowns within the last four minutes of the game by Steve Kriewald and Ross Pilkington, respectively, but the onsides kick was scooped up by CU, and everyone went home in silence.
6. 2007–USC 49, Nebraska 31: USC took the air out of Nebraska immediately with a huge passing play to FB Stanley Havili, who scored moments later, and it seemed as if the excitement for this game that had been building for a year was sucked out of the stadium, despite a lead that didn’t really grow to an insurmountable amount until USC put up two touchdowns at the very outset of the third quarter.
5. 2007–Oklahoma St. 45, Nebraska 14: This is almost unanimously pointed to as the low point in Nebraska football recent history. I’ll never forget seeing the fans stream into the exits of the stadium in the first quarter with four minutes left as Zac Robinson put Oklahoma State up 21-0. This was just painful, but in a different way than most of the other losses on this list.
4. 2005–Texas Tech 35, Nebraska 31: Poor LaKevin Smith. He picked off a Cody Hodges pass with under a minute in the fourth quarter that seemed to have iced the game for the Huskers, but instead of falling on it, he tried to return it, and fumbled the ball back to the Red Raiders. Moments later, Joel Filani caught a Hodges pass with :13 left on the clock to pull the victory from the claws of defeat for Texas Tech. In all the games I had been to at Memorial Stadium I had never felt that sick about a single play when I left.
3. 1991–Washington 36, Nebraska 21: With 5 minutes left in the third quarter of this game, Derek Brown scored on a short touchdown run that put Nebraska up 21-9, and it looked like the Huskers were going to roll at home against yet another non-conference opponent. But the eventual national champion Huskies had other ideas. Remember Beno Bryant? That guy exploded all over Charlie McBride’s defense for the rest of the game as Washington ripped off 27 straight points while Keithen McCant couldn’t seem to get the ball in his receivers hands.
2. 2002–Texas 27, Nebraska 24: This was the game that started the theory that Nebraska is under some sort of a curse in close games. Before this game, most Husker fans probably have to strain a little to think of games that had gut-wrenchingly fluky endings that went in the opponents’ favor. Since this game, there have been 4 or 5. This game also solidified my opinion that Mack Brown isn’t the brightest bulb around when he punted to DeJuan Groce, who was the hottest punt returner in America, in the final minute of a three point game. Groce nearly took it the distance, but was stopped just short, seemingly guaranteeing overtime with a chip shot field goal. Then, Jammal Lord threw an ill-fated pass intended for Mark LeFlore. The rest, unfortunately, is history, including Texas trying to plant a ‘horns flag on the N in the middle of the FieldTurf after the game.
1. 1986–Oklahoma 20, Nebraska 17: As a nine year old with my Dad, going to my second Husker game ever, I had been looking forward to this game since the schedule was released. Between Brian Bosworth coming to town, the “Our House” slogan and the hatred between these two programs at the time (and yes, it was hatred, not respect), this game felt bigger than life. That mood was anything but dampened when I got to the stadium to see the Huskers decked out in all red uniforms. Of course, the game started out pretty well, and then Keith Jackson showed up and helped bring Oklahoma back from a 17-7 deficit in the last 11 minutes of the game. As I walked with my dad back to our parking spot near the Reunion on campus, I spent most of the time trying to keep from crying. When I see pictures of this game, it still makes my stomach turn.
OK, so that’s over with. Now to my favorite moments witnessed in person at Memorial Stadium:
10. 1986–Nebraska 48, Oregon 14: This is an honorary #10 because it was my first game ever at the Stadium. Honestly, I don’t remember many of the details other than it was a sunny late September afternoon and my Dad and I sat in the North Stadium, and watched Todd Millikan and Keith Jones put on a show that day.
9. 1995–Nebraska 49, Kansas State 25: This wasn’t a particularly close game, none of them were in 1995, but for some reason, I recall having more fun watching this game than almost any I remember. Perhaps it was because Kansas State, coming in ranked 16th in the nation was just starting to get some of that annoying nature we’ve now come to know them by today, maybe it was that in the first quarter Mike Rucker made the best block I’ve ever seen on a punt return for a touchdown by Mike Fullman, or perhaps it was watching Matt Kavanaugh run for his life the entire day. Either way, I remember it being one of the warmest late October games I’ve ever attended, and I went home as satisfied with the performance as I’ve ever been.
8. 1987–Nebraska 42, UCLA 33: I think people forget how big this game was. UCLA came into Lincoln rated #3 to face the #2 Huskers with future NFLers Troy Aikman, Gaston Green, and Willie “Flipper” Anderson leading their offense. This game featured something I had dreamed about but never thought I’d see–Nebraska throwing the ball all over the field. The Huskers passed for 217 yards while only rushing for 117. Steve Taylor set a Nebraska record and tied a conference record with five touchdown passes.
7. 2001–Nebraska 27, Notre Dame 10: At the time, this was the hardest Husker ticket to get in years. I remember several reports of tickets going for four-digit prices. And while this game wasn’t particularly exciting after the first quarter, when Eric Crouch led Nebraska to a 17-0 lead before anyone even got settled in their seats, there was still something completely euphoric about laying it to Notre Dame in Lincoln in any fashion, as so many Husker fans had fantasized about this scenario their entire lives. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but it’s true.
6. 2008 –Nebraska 38, Colorado 31: Yeah, I know, this happened just last year, but after 2001 Oklahoma, there really hadn’t been a game in Memorial Stadium for several years where you had a game that mattered, was against a conference rival, and that went down to the wire in Nebraska’s favor. It had been so long that something went right, that as I watched Alex Henery’s 57 yard field goal sail through the uprights and later Ndamukong Suh’s interception return to seal the game, I almost had to pinch myself. Outside of the Stuntz/Crouch pass, I’m not sure you can find any better signature highlight for the decade of the 2000s in Husker football than those two plays at the end of this game.
5. 1991–Nebraska 19, Oklahoma 14: I could argue that this was the most satisfying win I can remember as a Husker fan. The losses to Oklahoma in 86, 87 and ’90 were still fresh in our minds, and although #11 Nebraska went into the game as the favorite against the #19 Sooners, it seemed that we all braced for the inevitable Sooner Magic that seemed to work flawlessly in Memorial Stadium. If you were at this game you remember that it was one of the coldest, rainiest, sleetiest, crummiest weather games ever. When was the last time a Nebraska tight end had a game like Johnny Mitchell in this game? He had 7 catches for 137 yards including what is still one of the most amazing catches between two defenders I’ve ever seen. For good measure, the Huskers also ran a TE reverse to Mitchell that looked suspiciously like the one Oklahoma had used previously with Keith Jackson. Calvin Jones scored to put the Huskers ahead, and a defense featuring a young Ed Stewart and Trev Alberts stopped Cale Gundy on Oklahoma’s last gasp to come back, giving Nebraska a share of the Big 8 title.
4. 1994–Nebraska 24, Colorado 7: It’s hard to think of a better setup than there was for this game, #3 Nebraska hosts #2 Colorado at the 200th sellout in Memorial Stadium history. It’s also hard to think of a better result. The Nebraska defense and what some say is the loudest crowd in the stadium’s history stifled Kordell Stewart, holding him to 13-30 passing for 159 yards and sacking him four times. When you look at the offensive stats for Nebraska in this game, no one had a particularly dominant day, but the defense continued to set up the offense with good field position, and the game was virtually out of reach for Colorado early in the third quarter.
3. 1992–Nebraska 52, Colorado 7: Sure, the score indicates that this game wasn’t close, but I don’t know that Memorial Stadium will ever be as electric as it was prior to kickoff at this game. The Buffs came in tied with Nebraska at #8 in the UPI poll, this was an evening kickoff on Halloween, it was rainy and cold, and suffice it to say the fans were prepared. I know that lately, Memorial Stadium isn’t considered an “intimidating” place to play when compared with places like the Swamp in Florida and Death Valley at LSU, but this was as unfriendly to an opponent as this venue has ever been. If you ever watch the ESPN broadcast of this game, you’ll notice that you can’t even hear the announcers do their pregame analysis because of the unbelievably loud “Go Big Red” chants as the crowd anticipated kickoff. On the first play from scrimmage, Koy Detmer threw an interception to Travis Hill on the first play from scrimmage sending the stadium into an absolute frenzy. A few plays later Calvin Jones got the scoring going, and it didn’t stop all night.
2. 1993–Nebraska 21, Oklahoma 7: This WAS the coldest game I’ve ever been to. That changed after the 2006 Big XII Championship game in Kansas City. In any case, this was Nebraska’s last hurdle to a shot at the National Championship against Florida State, and while the game started off rather poorly for the Huskers with Oklahoma driving right down the field and Butkus winner, All-American and team Capitan Trev Alberts sustaining a fairly serious elbow injury, it got better as the day went on. Early in the fourth quarter, with the game tied 7-7, the Nebraska fans witnessed what I think are probably the three most exciting consecutive plays I’ve seen at a game in Lincoln. First, Tommie Fraizer hit Abdul Mohammad with an 11-yard touchdown strike to give the Huskers the lead. On the ensuing kickoff, the Oklahoma returner coughed the ball up, and after what seemed like ten minutes of unpiling, the referees signaled that Husker special teams whiz and fan favorite David Seizys ended up with the ball. On the very next play, Calvin Jones scampered 20 yards and the celebration was on. I remember just sitting in the balcony in the West Stadium hearing the fans chant “we’re #1,” and realizing that for the first time in my life, it might actually be true after the season. Turns out, that was just another heartbreak waiting to happen, but we won’t go there.
1. 2001–Nebraska 20, Oklahoma 10: While there were other games that were better from beginning to end, and probably wins that were, in the end, more satisfying than this one, the moment when Eric Crouch caught the pass on the reverse from QB turned WR Mike Stuntz is still the single best moment that I’ve ever been a part of in the stadium. I was a student at the time and sitting with the rest of my classmates just above the band in the East Stadium. All I remember was that as soon as I saw the referee signal touchdown, all I could see was people hugging/tackling/mosh pitting me, many of whom I didn’t know, until I finally got up to my feet, calmed down a bit, and realized I ended up 8 rows below where I had been sitting when the play began.