Big 12: Johnny Rodgers
You can see the full project here.
The title for the greatest 58-yard touchdown ever goes to Texas Tech's Wes Welker. Before he became the NFL's premier slot receiver, he was a punt return specialist.
Nov. 1, 2003: Texas Tech's Wes Welker broke an NCAA record with his eighth career punt return for a touchdown, racing 58 yards for a score in the second quarter of the Red Raiders' 26-21 victory over Colorado. Welker, who had 211 all-purpose yards in the game, broke an NCAA record previously shared with Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers, Kansas State's David Allen and Oklahoma's Jack Mitchell.
-- Mark Schlabach
You can see the full project here.
Nebraska and Oklahoma's rivalry officially ended in the Big 12 Championship last season, but a 72-yard punt return by Johnny Rodgers in one of the rivalry's best games ever grabs a spot on our countdown.
Nov. 25, 1971: No. 1 Nebraska didn't put away the 35-31 victory against No. 2 Oklahoma until late in the fourth quarter. But Johnny Rodgers' 72-yard punt return remains the iconic play of an iconic game, even though he made it in the first quarter. Rodgers used speed, balance, acrobatics and mojo to get through the Sooners. Their fans insist an illegal block helped, too. If Rodgers hadn't been so mesmerizing, the complaint might have gained traction. It never did.
-- Ivan Maisel
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Back in my former life at the newspaper in San Antonio, there was a wildly popular weekly column we used to run every Sunday called "Where Are They Now." A veteran staffer with loads of institutional knowledge tracked down some of the area's most memorable athletes and found out whatever happened to them after their athletic careers finished.
The concept has always been intriguing. It's why the list I found today at lostlettermen.com was so interesting to me (hat tip to the wizofodds.com.)
And heck, it's even topical with today's stories highlighting all of our Heisman Trophy stories.
Lost Letterman lists what has happened to all 73 previous Heisman winners. It's fascinating to see what men who had such football success have done with the rest of their lives.
Here's a list of the Heisman Trophy winners from Big 12 schools along with what happened to them after their college careers.
1952: Billy Vessels (Oklahoma) -- Worked in the horse racing business and real estate in South Florida before dying of heart failure in 2001 at the age of 70.
1957: John David Crow (Texas A&M) -- Former college coach and athletic director, now retired and living in College Station, Texas (age 74).
1969: Steve Owens (Oklahoma) -- CEO of a real estate company, Steve Owens & Associates, in Norman, Okla. (age 61).
1972: Johnny Rodgers (Nebraska) -- Owns JetWear kid's bedroom store in Omaha, Neb. (age 58).
1977: Earl Campbell (Texas) -- Assistant to the vice president of student affairs at Texas (age 54).
1978: Billy Sims (Oklahoma) -- Owns a chain of Billy Sims BBQ restaurants in Oklahoma (age 53).
1983: Mike Rozier (Nebraska) -- Stay-at-home dad living in Sickerville, N.J. (age 48).
1988: Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State) -- Retired from the NFL in 1998. Currently resides in West Bloomfield, Mich. (age 41.) His son, Barry Sanders Jr., is currently a high school star in Oklahoma City.
1994: Rashaan Salaam (Colorado) -- Promotes martial arts fights in China. Currently resides in San Diego, Calif. (age 34).
1998: Ricky Williams (Texas) -- Member of the Miami Dolphins (age 32).
2001: Eric Crouch (Nebraska) -- Owns playground equipment business called "Crouch Recreation" in Nebraska (age 30).
2003: Jason White (Oklahoma) -- Owns memorabilia stores in Norman, Okla., and Oklahoma City (age 29).
2008: Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) -- Starting quarterback at Oklahoma (age 21).
It's hard for me to believe the Steve Owens, a player who I avidly followed when I was a kid growing up, is now 61 years old.
And in a way, I can see Mike Rozier as a stay-at-home dad. He was always one of my favorite players to deal with when I was covering the Houston Oilers back in the day. I'm sure he a great dad -- and a very colorful one at that.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Big 12 players dominated the Water Camp Player of the Year watch list announced Friday with eight players, including 2008 winner Colt McCoy of Texas.
The Big 12's number was double of any other conference. The Pac-10 and Southeastern Conferences were next with four players apiece.
Among the Big 12's nominees were quarterback Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham of Oklahoma, running back Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Dez Bryant from Oklahoma State, McCoy and wide receiver Jordan Shipley of Texas, linebacker Sean Weatherspoon of Missouri and quarterback Todd Reesing of Kansas.
Oklahoma State, Texas and Oklahoma were among five schools to have two players nominated to the list. The others were Florida and Penn State.
McCoy became the fourth Big 12 winner of the award. Earlier winners included Ricky Williams of Texas in 1998, Josh Heupel of Oklahoma in 2000 and Nebraska's Eric Crouch in 2001.
Other winners from current Big 12 schools before the conference started included Oklahoma's Steve Owens in 1969, Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers in 1972, Oklahoma's Billy Sims in 1978, Nebraska's Mike Rozier in 1983, Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders in 1988 and Colorado's Rashaan Salaam in 1994.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Davison's dramatic grab keeps Nebraska's winning streak alive
Date: Nov. 8, 1997
Place: Faurot Field, Columbia, Mo.
Score: Nebraska 45, Missouri 38 (OT)
Nebraska needed a huge break to keep its 1997 national title hopes alive.
The Cornhuskers got that and more when freshman receiver Matt Davison grabbed a kicked ball for a game-tying touchdown against Missouri. His dramatic play forced overtime and resuscitated the Cornhuskers' national title hopes.
The dramatic score is one of the most memorable play in the Cornhuskers' Big 12 history and certainly ranks with Johnny Rodgers' dramatic 1971 punt return against Oklahoma and Tommie Frazier's 75-yard scoring run against Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
The New York Times described Davison's heroics the following day in a headline as a "fluke score."
Nebraska was trailing by seven points with 12 seconds left when Davison's made the big play.
Quarterback Scott Frost's pass to the end zone was knocked out of wide receiver Shevin Wiggins' grasp. Missouri defensive back Harold Piersey appeared poised to intercept the ball, but Wiggins inadvertently kicked the ball into the air on his way down. Davison was ready to make a diving grab in the end zone, pouncing on it just before it hit the turf for the touchdown.
The dramatics shocked Missouri fans who had stormed the field. Those fans appeared ready to rip down the goal posts to celebrate what would have been the Tigers' first victory over Nebraska since 1978. Instead, they had to get ready for overtime.
Frost made the most of the break, scoring three plays into overtime on a 12-yard scamper for his fourth touchdown run of the game. Missouri had two incomplete passes and a 3-yard gain before quarterback Corby Jones was sacked by Grant Wistrom and Mike Rucker to preserve the victory.
Nebraska, which came into the game as a 29-point favorite, had to work hard to escape with the victory as Missouri dominated most of the game.
Jones jolted the No. 3 defense for three touchdown passes and also rushed for 60 yards, although he was sacked five times by the Cornhuskers.
He was effective early in the game, but Frost's touchdown runs of 16 yards and 1 yard before the end of the first quarter gave the Cornhuskers a 14-7 lead.
Missouri reclaimed the lead at 24-21 at the half after striking for 10 late points. Scott Knickman's 39-yard field goal and a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jones to tailback Brock Olivo gave the Tigers the lead.
Frost boosted Nebraska back into the lead late in the third quarter on a 1-yard keeper, but Missouri answered with Devin West's 62-yard kickoff return on the ensuing play for good field position. Jones then scored on a 6-yard run to enable the Tigers to reclaim the lead at 31-28.
The Cornhuskers tied the game on Kris Brown's 44-yard field goal with 10:50 left in the game. But Missouri responded after Piersey's interception to the Nebraska 30. Jones then hit H-back Eddie Brooks on a 15-yard scoring pass with 4:38 left, boosting Missouri to a 38-31 lead.
Missouri squandered a chance to ice the victory in regulation when Jones was stuffed on a third-and-3 option play. Jason Smith's ensuing punt pinned Nebraska at its own 33 with 1:02 left before the dramatic game-tying possession.
It was just enough time for a miracle. And Nebraska made the most of its opportunity.
They said it, part I: "One stinking play," Missouri coach Larry Smith, expressing his disgust to reporters after the game.
They said it, part II: "We wanted to shock the world tonight. But the end of that game shocked us. We should have won that game. That's all there is to it," Missouri guard Craig Heimburger, in his postgame comments to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
They said it, part III: "It was floating like a punt, kind of end over end. It seemed like it took forever for the ball to get there," Nebraska wide receiver Matt Davison, telling reporters about his recollection of the play.
They said it, part IV: "We fought our (butts) off and came up short. It hurts so bad. We could have had it, should have had it," Missouri fullback Ron Janes, expressing his disappointment to the Columbia Daily Tribune after the loss.
They said it, part V: "He told me, 'We got lucky.' And he's right, they did," Smith, telling reporters of his postgame conversation with Nebraska coach Tom Osborne.
Factoids: Frost rushed for 141 yards on 23 carries and passed for 175 yards by completing 11-of-24 passes ... Jones completed 12 of 20 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns with one interception ... Missouri failed in its bid for its first upset over a No. 1 ranked team in school history ... The Cornhuskers' victory extended their winning streak of 37 consecutive conference games and 19 straight victories over Missouri ... Brown's fourth-quarter field goal was his 10th straight -- a then-Nebraska school record ... Nebraska produced 353 rushing yards, paced by a game-high 189 rushing yards by Ahman Green on 30 carries ... Nebraska had a 528-386 edge in total yards ... Davison had caught only seven passes for 117 yards and no touchdowns before his memorable reception.
The upshot: Nebraska fell from No. 1 to No. 3 in the polls the following week. But they returned to No. 2 two weeks later and remained there, even after a smashing 54-15 victory over Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game in San Antonio. The Cornhuskers then whipped No. 3 Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, 42-17 in the Bowl Alliance's top game.
That victory enabled Osborne to finish his career with a 14-game winning streak as the Cornhuskers spoiled Peyton Manning's final college game. Nebraska (13-0) finished No. 2 behind Michigan in the Associated Press media poll, but nosed out the Wolverines in the coaches' poll for a share of the national title.
Missouri finished the season with a 35-24 loss to Colorado State in the Holiday Bowl. The Tigers were 7-5 and No. 23 in the final Associated Press poll, the first time they had been ranked at season's end since finishing No. 19 in 1981.
5. Bamboozled three times. Boise State's gadget plays doom Oklahoma.
6. Yes, Sirr. Parker's' dramatic catches lead A&M to first Big 12 title.
7. Crouch's TD catch cements Heisman bid, beats Oklahoma.
8. Sproles and Roberson stun top-ranked OU, leading KSU to its first Big 12 title.
9. Emotional A&M victory brings closure after Bonfire tragedy.
10. Roll left: James Brown guarantees victory and then backs it up.
11. When BCS meant "Boo Chris Simms" in Colorado's first Big 12 title.
12. A Buffalo stampede: Six
Chris Brown TDs lead Colorado past Nebraska.
13. Run, Ricky, run. Ricky Williams breaks NCAA career rushing record.
14. Wild game, wilder post-game rants when Gundy and Leach meet in 2007.
15. Rout 66: No, that score wasn't a typo.
16. KSU finally slays the Cornhuskers.
17. Kingsbury and Long hook up in a passing duel for the ages.
18. Henery and Suh make Colorado blue.
19. Stunning OSU rally leads to Stoops' first home loss.
20. It's never over for Texas Tech until it's over.
21. Reesing to Meier. Again and again.
22. A Texas-sized comeback -- Texas over Oklahoma State in 2004.
23. A Border War unlike any of the rest -- Missouri over Kansas in 2007.
24. Seneca Wallace's wild TD run vs. Texas Tech in 2001.
25. Baylor's "So Much for Taking a Knee" against UNLV in 1999.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
With the recent passing of Felix "Doc" Blanchard, the folks at FanHouse.com posed an interesting question when they considered who the greatest living Heisman winners are.
Not surprisingly, the Big 12 was represented.
Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders was selected as the No. 2 living Heisman winner, trailing only double-Heisman winner Archie Griffin of Ohio State.
It's obvious why Sanders would be so highly ranked. His 1988 season might be the greatest in college football history with 2,628 rushing yards, 3,249 total yards and 39 touchdowns.
Behind Griffin and Sanders, Matt Leinart of Southern California was third, Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh was fourth and O.J. Simpson of USC was fifth.
And 1972 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska ranked among those players receiving honorable mention.
It was an intriguing list and the display with career video highlights of the top five finishers was pretty cool, too. Sanders' running style looks as scintillating today as it did during his college playing career.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Picking my four selections for the Nebraska Mount Rushmore of football was excruciatingly difficult. But after bouncing ideas around for several days, I realized I'm going to have to leave at least one Heisman Trophy winner off my mountain, no matter which way I lean.
And that's tough.
Here are my four choices:
- Bob Devaney -- Led the Cornhuskers to a pair of national championships and produced eight conference championships in his 11-season coaching career.
- Tom Osborne -- Set the school record with 255 victories in his 25-season career as coach, including three national championships and at least nine victories in every season.
- Johnny Rodgers -- Heisman Trophy winner in 1972 who helped lead the Cornhuskers to a pair of national championships. When he left school he owned the NCAA records for all-purpose yards and punt returns for touchdowns.
- Mike Rozier -- Two-time consensus All-American won the Heisman Trophy in 1983, leading the nation with 2,148 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns.
It was hard not putting Tommie Frazier or Eric Crouch up on my Nebraska Rushmore. Same with Rich Glover, Dave Rimington, Dean Steinkuhler, Grant Wistrom and Trev Alberts.
Ultimately, I'm satisfied with my four picks. I'm hoping it would get the Herbie Husker seal of approval.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a look back at Nebraska's illustrious bowl history. Today's Konica Minolta Gator Bowl will be the Cornhuskers 45th bowl game, which ranks fifth among all schools in bowl appearances.
Bowl record: 22-22
Current bowl streak: Lost 1.
Most memorable bowl victory: The Cornhuskers stormed through Florida for 29 second-quarter points and cruised to a convincing 62-24 victory over the Gators in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl to claim its second-straight national championship. Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier rushed for 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a scintillating 75-yard run where he broke seven arm tackles en route to the end zone. The 38-point margin of victory was the second-largest ever in a showdown between a No. 1 and No. 2 team.
Most disappointing loss: Miami humbled the Cornhuskers in a 37-14 victory in the 2002 Rose Bowl, cruising to a 34-0 halftime advantage in Eric Crouch's final college game. Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey torched Nebraska for 362 passing yards as the Hurricanes capitalized on three crucial Nebraska first-half turnovers to control the game early. Crouch rushed for 114 yards and DeJuan Groce returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown, but the Hurricanes dominated from the opening snap.
Best individual bowl performance: Johnny Rodgers punctuated his Heisman Trophy season by scoring four touchdowns, sparking the Cornhuskers to a 40-6 victory over Notre Dame in the 1973 Orange Bowl. For good measure, Rodgers led the team in rushing (81 yards), receiving (three catches, 71 yards) and even added a 52-yard TD pass on an option throw to wide receiver Frosty Anderson.
Record against Clemson: Clemson leads 1-0 after winning the 1982 Orange Bowl, 22-15.
Common 2008 opponents: None
The number: 35. Consecutive bowl appearances for Nebraska from 1969 through 2003. It remains the NCAA record.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a few tidbits, notes and quotes from around the conference that I've collected over the past week. Enjoy them.
WHO'S HOT AND NOT
Oklahoma running back Chris Brown, who is averaging 108.6 yards per game and 7.95 yards per carry in his last three games. And he's doing it while splitting time with DeMarco Murray in the Sooners' backfield platoon.
Texas wide receiver Malcolm Williams, who produced 182 yards on four receptions in his most substantial playing time last week against Texas Tech. Williams also downed a punt at the Texas Tech 1 and contributed two special-teams tackles.
Texas Tech's offensive line, which allowed only one sack combined in the first seven games of the season, but two sacks in each of its last two games.
Colorado's pass rush, which notched four sacks on 31 Texas A&M passing attempts last week. The Buffaloes had produced four sacks in their previous three games, a span of 115 passing attempts.
Colorado's sputtering offense. The Buffaloes have scored 31 points in five Big 12 games.
Nebraska linebacker Tyler Wortman, who produced 11 tackles against Oklahoma. Wortman had seven tackles combined in the first eight games of the season.
Kansas cornerback Chris Harris, a key performer last season for the Jayhawks. He's been beaten out by Justin Thornton and converted wide receiver Daymond Patterson for the starting cornerback positions. Harris is listed as a backup free safety behind starter Phillip Strozier.
Kansas State walk-on linebacker Alex Hrebec, who notched a team-high nine tackles after drawing a start against the Jayhawks.
Kansas State kick returner/wide receiver Deon Murphy, who vowed to "take one to the crib" for a touchdown against Kansas. He didn't come close, producing only 60 all-purpose yards against the Jayhawks.
Missouri DE Brian Coulter, who produced six tackles and 1 ½ sacks for theTigers vs. Baylor in his first career start.
Kansas WR Kerry Meier, who produced a season-low three receptions last week against Kansas State.
Missouri WR Tommy Saunders, who produced seven receptions for a career-best 109 yards against Baylor last week.
Texas Tech's special teams. The Red Raiders have had nine kicks blocked this season - five extra points, three field goals and a punt. That total is the most of any team in the country.
Here are a few quotes that kept reporters titillated across the Big 12 this week.
"Oklahoma State is now the biggest game in the history of this year," Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, describing his team's approach to the Cowboys after beating No. 1 Texas last week.
"I don't believe in moral victories, but we showed that we come to play every day," Baylor freshman quarterback Robert Griffin told the Waco Tribune-Herald after the Bears' near-miss against Missouri last week.
"I'm 47, I still haven't made man," Leach on Mike Gundy's infamous "I'm a man. I'm 40" tirade.
"No, I don't wish I didn't say it. I mean, I'm confident. I'm that dude. That's just me. If anybody doesn't like it . . . oh, well." Kansas State wide receiver Deon Murphy told the Topeka Capital-Journal after his pre-game comments backfired after calling out Kansas before last week's game.
"Crab made an unbelievable catch, and not only did he make an unbelievable catch, he made an unbelievable run after that and got into the zone and got us a win." Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, on Michael Crabtree's game-winning catch against Texas.
"That's crazy that they would drop. It surprises me, but all they can do is take care of their business," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, after seeing Oklahoma drop from fourth to sixth in the BCS standings despite beating his Cornhusker team by 34 points last week.
"At least when they come crying wondering why they're not playing, they'll know why. It's pretty simple to see." - Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to the Lincoln Journal-Star after his reserve defense has allowed late touchdowns against Kansas, Kansas State and Nebraska in its last three games.
"The snowball started rolling on us, and we didn't do anything to get it stopped," Pelini, after Oklahoma jumped to an early 35-0 lead over his team last week.
"That's going to teach him as a running back, you're never, ever going to be healthy. And once he realizes that, he'll be fine. He'll realize it this weekend." Colorado assistant coach Darian Hagan, who told the Rocky Mountain News that freshman Darrell Scott will have to adjust to the physical nature of college football.
"All we did was score too quickly. And then, two great players made a great play at the end," Texas coach Mack Brown, on Texas Tech's wild comeback last week.
254 - Yards needed by Nebraska wide receiver Nate Swift to break Johnny Rodgers' career receiving yardage record of 2,479.
THE BIG 12 - IN FACTOIDS
- Baylor has lost 17 straight games in which they trailed at the half.
- Each of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' four previous games against Texas A&M have been decided by seven points or less.
- Oklahoma State will become only the second team in history to face three top-three teams in true road games in one season. The Cowboys beat No. 3 Missouri and then lost to No. 1 Texas before playing No. 3 Texas Tech on Saturday. The only other team to face such a gauntlet was the 1969 TCU team, which lost games at No. 1 Ohio State, No. 3 Arkansas and No.
2 Texas.The Horned Frogs lost those games by a combined 155-13 margin.
- Robert Griffin is the first player in Baylor history to rush for 10 TDs and pass for 10 TDs in same season.
- Nebraska free safety Ricky Thenarse's interception snapped an interception drought that had stretched nearly six complete games for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers failed to produce an interception during a stretch of 142 opposing pass attempts - a period of 357 minutes, 42 seconds.
- Kansas State has allowed two of its last three opponents to post season-high rushing totals - Colorado (247) and Kansas (280). And Oklahoma's 275-yard effort missed beating the Sooners' best mark by only one yard.
- Texas Tech is off to a 5-0 start in conference play for the first time since 1953, when the Red Raiders were members of the Border Conference.
- Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant needs three more touchdown receptions to match OSU's single-season TD reception record of 17 set by Rashaun Woods in 2002.
- Baylor went 4-for-4 on fourth downs last week against Missouri. The Bears were 5-for-13 on third-down conversions.
- Kansas State has allowed at least 50 points in a game three times this season - most since 1988.
- Iowa State has forced three punts in the last two games. The Cyclones have forced four punts or fewer in four of their last five games and in six of nine games this season.
- Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman has created 13 turnovers in his three games against Kansas.
- Missouri tailback Derrick Washington failed to score a touchdown in last week's game for the first time this season.
BY THE NUMBERS, PART I
Kansas quarterback Todd Reesing has struggled in recent games after a hot start. He's averaging only 158 yards passing in his last two games, compared to an average of 331.7 yards per game in his first seven categories.
Here's an indication of how Reesing's production has dropped during the last two games.
Att. Comp. Int. Yds TD Pass Eff. rating W-L
First seven games 280 195 5 2322 17 155.77 5-2
Last two games 49 30 4 316 3 119.27 1-1
BY THE NUMBERS, PART II
Texas Tech will be facing a huge challenge of facing a top-10 team the week after beating the No. 1 team in the country. Only once since 1965 has a team been able to beat a No. 1 team and then beat a top-10 team the following week.
That team was the 1984 Oklahoma team, which was coached by Barry Switzer and featured current Texas coach Mack Brown as its offensive coordinator.
Here's a look at how teams fared the following week against a top-10 foe after beating a No. 1 team in their previous game (since 1965).
Team No. 1 team Score Next week (opponent/rank) Score
1993 Boston College @Notre Dame 41-39 West Virginia (No. 5) L, 14-17
1990 Michigan State @Michigan 28-27 @Illinois (No. 8) L, 13-15
1984 Oklahoma @Nebraska 17-7 Oklahoma State (No. 3) W, 24-14
1982 Notre Dame @Pittsburgh 31-16 Penn State (No. 5) L, 14-24
1981 Wisconsin Michigan 21-14 UCLA (No. 9) L, 13-31
Source: ESPN Stats & Information Department
BY THE NUMBERS, PART III
Michael Crabtree's dramatic game-winning touchdown pass did more than merely keep Texas Tech's BCS national title hopes alive. It also extended Crabtree's string of consecutive games with a touchdown reception to 12 games - with barely a second to spare.
Here's a list of the top consecutive touchdown reception streaks in college football history.
Years Player School Consecutive TD catch games
2002-03 Larry Fitzgerald Pittsburgh 18
2005-06 Jarett Dillard Rice 15
2001-02 Charles Rogers Michigan State 14
1990-91 Desmond Howard Michigan 13
1997 Randy Moss Marshall 13
2007-08 Michael Crabtree Texas Tech 12
1990-91 Aaron Turner Pacific 12
Source: ESPN Stats & Information Department
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It used to be a rivalry that the rest of the college football world noticed.
In the glory days of the Big Eight, Nebraska-Oklahoma was as big as it got. Barry Switzer and Tom Osborne. "Sooner Magic." Keith Jackson's catch. Johnny Rodgers return.
But those days have never seemed further away as the Cornhuskers and Sooners prepare for Saturday's game in Norman.
Now, the Cornhuskers and Sooners appear to be just another cross-divisional rivalry in the Big 12, where much of the mystique of the game has been stripped away because the two teams meet only twice during a four-year period.
Here's a factoid that is rather telling. The Grand Island (Neb.) Independent reported earlier this week that 87 percent of respondents in an unscientific poll conducted by a Nebraska television station voted that the Nebraska-Oklahoma game didn't have as much meaning as before.
The Sporting News came out with a special magazine back in 2001 that commemorated the the rivalry before the matchup between then-No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 3 Nebraska. It's hard to believe something like that would happen today.
And in a sense, that's kind of sad.
Here's an example of how quickly those glory days have been forgotten. Oklahoma wide receiver Ryan Broyles said he had never even heard of Rodgers, a transcendent figure who helped the Cornhuskers win the national championship in 1971 with a key punt return against the Sooners in a 35-31 victory that many still call "The Game of the Century."
"No, I'm not familiar," Broyles told the Oklahoman. "That's my bad."
Some of those feelings are understandable, considering the attention span of young players, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
"It's funny how they are," Stoops said. "History is the last two years to them."
The rivalry has had its moments since the Big 12 was formed. Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch wrapped up the 2001 Heisman Trophy by catching a throwback from Mike Stuntz that sealed the Cornhuskers' 20-10 victory that year. Oklahoma claimed the 2006 Big 12 title by beating Nebraska in Kansas City.
Former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan touched off a fervor when he referred to Oklahoma fans as "expletive Hillbillies" after Oklahoma's 30-3 victory over the Cornhuskers in Nebraska's last trip to Norman in 2004.
Oklahoma officials are hoping to defuse some of those bad memories by hosting a dinner Friday night where key players from the 1971 game meet again to retell their old war stories. Among those expected to attend are Switzer and Osborne, who still are close today.
In a sense, that relationship matches those of the current head coaches. Stoops and Pelini have been friends since childhood after growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, and attending the same high school, Cardinal Mooney. Pelini served as a member of Stoops' coaching staff in 2004 and the two coaching rivals remain good friends today.
"We've joked that two guys from the south side of Youngstown have ended up coaching in Oklahoma and Nebraska with what the rivalry being what it is," Stoops said. "But this game this week is about a lot more than Bo and I.
"And we're not going to be out there wrestling in the middle of the field. Bo is too young for me."
Oklahoma desperately needs a victory to keep pace with Texas in the South Division. If the Sooners are going to have a chance to defend their conference championship Dec. 6 in Kansas City, they need Texas to lose twice. The Sooners can't afford to drop another game behind the Longhorns with only four games left.
And despite a two-game losing streak to start Big 12 play, the Cornhuskers have played much better in a close loss at Texas Tech and recent victories over Iowa State and Baylor. A ball-control offense has enabled the Cornhuskers average nearly 39 minutes of time of possession during their last three games.
"That's something we've always worked on and will always work on," Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz said. "It doesn't change just because we're facing a big opponent like Oklahoma. We're going to stick to our game plan and what we do best. The time of possession is going to be big, especially to keep that (Oklahoma's) offense off the field."
That strategy has enabled the Cornhuskers to play their way into a tie for the North Division lead, resuscitating bowl hopes and giving some dreamy Nebraska fans hopes of sneaking their way into the title game if Missouri would lose again this season.
"I don't really change who I play or what I do or how I approach it," Pelini said. "I understand we're playing against a heck of a football team. And we need to play our best football, which we still haven't done yet."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Nate Swift might not live up to his name and be the fastest receiver in the Big 12. He might not be the biggest, strongest or jump the highest.
|Bruce Thorson-US PRESSWIRE|
|Nebraska's Nate Swift overcame a childhood illness to become one of the top receivers in Cornhuskers history.|
But even with his limitations, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini doesn't like to see any labels affixed to his leading receiver -- a player with an amazing knack for simply grabbing the football in traffic and making opponents miss.
"He's just a good football player," Pelini said. "I get tired of people saying he's a possession guy, he's this, and he's that. Nate is just a heck of a football player."
Swift lived up to his coach's rave reviews again Saturday with a career day that helped spark the Cornhuskers back into the North Division race with a comeback victory over Baylor. The senior receiver produced 11 catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns to resuscitate Nebraska's passing game.
In the process, he broke a 36-year-old record to become the leading receiver in Nebraska history, a record set by Cornhusker legend Johnny Rodgers.
Swift set the record on a 9-yard touchdown toss from former college roommate Joe Ganz late in the third quarter, providing the Cornhuskers the lead for good against the pesky Bears. He later iced the victory later in the game with a 53-yard TD grab.
"The biggest thing for me is to be on board with guys like Johnny Rodgers and all of the rest," Swift said. "It's a great honor to be listed among any of the all-time honors. And it's fun to break records that have been around forever. It's something I'll always remember."
His big game has given him 146 receptions, breaking the previous mark set by Rodgers during his Heisman Trophy winning career from 1970-72.
Swift has obviously received benefit from playing four years in his career, but his growth has been remarkable considering some of the obstacles that were thrown in his way.
Only 12 years ago, Swift was paralyzed for several weeks after he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre, a rare childhood disease that affects only about 2 out of 100,000 people.
As doctors slowly rebuilt his immune system and helped him return to a normal life, Swift worried if he would ever be able to run again and play with his friends.
A football career, he thought, would be a bonus.
"I couldn't do anything and for three months. I had to sit inside and watch the other kids playing," Swift said. "That was the toughest thing. I always wondered if I would ever be able to play sports again."
Within a couple of years, his recovery was complete. And he eventually developed into one of the most heralded prospects in the Midwest during a standout career at Hutchinson (Minn.) High School where he was a teammate of current Nebraska player Lydon Murtha. Swift was an all-purpose running back who rushed for more than 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns as a senior.
But he chose Nebraska over a slew of Big Ten offers because Frank Solich's former staff was prepared to give him a shot at playing receiver in a power-based option offense.
The arrival of Bill Callahan's West Coast passing attack, and the continuation of most of its philosophies under current Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, enabled Swift to blossom in college.
Swift has 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash. While that burst won't blow away defenders, he is still quick enough to get open when he needs to because of his uncanny ability to run precise routes.
And he's actually used his speed more this year. Earlier in the season, Nebraska coaches liked to use him in the slot, where his ability to get open against linebackers gave him a natural advantage.
But they've trusted his athleticism more as the season progresses, moving him more outside where he can also stretch defenses with his athletic ability.
Those talents were on display earlier this season when he brought back a punt 88 yards for a touchdown against Virginia Tech. It was the longest punt return so far this season in the Big 12.
Even that remarkable play brought some good-natured kidding from Nebraska coaches. Nebraska wide receiver coach Ted Gilmore joked that he could have beaten Swift down the field if he had run along with him down the sidelines.
"They kind of kidded me about that, but it was all good-natured," Swift said. "I think I showed I could definitely still run when I had the opportunity."
After all that he has been through, the chance to merely play football at such a high level is something that Swift will never take for granted.
"It always comes back to that," Swift said. "I think how lucky I was that everything worked out for me. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do what I'm doing."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are a couple of the more notable games that were played on Sept. 12, as selected from our Way Back Machine.
Sept. 12, 1970 -- No. 9 Nebraska 36, Wake Forest 12 (Lincoln, Neb.): QB Jerry Tagge ran for one score and passed for 168 yards and another TD as the Cornhuskers started their march to a share of the national championship at the end of the season. Joe Orduna and Jeff Kinney notched touchdown runs and Johnny Rodgers debuted in his first college game with a 61-yard TD pass from Tagge to spark the Cornhuskers' rout.
Sept. 12, 1998 -- Iowa State 27, Iowa 9 (Iowa City, Iowa): Darren Davis rushed for 244 yards and Joe Parmentier scored a pair of touchdowns to lead the Cyclones' upset victory, snapping a 15-game losing streak to their cross-state rivals. Heading into the game, the Cyclones had been 0-30-1 in road games since 1991.
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State