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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Birth of a Rivalry - Part II

Today we take another look at the rivalry between Nebraska and Colorado. Yesterday we looked at the birth of the rivalry, which began with an upset victory by the Buffs in 1986. Today I want us to back a little farther to 1979. Let’s face it; I was never good at chronology.

So what happened in 1979 that was so central to this rivalry? Well, it’s actually what didn’t happen that year that is so significant to the history of Husker football.

Let’s start this piece in Boulder, Colorado in 1978. Colorado began the 1978 season ranked #19 in the country. After cruising to a 5-0 start the Buffs reached #13 in the polls. CU then hit the skids losing five of its next six games to finish the year with a 6-5 record. Due to this disappointing finish, the Buffalos decided to fire coach Bill Mallory, who ended his five-year career at CU with a 35-21 record.

At this same time in Lincoln, Tom Osborne was in his sixth year as head coach of Nebraska. He had already enjoyed tremendous success at this point in his career. However, he was also 0-5 in his career against Oklahoma. It was during November of 1978, that Nebraska finally managed to beat the #1 ranked Sooners 17-14 in Lincoln.

In his book Faith in the Game, Tom Osborne writes:
“We were so emotionally spent that we lost to Missouri the next week and were told we had to play Missouri again in the Orange Bowl. Playing Oklahoma a second time in six weeks after finally beating them was a hard thing to swallow.”
In the Orange Bowl rematch, Nebraska outgained the Sooners in total yardage, but lost, 31-24.

Osborne now found himself feeling “discouraged and frustrated. Some fans had been fairly negative, as we hadn’t been as dominant as they had hoped.”

So, in Nebraska, the coach is disheartened and in Colorado, the coach is gone. Tom Osborne has stated that he never felt he was a particularly hot commodity in the coaching profession. However, Colorado would come calling following the 1978 season.

Again in Faith in the Game, Osborne said:
“The only offer I took seriously was from the University of Colorado…when the Colorado job was offered I talked the situation over with my coaching staff. We agreed that Colorado appeared to be an easier recruiting situation, and the coaches shared some of my disappointment concerning fan reaction.”
Osborne and his wife Nancy eventually visited Boulder and found the location and the facilities to their liking. Eventually the only thing that kept him in Lincoln was the loyalty to his players.
“I thought about how I would break the news to the Nebraska players that I was leaving. The more I tried to construct the speech in my mind, the more I realized I couldn’t make it. I had told these players that Nebraska was the best place for them, and I didn’t know how I could tell them that someplace else was better for me and the coaches. I sat down with the staff and told them I couldn’t leave, and I never took a serious look at another job.”
It is eerie to think just how close we were to losing Osborne. It is eerier still to consider the team we almost lost him to. I cannot even imagine how this would have changed this rivalry, let alone the future of Nebraska football. Who would Nebraska have hired to replace him? Would the Huskers have had to play on Tom Osborne Field in Boulder?

I seriously doubt I would be writing this blog had Osborne headed for the mountains. And I’m even more certain I wouldn’t be working on a PhD in Educational Psychology without the early influence of Dr. Tom.

Serendipity my friends. Serendipity.

In the two videos below you can watch Parts I and II of Osborne’s appearance on Up Close from 1998.