As humbling defeats in Husker football history go, this one is in a category of its own. This one came with flowers.
It was supposed to be a laugher, the 1955 Nebraska season opener. Having lost to the Huskers 50-0 in Honolulu the year before, Hawaii came to Lincoln for another presumed spanking with … um … 28 players. The best of those players was named Skippy.
“Not a trace of Hawaiian money can be found as Nebraska rates an overwhelming favorite over the Islanders,” were the words on the front page of The Lincoln Star on Sept. 17, 1955. The story shared the page with a picture of Juan Peron smoking a cigarette beneath the headline: “Argentina Teeters in Revolt.”
The end of the story about the game included mention that “NU Tassels will distribute 20,000 Vanda orchids to the ladies in the stands.” The flowers were said to be courtesy of the people of Hawaii and the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.
About 23,000 people attended the game on a 93-degree day, ready for orchids and a lopsided affair.
Skippy Dyer, a back from New Orleans, made the Huskers look foolish. He returned the opening kickoff to almost midfield, but eluded so many tackles on the way there that reporters guessed he must’ve covered about 90 yards of ground before someone finally took him down.
“Nebraska was never really in the game,” remembers Don Bryant, Nebraska sports information director emeritus, who was then the senior sports editor for The Lincoln Star. “What had happened was Nebraska had to go play Ohio State the next weekend at Columbus, and had worked all spring and fall on Ohio State.”
And so came a lesson in humility.
The score showed it closer than the game seemed to be. Hawaii finally cashed in on its dominance on a fullback plunge in the fourth quarter to win 6-0.
“I don’t have much to say,” Nebraska’s coach Bill Glassford said. “We didn’t do anything. They outplayed us in every way.”
There have been more lopsided embarrassments in Husker history. We’ve seen 70-10, after all. And you could find other upsets that were certainly more painful to more people. Turn the clock to 1978 and a 35-31 loss to Missouri a week after Nebraska finally beat Oklahoma for the first time under Tom Osborne.
You can also find similar occasions when Nebraska creamed a team one year and lost to them the next (63-7 win over Syracuse in 1983, 17-9 loss to Syracuse in 1984; 77-28 win over Arizona State in 1995, 19-0 loss to Arizona State in 1996). But this was at home against a team with 28 players eight months after Nebraska appeared in its first Orange Bowl.
“Whatever construction Coach Bill Glassford’s team had made in its annual ‘building program’ was torn down and scattered over Memorial Stadium sod Saturday afternoon,” Bryant wrote in his game story.
But wouldn’t you know that Nebraska went to Columbus the next week and played the Buckeyes to the wire in front of 80,000 fans.
Ohio State escaped 28-20 and a coach named Woody Hayes said, “Nebraska should be proud of its team. They are not Big Ten-caliber, but they played like it today.”
It was damp and cold when the Huskers arrived back at the Lincoln Municipal Airport, but it didn’t stop about 300 students from greeting them. They sang “Dear Old Nebraska U.” and Glassford told a reporter “it’s always nice to see friends.”
Long autumns were ahead. Glassford’s 1955 team broke even at 5-5. He didn’t coach Nebraska another season. The six years that followed were even more dismal.
The orchids were long dead by the time Bob Devaney showed up. But he’d have fans back at the airport singing the fight song eventually — and after wins, no less.
Reach Brian Christopherson at 473-7439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.