The distance: 16 yards
The star: Bill “Thunder” Thornton
The date: Sept. 29, 1962
The outcome: Huskers 25, Michigan 13
And to think, Bill Thornton was a game-time decision.
The veteran All-Big Eight fullback — and first black captain in Nebraska football history — had dislocated his shoulder three weeks earlier. The Huskers had easily dispatched South Dakota in their season opener without the guy nicknamed "Thunder," but the second game was a much bigger test — a road game against heavily favored Michigan.
As if the opponent wasn’t incentive enough for Thornton to play, the Toledo, Ohio, native also had his mother in attendance, hoping to watch her son play a college football game for the first time.
“We left it up to Bill,” NU coach Bob Devaney said. “He said he wanted to try it.”
Thornton, sent into the game at the start of second quarter, wasted no time testing his shoulder. He delivered a crushing block that sprung free Dennis Stuewe on a 42-yard run, setting up a touchdown and 7-0 lead.
That set the tone for Nebraska’s stunning 25-13 victory against the Wolverines before 57,254 fans at the Big House.
Thornton scored two touchdowns that day, including a 16-yard run on a perfectly executed trap play that sealed the victory in the fourth quarter. Lineman Bob Brown opened the way, and Thornton broke up the middle, cut to his left and pulled away from a linebacker's grasp.
“Did you see that guy?” Thornton said, referring to Brown. “On that touchdown he knocked out the whole side of the Michigan line. Why, he must have knocked down six men.”
The PAT kick failed, and 6:40 remained. Michigan fumbled the kickoff and Nebraska recovered, only to lose a fumble on the next play.
Still, Nebraska forced a punt and moved to the Michigan 29-yard line, where the drive stalled with only two minutes remaining.
In only his second game as Nebraska’s coach, Devaney had a signature victory.
An estimated 3,500 fans went to Lincoln Municipal Airport that night to welcome the team home. Many of them shared the same thought:
This Devaney guy might be OK.