ESPN Network: | | | | ABCSports | EXPN | INSIDER | FANTASY   

Battle Lines: 1971's Game of the Century

Where Are They Now? Johnny Rodgers

Game of the Century flashback

OU/Neb memories

Oklahoma vs. Nebraska series record

Five fabulous games

 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma: 1971
Neb. QB Tagee run to 3-yd line.
Standard | Cable Modem

 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma: 1971
Kinney TD for Neb win.
Standard | Cable Modem

 Nebraska vs. Oklahoma
Johnny Rodgers returns punt for a touchdown.
Standard | Cable Modem

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Game of the Century left lifetime of memories
By Chris Schenkel
Special to ESPN Classic

(Four-time National Sportscaster of the Year, Chris Schenkel was the voice of ABC's NCAA college football for 12 years.)

Bud Wilkinson, Bill Fleming and I were fortunate to televise 1971's incredible struggle for No. 1 in the country. On Thanksgiving Day, this game lived up to all the hype. No. 1 Nebraska vs. No. 2 Oklahoma matched the No. 1 defense of the Cornhuskers against the No. 1 offense of the Sooners. At stake was only the Big Eight title and a chance to take on Alabama in the Orange Bowl for the national championship.

Before the game started in Norman, Bud and I went to the field and as we walked through the tunnel leading to the artificial turf, the crowd of 61,826 spotted the legendary Bud Wilkinson and exploded into applause, cheers and admirations. They stood as one and sustained the display of joy and respect for my partner. Tears streamed down both our cheeks -- as nothing ever matched this hero worship then or since.

At the beginning of hundreds of NCAA college football telecasts I would proclaim: "see the color and excitement of NCAA college football. What a way to spend an afternoon!" This holiday afternoon was the stage for one of the most incredible kick returns I ever saw. In the first quarter, Johnny Rodgers, a future Heisman Trophy winner, fielded an Oklahoma punt on his own 28 -- 72 yards later Johnny had faked, cut, juked and outrun the Huskers for a touchdown, overwhelming everyone in the stadium and those watching on national television.

Later in the first quarter, Oklahoma's John Carroll's 30-yard field goal cut Nebraska's lead to 7-3. Nebraska's I-back Jeff Kinney scored in the second quarter off a handoff from Jerry Tagge to increase the Cornhuskers lead to 14-3.

The SRO crowd draped in crimson and cream colors never let up in their support. With Oklahoma trailing by 11, the Sooners followed their leader, quarterback Jack Mildren, and scored twice to lead 17-14 at halftime. Mildren ran one in from the three and hit Jon Harrison on a 24-yard touchdown pass with five seconds left in the first half.

Bud Wilkinson, who did hundreds of games with me, was never more impartial--after all, Bud had coached OU to three national championships, a 47-game win streak and much more. Yet, he was right on every call. Bill Fleming, the best sideline reporter ever, made our telecast sparkle.

As I looked at the crowd, I marveled at the spirit and the different types of people in attendance. Farmers, students, ranchers, oil men and presidents of corporations watched the game with young children, pretty women, families of the players and many from Oklahoma's Native American population.

Oklahoma came back twice from 11 point deficits to take the lead. The Sooners scoring in the second half featured QB Jack Mildren on a 3-yard run and a 16-yard pass to Harrison.

Nebraska showcased its persistent, methodical offense. After falling behind 31-28, Jerry Tagge put together an incredible 74-yard drive in 5:18. The Huskers converted on three third downs and on the 12th play, Jeff Kinney scored the winning touchdown on a 2-yard plunge with 1:38 remaining.

That day neither team lost. Nebraska just scored four more points. Nebraska went on to win the national championship beating Alabama, 38-6, in the Orange Bowl. The Sooners crushed Auburn, 42-22, in the Sugar Bowl.

I'll put the 1971 Nebraska/Oklahoma game up against the others I've done -- the 1958 NFL championship game between the Colts and Giants that the Colts won in sudden death overtime, the 10-10 tie between Michigan State and Notre Dame in 1966, the Texas 15-14 win at Arkansas in 1969 -- and still marvel at that day in Norman 30 years ago.

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories