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Continued: Patrick Reusse: There's no hiding from Huskers for U football anymore

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 12, 2010 - 9:12 AM

The football Gophers were getting ready to play Nebraska on Sept. 22, 1990. As always, the Cornhuskers' Memorial Stadium was shoulder-to-shoulder in red with fans anticipating a victory.

Dan Meinert, the No. 2 man in Minnesota's athletic department, was in the press box before the game. He mentioned a letter from Nebraska that was on his desk in Minneapolis.

"They want to play us a game at the end of this decade, and again in the year 2000," Meinert said. "There are so many changes being made, I'm not sure what our schedule will look like that far down the road."

The change to which Meinert referred to was the pending arrival of Penn State as the Big Ten's 11th school.

The Cornhuskers assisted Meinert and his boss, Rick Bay, in deciding whether to sign up for another two-game series. Nebraska pounded the Gophers 56-0 on that Saturday, and the two football teams have not played since.

Two decades later, there is true change coming to the landscape for big-time college football and, when it comes to Nebraska, the Gophers can no longer hide.

The dissolution of the Big 12 continued Friday with the official acceptance of Nebraska as the Big Ten's 12th team. Where this will end seems anybody's guess, but any division of teams based on geography seems certain to turn Minnesota vs. Nebraska into an annual event.

The sure sign that you have been a Gophers follower for too long is when you can recall an expectation of victory against Nebraska. The 32-12 home loss to the Huskers in 1959 was among the reasons that Gophers coach Murray Warmath found himself hung in effigy on campus late that season.

A year later, the Gophers went to Lincoln and whipped Nebraska 26-14, and we figured that was a return to the norm. At that point, the Gophers had a 29-6-2 lead in a rivalry that dated to 1900.

Warmath took us to the Rose Bowl that season, and the Gophers went again the next, and no Minnesotan gave a thought to inhaling Nebraska's exhaust for the next 30 years in football.

Nebraska hired Bob Devaney from Wyoming after the 1961 season. The Gophers sent five coaches at Nebraska from 1963 through 1990: Warmath, Cal Stoll, Joe Salem, Lou Holtz and John Gutekunst. They went 0-14 against Devaney and his successor, Tom Osborne.

Smokey Joe had only one date with Nebraska: Sept. 17, 1983, in the Metrodome. Jay Carroll, a Gophers tight end, was quoted that morning in a Twin Cities daily as saying, "We are anxious to find out how good we are."

Answer: "Not very."

The final was 84-13 for Nebraska. Eventually, even the 50 percent of the 62,000 spectators clad in red was embarrassed. So was Osborne, the Nebraska coach, who used all his players and still was accused of having no mercy.

Osborne's sensitivity to that charge led to what I've always considered a greater indignity foisted upon the Gophers.

It was what occurred before halftime in the 1990 game -- the one that caused Meinert to throw in the wastebasket Nebraska's invitation to schedule another two-game series.

Nebraska was leading 42-0. It was moving toward another touchdown, inside the 20, with one minute remaining. Osborne ordered a couple of kneel-downs from his quarterback to keep the margin at six touchdowns.

A week earlier, Nebraska had defeated Northern Illinois 60-14, using five quarterbacks and 96 players. Against Gutey's Gophers, the Huskers used six quarterbacks and 104 players.

A clever sports columnist wrote the next day's Star Tribune: "Osborne could have qualified for the Mother Teresa medallion from the College Football Coaches Association."

There was also this dialogue involving a pair of a pair of teenagers wearing Nebraska warmup jackets and sitting in end zone bleachers:

"I thought Minnesota would be better than Northern Illinois," one kid said.

To which the other replied: "I would call it a tossup."

Twenty years later, Northern Illinois and Minnesota will match up this fall at TCF Bank Stadium. Enjoy that matchup, Gophers, since expansion of the Big Ten -- it's not over yet -- presumably will mean a nine-game conference schedule (rather than eight) that includes a match with the Big Red.

There is this good news: Nebraska will join Iowa and Wisconsin as rivals with fans guaranteed to fill the stadium, if and when Minnesotans make the decision to stop doing so.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP. • preusse@startribune.com

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