The 1971 contest between Nebraska and Oklahoma dubbed “The Game of the Century” lived up to the hype as the eventual national champion Cornhuskers topped the Sooners, 35-31. The following year, however, had plenty riding on it.
In the end, Oklahoma got revenge in Lincoln in a top-5 showdown that would ultimately decide the Big 8. The Sooners scored the game’s final 17 points to leave with a 17-14 victory.
Setting the Stage
It was Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 23, 1972, as No. 4 Oklahoma arrived at Memorial Stadium in Nebraska. The Sooners were 8-1 and had won four straight since a 20-14 loss at Colorado.
Ranked fifth, Nebraska had gone 8-0-1 since a season-opening loss to UCLA. The Cornhuskers had gone more than three years without losing at home and were looking to win the Big 8 crown for a fourth straight season.
Oklahoma Storms Back
The story of the day was the Oklahoma defense. The Sooners held Nebraska to just 181 total yards and kept eventual Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers — one of the stars of the 1971 victory for the Cornhuskers — in check.
Despite that, Nebraska led 14-0 early in the third quarter following Dave Goeller’s 1-yard touchdown run. Bill Olds’ touchdown run midway through the first quarter accounted for all the first-half scoring.
Stifled to that point, the Oklahoma offense came to life. Joe Washington’s touchdown run capped an 11-play, 76-yard drive and cut the lead in half. The fourth quarter was a little more than three minutes old when Oklahoma drew even on another 1-yard plunge — this one from Grant Burget.
The biggest play of the game may have come from the Oklahoma defense as the Sooners stripped Nebraska’s Dave Humm inside his own 30-yard-line. Lucious Selmon recovered for the Sooners. Although the offense could do little with the most significant of the game’s 10 turnovers, Rick Fulcher connected on a 41-yard field goal to put Oklahoma ahead for good and cap the scoring.
Recap and box score:
After falling to Oklahoma, Nebraska would bounce back with a 40-6 trouncing of Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. With a 9-2-1 record, the Cornhuskers finished No. 4 in the poll.
Following the win, Oklahoma topped No. 20 Oklahoma State 38-15 before shutting out Penn State in the Sugar Bowl, 14-0. The Sooners finished 11-1 and No. 2 in the final polls.
Oklahoma came up just short of a national championship, but did win the Big 8 outright, thanks to a victory over Nebraska in Lincoln. That win came on this day a half-century ago.
Featured image appeared in Des Moines Register