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From the Archives: Nixon's visit honored 1970 Huskers

THE WORLD-HERALD

President Richard Nixon visits the University of Nebraska at Lincoln on Jan. 14, 1971 to present a plaque to the Husker football team following its 1970 national championship. An estimated 8,500 were in attendance.

On Jan. 14, 1971, two years after his inauguration, President Richard Nixon came to Lincoln to recognize the Huskers’ first national football title, presenting a plaque to coach Bob Devaney and captains Dan Schneiss and Jerry Murtaugh.

Almost 45 years later to the date — Jan. 13, 2016 — another sitting president visited Nebraska as Barack Obama made a trip to Omaha and spoke at UNO's Baxter Arena.

Nixon's visit came at a much different time in American history, though. In the days of Vietnam War protests, a student lobbed a snowball at the president as he crossed campus. Nixon playfully lobbed a snowball back. Scandal would eventually mark Nixon's presidency, but on that day Nixon received a raucous greeting in Lincoln. It may have helped that the national champions were in the house.

Here's The World-Herald's Jan. 15, 1971, report, with additional photos from the presidential visit below:

Nixon receives No. 1 welcome

It was a tough act to follow, but President Nixon got almost as much applause as Coach Bob Devaney and the nation’s No. 1 football team at the University of Nebraska Coliseum Thursday.

Nixon got a rousing reception as he stepped before the microphones and then in a generally conciliatory speech to youth said he intended to combine the Peace Corps, VISTA and other volunteer agencies into one volunteer service organization.

The President said he will send a message to the next Congress asking for the merger. Joe Blatchford, the present Peace Corps director, would remain in charge.

He said the new Center for Voluntary Action “will open new opportunities for millions of Americans of all ages to the extent that they wish to contribute their time, their talents and their hearts to building better communities and a better world.”

If Nixon’s reception was rousing, Devaney’s was roaring. The cheers came from about 8,500 students and faculty members.

Noting Devaney’s popularity, the President said to the coach: “You ought to run for something in this state.”

Nixon said he tried to telephone the Nebraska team after the Orange Bowl game but found the circuits busy. He said the operator told him everybody in Nebraska was trying to call and congratulate the team.

The President recalled that in 1969, he made the mistake of designating Texas No. 1 before the bowl games. Penn State sent up a howl and, Nixon said, he still can’t go into Pennsylvania “without a passport.”

The President said that when he was in Omaha in October, Nebraska was ranked No. 3. He said he asked Carl T. Curtis what he should do and the senator advised: “Wait until after the bowl games.”

Said the President: “That was real vision.”

The presidential plaque, presented to Devaney and co-captians Jerry Murtaugh and Dan Schneiss, noted Nebraska’s Big Eight championship, the Orange Bowl win, and the No. 1 ranking of the Associated Press.

A humble Devaney, devoid of his usual store of quips, said:

“This is the greatest honor ever bestowed on any team... to think the President of the United States would take time to make this presentation. It means a tremendous lot to the team and the university. Thank you.”

It was a bipartisan affair, with Democratic Gov. J.J. Exon getting a choice seat on the platform with the President. When Devaney got the plaque, Exon stood and signaled the audience to join in applause. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.

Just before the President started to talk, a chant by a handful of students of “Peace Now” was started. But it was drowned out immediately by applause for the President. That was it. Here and there a peace sign or a power-to-the-people clenched fist could be seen.

Sen. Roman Hruska, with his wife, accompanied the presidential party to Lincoln from California. Hruska had the biggest red tie on the platform.

The President addressed his serious remarks to youth, saying:

“This is an exciting time for the University of Nebraska. You can all take pride in this great Cornhusker team. It is a splendid thing to be champion. But a more splendid thing, I believe, is the process by which a team becomes champion — the long struggle through defeat, through doubt and despair to victory. There is satisfaction here. And for all of us, there are valuable lessons as well.”

Nixon said young people need “something positive to respond to — some high enterprise in which they can test themselves and fulfill themselves.”

He called for the imagination and idealism of youth in meeting the problems of the environment — “to preserve the good earth is a great goal.”

With many of the great cities dying, he said, Americans must do better, commenting: “Only if the American city can prosper can the American dream prevail.”

The President asked for a “new rural environment and a new rural prosperity which will not only stem the migration to urban centers but draw people back to the heartland of America.”

He also asked the young to tackle the problems of overpopulation, education, health, poverty and equal opportunity for all people.

Said the President: “There can be no generation gap in America. The destiny of this nation is not divided into yours and ours — it is one. We share it together and we are together responsible for it. There has been too much emphasis on the difference between the generations. There has been too much tendency of many of my generation to blame all of your generation for the excesses of the violent few. I believe one of America’s most priceless assets is the idealism which motivates the young people.”

President Nixon proposed: “So let us forge an alliance between generations. Let us together seek out those ways by which the commitment and compassion of one generation can be linked to the will and experience of another, so that together we can better serve America, and America better serve mankind.”

He said lowering of the voting age to 18 “could have a dramatic effect on your future and the future of America.”

He went on: “To those who have believed the system could not be moved, I urge you to try it. To those who have thought the system impenetrable, I say there is no longer a need to penetrate. The door is open.”

The President said there will be disappointments and defeats because “no one can win all the time.” But he added: “No one can have his own way all the time and no one is right all the time. The old excuse about a world I never made will not serve any longer. You have now the opportunity and the obligation to mold the world you live in, and you cannot escape this obligation.”

Nixon presents the No. 1 college plaque to coach Bob Devaney and captains Dan Schneiss and Jerry Murtaugh. In the background is Joseph Soshnik, then head of the Lincoln campus.

President Nixon added to Nebraska's rewards for its undefeated football team with a personal congratulations and a presidential plaque proclaiming No. 1 status. In his speech later, Nixon boasted to the crowd: "You can all take pride in this great Cornhusker team."

Nixon used the 1970 Husker team as an example for the youth in attendance: "It is a splendid thing to be champions. But a more splendid thing, I believe, is the process by which a team becomes champion... For as vital as the understanding we gain in the classroom, is the deeper understanding of ourselves that comes from competing against others, competing against ourselves. In these endeavors we go beyond awareness of what we are, and discover a higher understanding of what we can be."

President Nixon shakes the hand of Husker linebacker Jerry Murtaugh, a first team All-American in 1970. Murtaugh was also the Big 8 Player of the Year, and in the national championship game against LSU, he led the team with nine tackles as the Tigers totaled 51 yards on the ground.


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