Never-before published Game of the Century photos


QB Jerry Tagge looks to run early in the Game of the Century. "We were trying to create some bad plays for Nebraska and Tagge did a great job of calling automatics," said OU coach Chuck Fairbanks after the game.

New World-Herald book offers detailed look at coach Bob Devaney's Nebraska legacy

The World-Herald’s new sports book, "Devaney: Birth of a Dynasty" by Henry J. Cordes, looks at Bob Devaney’s formula for building his 1970 and 1971 national championship teams.

Devaney revived Nebraska football when he arrived in 1962, but by 1968 his program was in trouble, reaching its low point in a season-ending 47-0 loss to Oklahoma. The Huskers stayed home that winter, their 6-4 record not earning a bowl bid.

Devaney went looking for answers and found them in:

» Tom Osborne and Monte Kiffin, two innovative young assistant coaches who retooled the team’s offense and defense.

» Quarterbacks Van Brownson and Jerry Tagge, who would set a standard for unselfish play at Nebraska.

» Boyd Epley, a pole vaulter on the NU track team who attracted the football staff’s attention with his strength-training program.

» Jerry Murtaugh, a rough-and-tumble linebacker who was brash enough to clash with his coach — and to set the team’s sights on No. 1.

» Johnny Rodgers, an electrifying young Omahan who put a charge to the powder keg of talent in the program.

They and other legendary names of Husker football — Jeff Kinney, Rich Glover, Larry Jacobson, Willie Harper — would redefine Nebraska football forever.

A large part of the book is devoted to the Game of the Century, Nebraska’s epic 35-31 victory over Oklahoma on Thanksgiving in 1971, illustrated with some never-before published photos.

Retired World-Herald photographer Rich Janda was on the scene in Norman, Oklahoma, shooting from ground level as the game unfolded.

Janda, who retired in 2004, was 32 at the time and had been shooting Husker games since 1968. But he knew this game was different, because of the buildup of the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup.

He drove to Norman with the paper's darkroom equipment the day before the game, while the rest of the staff flew down on Thanksgiving.

"The main thing I remember is it was cold," Janda said. "We hadn't expected that."

His most vivid memories of the game were Johnny Rodgers’ punt return and Jeff Kinney’s winning touchdown.

“When you’re shooting, sometimes you don’t know what’s going on in the game, because you’re concentrating on what your doing,” Janda said. He noted that his cameras at the time lacked motor drives and automatic focusing.

He also had to navigate a crowded scene on the field.

“There were a lot of people on the sideline,” he said. “Up to that point, we hadn’t seen a lot of that.”

His favorite photo of the game was of Rodgers seeming to “run on air” during his punt return. The photo didn’t run in the paper, though, because editors chose overhead shots that showed the complete punt return, which made sense in the days before endless replays on TV.

Janda’s shot of Kinney’s winning TD did get used, however.

“I didn’t think much of the final touchdown photo,” Janda said. “It was a strange play, and my angle wasn’t the best.”

He also shot Jerry Tagge’s winning touchdown in the 1971 Orange Bowl win against LSU.

He recalled that Husker fans were on the other side of the field yelling, “We’re No. 1!” as Nebraska lined up near the goal line. Janda shot as Tagge stretched across the goal line for the winning score. “It was just a matter of getting in the right place on the goal line,” he said.

That Janda photo also appears in “Devaney: Birth of a Dynasty” — even though it also didn’t make the cut for the newspaper.

A Miami photographer’s color image of the score was used instead.

What’s it like to have his photos published after all these years? “It’s kind of amazing,” he said. “But I’m more amazed that I found them. We had a water leak in our basement and some boxes on the floor got flooded. I didn’t even know if I could find them.”

Janda’s search through his old negatives turned up shots of key points in the Game of the Century. His photos help illustrate some of the key turning points in the game, including the unforgettable play that gave Nebraska early momentum:

Johnny Rodgers' 72-yard punt return for a touchdown has been replayed over and over during the four decades since the game, always shot from above the field. Janda’s shot from ground level is just as dazzling, with Rodgers appearing to run on air, befitting his nickname of "Johnny the Jet."

In addition to Rodgers' dazzling moves, many recall a key block by teammate Joe Blahak that some Sooner fans thought was a clip. The penalty wasn't called. But often overlooked is an earlier block by Husker John Adkins, No. 57, about midway through the run. Janda's photo provides evidence that Adkins did block OU's Joe Wylie from behind.

With their wishbone offense, the Sooners averaged 45 points and 470 rushing yards a game. But they tried blocking NU middle guard Rich Glover, No. 79, one-on-one with All-America center Tom Brahaney. Didn’t work: He made 22 tackles.

NU All-America defensive end Willie Harper, No. 81, was told to play wide and stay with star halfback Greg Pruitt when the wishbone option unfolded to the outside, letting his teammates handle quarterback Jack Mildren, No. 11.

That meant funneling the OU offense to the inside and leaving Husker linebackers and defensive backs to deal with Mildren. Harper, who would play 11 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, watched Mildren run for 130 yards.

By the fourth quarter, Harper had seen enough and wanted to hit somebody. He went after Mildren, who pitched to Pruitt, No. 30, for an 18-yard gain to the NU 33 — his longest run of the day. OU scored with 7:10 left to go up 31-28.

NU hitched its hopes to I-back Jeff Kinney, No. 35, for its final drive. The image of the McCook native plowing through the Sooners, his tearaway jersey shredded, has come to symbolize the determination of the Huskers' comeback. But the winning touchdown wasn't as inevitable as it now seems. The game was in the balance a few plays before Kinney’s final score.

NU faced third and 8 on the OU 46 with less than five minutes to play. Quarterback Jerry Tagge, No. 14, was flushed from the pocket and scrambling to his right when he saw Rodgers signal that he was open.

Tagge delivered a sinking ball that Rodgers had to dive to catch. Viewers on TV couldn't tell whether he had caught the ball or trapped it. But Janda's photo showed Rodgers was off the ground as he stretched out to complete the 11-yard gain. "Johnny saw me running, and he adjusted," Tagge said 20 years later. "We'd been doing it a long time. He knew what I was thinking, I knew what he was thinking."

A Kinney carry from the OU 5 nearly had disastrous results. As he was brought down at the 2, the ball popped out and the Sooners jubilantly signaled they had it. Officials called the play dead, however, and Janda's photo appears to show that Kinney indeed was down when the ball came out. "If they had ruled it was a fumble," Tagge said this year, "you'd be talking to Oklahoma right now."

Kinney barreled into the end zone from the 2 on the next play. The senior from McCook finished with 171 yards and four touchdowns. He gained 151 yards after halftime.

When Nebraska coach Bob Devaney and Oklahoma coach Chuck Fairbanks shook hands after the Game of the Century, Janda was there to capture the moment.


Go back in time and check out some key pages from the Nov. 26, 1971, editions of The World-Herald, including postgame coverage from both the News and Sports sections:

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