Bernie Masterson was a big-play quarterback at Nebraska before most Nebraskans realized the importance of a big-play quarterback.
Born in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 1911, Masterson helped lead the Huskers to 23 wins and a tie in 28 games under coach Dana X. Bible, never losing a home game as a Husker quarterback. Elected into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame in 1977, Masterson was also a swimming and track star at Lincoln High and in college.
Masterson was regarded as a player who would do anything to win, even seeing time at defensive back.
In the first game of his junior season in 1933, Masterson caught a touchdown pass from halfback George Sauer as the Huskers beat Iowa State.
Later his junior year, the quarterback kicked a field goal in a 5-0 win at Oklahoma. As a senior, Masterson beat Iowa by scoring on a botched field-goal attempt. NU finished 8-1 that season.
He was always linked to his Husker backfield mate Sauer — ranked No. 74 on the Nebraska 100 — from their time together at Lincoln High and NU, to meetings as rivals in the NFL.
Masterson was even more successful as a pro. He was on a dominant Chicago Bears squad coached by George Halas from 1934 to 1940, teaming with icons such as Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange.
Masterson and Sauer's relationship flipped in the NFL: Masterson was quarterback for the Bears and Sauer played for the Green Bay Packers. Masterson also later coached at Nebraska against Sauer's Kansas teams.
In his final game as a player, Masterson's Bears topped the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 NFL championship game.
He was so successful as a T-formation quarterback that after his time in the pros, Stanford coach Clark Shaughnessy hired him in 1940 to teach then-Cardinal quarterback Frankie Albert the tricks of the system. By the end of his career, Albert was an All-American and led Stanford to a win over the Huskers in the 1941 Rose Bowl.
Nebraska hired Masterson, then 34, in 1946 to replace George "Potsy" Clark as coach. The Huskers won five of 18 games in 1946 and '47 before Masterson resigned.
With an eye on the future of Nebraska football, Masterson recognized the effect his performance as coach was having on the fans and the university.
"Circumstances beyond my control and yours make it seem advisable to me, after very careful deliberation, that I submit my resignation," he said at the time. "I take this step with but one thought in mind — the welfare of my alma mater."
But he never got to see NU become one of the elite programs.
At 51, Masterson died of a heart attack after collapsing in the gymnasium of Chicago's St. Andrews Church, where he was athletic director. That was May 1963.
Bob Devaney was hired the year earlier and so began the run of 40 consecutive winning seasons.
Played for: Lincoln High, Nebraska Cornhuskers and Chicago Bears
Best athlete from Nebraska played with or against: Masterson was always linked to George Sauer, from their time as backfield mates at Lincoln High and NU, to meetings as fierce rivals in the NFL. Masterson quarterbacked the Bears, and Sauer played for the Green Bay Packers. Masterson later coached at Nebraska against Sauer's Kansas teams.
Best moment as an athlete: Perhaps it was his last moment on the field. Masterson's Chicago Bears destroyed the Washington Redskins 73-0 in the 1940 NFL championship game.
Masterson was No. 38 in the inaugural Nebraska 100 list in 2005. See more about the 2005 list »