Tony Felici gives Husker fans a Blackshirt salute as a new Hall-of-Famer.
By Randy York
Long before Saturday’s Penn State game commanded national attention beyond football-related reasons, a former Nebraska Hall-of-Fame defensive end envisioned the Huskers’ new annual cross-divisional game with the Nittany Lions evolving into NU’s most competitive rivalry. He bases his prediction on national championship history between the last two teams invited into the 12-team Big Ten Conference.
Remember the Nebraska-Penn State game in 1982? Tony Felici certainly does. That 27-24 loss at Beaver Stadium was Nebraska’s only setback in a 12-1 season. With Felici leading the Blackshirts, the Huskers finished third in the season’s final poll after a 21-20 Orange Bowl win over LSU.
Felici, the father of current Nebraska redshirt freshman walk-on Joey Felici, has a vivid remembrance of something he says still stings. “Their winning drive started with a personal foul penalty that no one could see or explain,” Felici recalled. “Then, they had a third-down completion that was caught two yards out of bounds on a field that somehow expanded. And the one I hate the most - the winning touchdown on a trapped catch in the end zone in the final minute.”
Felici wishes that ‘82 game had the benefit of modern technology. “We played when there was no such thing as instant replay,” he pointed out. “If only we had then the technology we have now, Coach Osborne would have one more national championship.” And that brings Felici to his conclusion about a potential classic rivalry in the making. “I think this Penn State rivalry will be bigger than any other Big Ten rivalry Nebraska has,” he said. “There have been big games with national championships on the line already. There’s a history there. I’ll never forget what Coach Osborne told us in the locker room afterwards. He told us we played like national champions.” And honestly, three decades later, Felici still feels that way.
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