By Randy York
Nov. 2, 1962, is circled in Nebraska’s football history book, especially in this the golden anniversary of the Huskers’ ongoing NCAA record for consecutive home-game sellouts. Noel Martin not only played in that historic first game in the 50-year sellout streak, but also provided almost all of Nebraska’s electricity in a 16-7 loss to Missouri before 36,501 Homecoming fans at Memorial Stadium.
Leading 7-0 five minutes before halftime, Missouri All-American Johnny Roland tried to trick the Huskers on a sweep, choosing to pass instead of run. Martin, the son-in-law of Bill Jennings (Bob Devaney’s predecessor as NU’s head coach), didn’t fall for the fake. Neither did good friend/middle linebacker teammate John Kirby, who tipped the airborne ball. A 10-flat sprinter who grew up on a farm in Clay Center, Kan., Martin intercepted the pass and set sail on a then school-record 88-yard defensive touchdown.
It was Nebraska’s first score against Mizzou in four years, and even though half a century has passed since that first of 325 consecutive sellouts, it doesn’t seem that long ago to Martin. “I just can’t believe how quickly time goes. How fantastic is 50 consecutive years of sellouts? It’s so amazing, I don’t think it’ll ever be duplicated,” said Martin, who still has his Nebraska season tickets and returns to Lincoln from Becker, Minn., for home games four or five times a year.
“My wife Vicki can tell you anything about sports. She reads Sports Illustrated cover-to- cover every week and keeps up with Nebraska on everything,” Martin said. “All three of our daughters (Ann, Susie and Noell) are Nebraska graduates, and all seven of our grandchildren are Nebraska fans. We follow football like everyone else – very closely.”
Devaney’s first year at NU’s helm was Martin’s last year as a Husker, and yes, he was married to Vicki when he played on Nebraska’s first team ever to win a bowl game. “I remember us being inside the Lincoln terminal waiting for two or three hours for a check to clear before getting on the plane for the Gotham Bowl at Yankee Stadium,” Martin recalled. “I also remember everyone in New York treating Miami like royalty and not really acknowledging us much. But (Nebraska native) Johnny Carson did. He invited us to The Tonight Show, and that was a big deal.”
Martin was part of Jennings’ record 1958 recruiting class that included friends Mick Tinglehoff, Monte Kiffin and Warren Powers. Jennings also recruited All-American Bob Brown and Dwain Carlson, among others. “There were no scholarship limits then,” Martin points out. “We only had 39 players on the team, and he (Jennings) did what Oklahoma was doing. Nebraska signed 87 players to scholarships the year I came. I think one thing you’d have to say (about Jennings) is he was a great recruiter. Plus, he started the numbers game at Nebraska, and that’s worked out pretty well, too.”
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