By Randy York
Tomorrow will be a sauna inside Memorial Stadium, but if you can somehow be in your seats 30 minutes before kickoff, you can help the Orange Bowl Committee honor one of Nebraska’s most storied football teams. It’s the 50th Anniversary of the first Nebraska team to win a major bowl game – the 1963 Huskers that jolted Auburn on the game’s second play, then held on to beat the Tigers, 13-7, in the 1964 Orange Bowl in Miami. About a dozen players from that team, which went 10-1, losing only to Air Force (17-13), will be standing in the stadium’s northwest corner of Tom Osborne Field to accept a commemorative game ball from Orange Bowl Committee member Darryl Robinson.
I was in the eighth grade and living in Alliance, Neb., and still remember almost missing the game’s biggest highlight – Dennis Claridge’s 68-yard touchdown burst one minute into the game out of the Winged T. I have a friend who’s a doctor and can do the play-by-play of Claridge’s fabled run … Willie Ross goes in motion … Claridge takes the snap, fakes the handoff to Kent McCloughan, finds a hole …he’s near the right sideline with one man left to beat … he’s gone! Touchdown!!
With the benefit of a half-century old video, my friend and I can identify the two Husker linemen who cleared a huge hole to spring Claridge loose – unanimous All-America guard Bob Brown and tackle Lloyd Voss – two veterans with a combined 19 years of NFL experience. Nebraska football historian Mike Babcock can go one better than that, recalling how 40 yards into his record Orange Bowl run, Claridge had to out-wrestle Billy Edge, who tried to pull down Nebraska’s senior quarterback from Robbinsdale, Minn., to no avail. Babcock points out that Claridge, listed at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds in the 30th anniversary Orange Bowl program, was going one-on-one against Auburn’s lightest player at 5-11 and 175 pounds.
Last year, Claridge told me that Orange Bowl run has to be his career highlight because that’s the play everyone remembers. Still, it’s interesting that Nebraska’s 1963 co-captain didn’t see the play on film until last summer when his son made him watch it three or four times on the computer. Joining Claridge on the field Saturday are the following players from that 1963 team confirmed to be in attendance – James Brown, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore right tackle from Omaha; Fred Duda, a 5-10, 183-pound sophomore quarterback from Chicago; Ron Griesse, a 5-11, 220-pound senior right guard from Kearney, Neb.; Tony Jeter, a 6-3, 210-pound sophomore end from Weirton, W. Va.; Bill Johnson, a 5-11, 195-pound junior fullback from Stanton, Neb.; John Kirby, a 6-3, 209-pound senior left guard from David City, Neb.; Preston Love, a 6-2, 180-pound junior end from Omaha; Willie Paschell, a 5-10, 185-pound junior from San Antonio; Lyle Sittler, a 6-0, 203-pound junior center from Crete, Neb.; and Larry Tomlinson, a 6-1, 204-pound senior from O’Neill, Neb.
Three players who will help accept the game ball Saturday played in the NFL. Kirby, a co-captain with Claridge in ‘63, played five years with Minnesota and three years with the New York Giants. Jeter played three years with Pittsburgh, and Claridge played two years with Green Bay and one with Atlanta. Interestingly, six players on Nebraska’s 1963 team earned first-team All-America status at least once in their Husker careers – Brown, Jeter, then sophomore left guard LaVerne Allers from Davenport, Iowa; sophomore center Walt Barnes from Chicago; junior left tackle Larry Kramer from Austin, Minn., and sophomore end Freeman White from Detroit. Claridge knows of at least three starters from that ‘63 team who are deceased – Voss, center Ron Michka from Omaha and halfback/defensive back Bob Hohn from Beatrice, Neb. Hohn and Sittler were co-captains of Nebraska’s ‘64 team that finished 9-2 and lost to Arkansas, 10-7, in the Cotton Bowl.
If you miss giving that historic team deserved applause, make sure you’re in your seats 20 minutes before kickoff when George Sullivan and his wife, Jeannie, along with son Greg and his wife Linda, present Jake Long with the George Finley Sullivan Scholarship, awarded annually to a football student-athlete. A walk-on who is now a senior starter at tight end, Jake will use the fully endowed scholarship from the Touchdown Club to pursue a medical degree.
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Voices From Husker Nation
Loved your article about the Orange Bowl team. My congrats to George Sullivan, a true blue Husker, who influenced many folks during his tenure at NU. Dirk Rolston, Fredericksburg, Texas