Back then, the helmets were made of the same stuff as the shoes: leather. The team battled on a quaint-sounding swath of grass called Nebraska Field, and the only way to get a Blackshirt was to tackle a guy in the mud.
It was 1911, the last time Michigan trooped west for a football game in Lincoln.
The Wolverines are back today after a bit of a break — 101 years — and a few things have changed in Nebraska football and on campus.
So put a little ragtime music on the phonograph and soak in some Husker history.
NEBRASKA vs. MICHIGAN IN 1911
Both sides happy?
Nebraska “fought like demons,” but the 1911 game against Michigan ended in a 6-6 tie, back when ties were allowed. The World Herald story about that Nov. 25 game was peppered with other colorful lines: “Michigan came into Nebraska like a lion, but today is leaving like the meekest lamb of Bo Peep's flock.” A different Bo probably isn't expecting any lambs today. In those days, a touchdown was 5 points and the extra point was worth 1. Michigan scored its only touchdown on a blocked punt that was scooped up and carried across the goal line. Nebraska scored on a run in the third quarter. The game resulted in a tie because another Nebraska touchdown was called back. Time had run out on the quarter before the snap. Ouch. Clock management, people.
There was nothing artificial about the turf on Nebraska Field, where NU and Michigan played. It was built in 1909 and was the home of Nebraska football until Memorial Stadium opened in 1923. Have you ever sat in the south half of Memorial Stadium? Then you've been smack in the middle of the old field. No climate-controlled sky boxes in those days. Just wooden bleachers on both sides of the field. For big games, they set up temporary bleachers outside the end zones. Wonder if fans did the wave?
Before 1900, Nebraska football teams had some really colorful nicknames: Rattlesnake Boys, the Bugeaters and the Old Gold Knights. But by 1911, they were definitely the Cornhuskers. Cy Sherman, a Lincoln sportswriter, campaigned to make Cornhuskers the official team name, and in 1900 it was adopted. Good thing. Shouting, “go Old Gold Knights” takes way too long.
One thing is certain. There were no face mask penalties. There were no face masks. Just plain leather helmets that looked as though they should be on the head of a World War I flying ace. Michigan's classic wing logo on its helmets didn't arrive until the 1930s. Nebraska wore plain dark jerseys without names or numbers. The light-colored jersey sleeves were marked with dark rings.
Ewald “Jumbo” Stiehm coached Nebraska and owns the highest winning percentage of any football coach in school history. He racked up a record of 35-2-3 before leaving in 1915. The legendary Fielding Yost coached Michigan. NU rejected Stiehm's request for a $750 salary increase after he made $4,250 in 1915. He resigned to take the head coaching job at Indiana for $4,500. Good thing that never happens these days.
Sea of wool
Photos of the game show fans bundled up in what look like heavy wool overcoats and bowler hats. Our guess? Adidas hadn't yet figured out a way to dye the wool Husker red. And if any fans were wearing corncob head gear, it was probably made of the real thing. These days, 85,000-plus pack Memorial Stadium. Roughly 8,000 turned out for the 1911 game, not bad considering you couldn't jump on Interstate 80 back then.
Everything's gotten bigger on campus in the past 100 years. City campus had a dozen buildings on 11 acres in 1911. Now there are 100 buildings on more than 300 acres. There's also a few more students: 24,000 today versus 4,600 a century ago. They probably still brought laundry home on weekends.
Sources: Mike Babcock and his book, “Nebraska Football Vault: The History of The Cornhuskers;” University of Nebraska-Lincoln; University of Michigan; World-Herald archives.