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George Mills: As stories go, four bowl games as a Husker isn't a bad tale

George Mills: As stories go, four bowl games as a Husker isn't a bad tale

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In this column, George Mills reminisces about his Husker playing days in the early 1970s. This file photo from 1973 shows Bob Devaney congratulating his successor, Tom Osborne, after Osborne's first game as head coach. The Huskers beat UCLA 40-13. Osborne helped Devaney win national championships in both 1970 and 1971 as an assistant.

I walked out of a grocery store the other day talking to an employee. Out of the blue, she said that I reminded her of her grandpa. I’ve reminded a lot of people of a lot of things in my life, but never a grandpa. I still see myself as a 40-year-old who’s in good shape.

Nevertheless, her comment made me question if I were Grandpa-ready. I thought, “What’s the one thing all elderly people have in common?” Well, it’s fantastic life experiences that they are willing to share. They usually start out something like, “Back when I was young ...” Or, “Did I ever tell you about the time ...”

For friends and family, it can be a treat.

I started thinking of a good story to share. So, here’s my practice run: Did you know that I used to play football for the Huskers? I wasn’t a star or anything like that, just a rank-and-file player who showed up for practice every day. I had an incredible time and made some great friends. I had a coach who has served as a lifelong role model. Along with that, I have memories of big wins and gut-wrenching losses.

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George Mills Community Columnist

I think the most noteworthy thing I did was attend four bowl games. I had rarely ventured out of South Omaha — then, suddenly, I’m flying to big-time cities like Miami, Dallas, New Orleans and Phoenix to experience the excitement and pageantry of a bowl game. Now, to put it in perspective, back then there were only 12 bowl games as opposed to the 40 or so we have today. So going to a bowl game back then was a reward for a great season.

Incredibly, the first bowl game I attended was the Orange Bowl. Nebraska won the previous two en route to being crowned National Champions. With an 8-2 record, we were attempting to be the first team to win three Orange Bowl games in a row. Added motivation came from the fact that it was Coach Bob Devaney’s last game, and we wanted to send him out a winner. For his part, he made sure we’d all have a good time by scheduling 10 fun-filled days on the beaches of Miami. Our opponent was Notre Dame, which had its own legendary coach: Ara Parseghian.

The game was a blowout. We pounded them 40-6. Johnny Rodgers (JR as we called him), our Heisman Trophy winner, accounted for four touchdowns — two by runs, one by a 50-yard reception and, unbelievably, he threw a 5O-yard touchdown pass.

My second bowl game was the Cotton Bowl. Under our new head coach Tom Osborne, we finished the season with an 8-2-1 record. Our opponent was Texas, which was led by hall of fame coach Darrell Royal. They won the Southwest Conference for the sixth straight year. They had an 8-2 record and ran the wishbone, which was always difficult to prepare for. Nonetheless, we hammered them 19-3. The turning point was when defensive end Steve Manstedt (Yahoo Wahoo, as I called him), caught a popped-up fumble and ran 65 yards to the Texas 6.

Next up was the Sugar Bowl. We beat Florida 13-10 in a night game at Tulane Stadium. The last Sugar Bowl played there. We stayed at the Fontainebleau Hotel and spent our evenings exploring the French Quarter. I remember seeing Al Hirt play his famous song, “Java.” The game was a nail bitter – with the score tied at 10, our undersized safety Jimmy Burrow beat a block and stuffed their ball carrier at the 1-yard line. Mike Coyle then kicked a 39-yard field goal with less than 2 minutes to play to seal the victory. I-back Tony Davis, aka the Tecumseh Tornado, was named MVP.

My last bowl game was the Fiesta Bowl, and it ended in disappointment. In a comeback win, Arizona State upset us 17 -14. I think being overconfident and spending too much time at a popular bar contributed to our defeat. Bartenders kept giving us free drinks. Speculation swirled that it was a setup.

Despite losing, we felt a great sense of accomplishment given we were rated in the Associated Press Top 10 each year.

How’s that that for a grandpa story?

George Mills is a former Douglas County Board member and Husker defensive lineman from the early 1970s who has a master’s degree in urban studies.

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