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2020 marks 50 years since Nebraska football entered the history books with its first national championship season. The 1970 Huskers, coached by the legendary Bob Devaney, broke through on a grand night that capped a grand season, giving momentum to a fan base whose fervor has barely waned to this day. Each week, through the beginning of January, The World-Herald will revisit the 1970 season, allowing readers to relive the first Husker national title and get to know — again — the players and coaches who made it happen.
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LINCOLN — Dave Walline doesn’t remember if there was a lead blocker in front of one of the best running backs in the Big Eight. He just recalls Missouri’s Joe Moore had a “good head of steam” already.
“So did I,” said Walline, a defensive tackle on the 1970 Nebraska national title team.
An offensive tackle was supposed to down block on Walline, but he missed, so Walline had a clear run at Moore, who had amassed 604 rushing yards in four games. Moore had a Heisman-caliber season going, and he was 6-foot, 205 pounds. A big, powerful back who’d eventually be a first-round NFL draft pick.
Walline himself was 6-2, 238 pounds, and the two were set for a brutal collision. Two freight trains in the middle of Memorial Stadium.
The moment came in the first quarter of the 1970 Nebraska-Missouri game, a pivotal Husker victory on the march to a national title, and it perhaps served as a metaphor for where NU football had been and where it was going. Missouri was known then as a team that, if nothing else, blocked and tackled with ferocity. Not a dirty team, but a litmus test for toughness.
“Missouri — they come out and hit you,” said former Husker linebacker Jerry Murtaugh, a first-team All-American and Big Eight player of the year in 1970. “You’d say it every time: Missouri is bruising. They’d bruise you up. I always had respect for them. They don’t quit.
“I don’t give a damn how bad they’re getting beat, they’re going to hit ya.”
The NU-MU rivalry took many turns before its sundown in 2010, but in Nebraska’s first national title season, the storyline was this: Missouri had won three straight in the series, it was tough as hell, and its best player, who personified all that, was barreling toward the strength of NU’s team, a defensive lineman.
“When we hit, it was like running into a wall,” Walline said.
The wall cracked.
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Stolen from a Seward church in 1892 by two UNL fraternities, the old bell, weathered by time, became the only trophy game Husker football recognized before its entry into the Big Ten.
The Victory Bell now has a quiet, innocuous home inside the Wick Alumni Center at NU, and it may be there a long, long time — as long as Nebraska and Missouri don’t play each other. Both schools bailed from the Big 12 for different conferences. Nebraska swiped a prime spot in the Big Ten that Missouri coveted. The Tigers then hustled to the SEC one year later.
But for more than 100 years, the teams shared a conference and a history. They played 104 games. From 1927 through 2010, they played for the Victory Bell, which comes with a stand and table full of small, engraved plaques that list the scores of games.
“TIGERS-HUSKERS,” the main plaque reads. “WHO WIN OR LOSE GLORIOUSLY.”
The rivalry had its ebbs and flows. Husker fans tend to know that Nebraska had a long winning streak that spanned the 1980s and 1990s and included the 1997 Flea Kicker that helped deliver NU’s last national title. They may not know Missouri dominated the series in the ’40s and ’50s. Bill Jennings finished 0-5 against the Tigers and his last four teams didn’t score a point against Missouri.
There were times in the Nebraska-Missouri rivalry when it was mean-spirited and heated, like when Nebraska coaches said Missouri players intentionally dove at the knees of star running back Jarvis Redwine in 1979. Or when MU quarterback Chase Daniel, on his final trip to Memorial Stadium in 2008, suggested he was spit on by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
Perhaps the greatest, fiercest games in the series occurred in the late ’70s and early ’80s, when Mizzou had skill players — Phil Bradley, James Wilder and Kellen Winslow — who could match Nebraska’s talent, and Missouri coach Warren Powers, a former NU player and a defensive backs coach on the 1970 team, had a little extra motivation each time the Victory Bell was on the line.
The 1979 game — a 23-20 Husker victory in which Redwine got hurt and Powers swore off a tie to go for a win on the final play — is one of the forgotten classics in the rivalry’s history.
“Anybody back in Nebraska not happy with this win doesn’t know what happened down here,” coach Tom Osborne said after that one. Nebraska would win the next 23 in the series.
But in 1970, when Osborne was still the offensive coordinator and Missouri represented the second ranked opponent on Nebraska’s schedule, the rivalry wasn’t up to its neck in hatred. At least, the players don’t recall it that way.
“It was more of a respect thing, because I don’t remember any trash talk,” said Mike “Red” Beran, an offensive lineman on the team. “They just lined up and clobbered ya.”
In its last nonconference game of 1970, Nebraska dominated Minnesota behind standout performances from some of Omaha's best. But after beating the Gophers, tougher tests in the Big Eight remained.
In the ’60s under Dan Devine, Missouri was every bit the program Nebraska was under Bob Devaney. In 10 games in the ’60s, the Tigers won six. Only 15 points separated the teams over a decade of football. MU had won three straight games in the rivalry, and while Missouri and Nebraska had been co-champions of the Big Eight in 1969, the Tigers got the Orange Bowl nod because of the 17-7 win over the Huskers in Columbia.
Because Oklahoma was still building with quarterback Jack Mildren to its eventual juggernaut offense in 1971, the NU-MU game in 1970 could have been viewed as a Big Eight title game.
Devine was in his 13th season. Devaney was in his ninth. The games with Missouri had stakes and like most games that do, the pettiness was dialed down and the physicality was dialed up.
“I’m not sure who their defensive line coach was but he taught them the forearm shiver,” Beran said. “So when you’d come across the line ready to block, you were met with a big ole well-padded forearm right to the chops. They’d kind of sit back on their haunches and wait for you to come across. They’d wind up and ‘Boom!’ ”
Missouri’s offensive linemen, Murtaugh recalled, weren’t as big as Nebraska’s defense, but they were aggressive and scrappy.
“They came out nasty,” Murtaugh said.
Nevertheless, one missed Walline. And 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage, he hit Moore.
“I was fortunate I didn’t hurt myself,” Walline said. “But he laid there a little bit, and I knew he was hurt. I didn’t know to what degree.”
Walline hit Moore so hard, he separated Moore’s shoulder.
“It was a good, clean hit,” Walline said. “It was a combination of both our momentums.”
It was one of several Missouri injuries that day. Another Tiger was taken off on a stretcher. NU overcame offensive miscues by forcing six fumbles. The physical tone set that day carried over to the next two Missouri games, too.
The Tigers didn’t score a point in either one of them. The 62-0 Husker win in 1972 over an MU squad that beat three ranked teams is the largest margin of defeat in the rivalry.
The trajectory of Moore’s career changed. While he was drafted by the Bears in 1971 as an heir apparent to Gale Sayers, Moore lasted two seasons, battling injuries along the way.
Walline’s football career didn’t last long, either. He was a graduate assistant on the 1971 Husker team, but eventually settled into a 25-year dental practice in Columbus before retiring six years ago.
He lives now in Waterloo to be closer to his children. Recruited out of Ypsilanti, Michigan — one of those Big Ten footprint recruits Devaney relied upon — Walline said his life was changed by his career at Nebraska.
“Being able to participate at Nebraska was one of the most significant things in my life,” Walline said. “It led to a lot of opportunities that fulfilled my life. I think maybe getting into dental school was because I was part of that. I met my wife down there. Both kids went to school down there, so without Bob Devaney and Mike Corgan recruiting me all those years ago, none of those good things in my life would have happened.”
The hit that’s part of the Nebraska-Missouri rivalry wouldn’t have happened, either.
Long before Nebraska joined the Big Ten, Bob Devaney recruited players from that part of the country. And those Rust Belt Huskers played a big part in winning the national title in 1970.