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Before Minnesota visited Saturday, the only time Nebraska played a home football game in December was against Jim Thorpe.
And it went poorly for the Cornhuskers. They gave up the most points in their young history in what was their second-worst defeat in a 37-6 loss to the Carlisle Indians.
It was the short name for the United States Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It lasted from 1879 to 1918 as the preeminent Native American boarding school in the country. With Pop Warner as coach, Carlisle was a national power. (While pushing eligibility rules, some maintained at the time.)
In 1908, Carlisle put together an end-of-the-season road swing that began at Minnesota and went to St. Louis for a Thanksgiving day contest. Nebraska agreed to play on a Wednesday — Dec. 2 — to fit Carlisle’s travel plans before it went to Denver for a Saturday game.
For Nebraska, Carlisle was its first eastern opponent at a time when western teams struggled to gain respect. No wonder athletics manager Earl “Dog” Eager was eager to accommodate Warner’s scheduling request. Many of the leading football authorities in the country would be at the game.
NU came in 7-1-1, losing to Kansas and tying Minnesota 0-0. Carlisle was 8-2-1 with losses to Harvard and Minnesota.
Hopes had been for a turnout of 7,000 at the Antelope Park ball diamond on M Street. A windy 29-degree afternoon held the attendance to about 3,000, which included about 50 from tribal reservations in Nebraska and South Dakota. They stood on the sideline huddled in robes with the Carlisle subs. At halftime, the Nebraska State Journal reported, a tribal member from Walthill “beat time for the band which led the procession” on the field for a snake dance. Other onlookers included NU’s first Black football player, George Flippin, by then a physician in Stromsburg.
The Cornhuskers’ only lead was 6-0. Ernest Kroger from Polk scored the short-field touchdown.
It was all Carlisle after that on the hard, dry field. Thorpe had one of the five touchdowns, a 45-yard return of a punt that NU fumbled.
He was 21 when he played Nebraska. His Carlisle football career somehow stretched over six years and through the 1912 Olympics, after which his medals were stripped because he had played semipro baseball.
Unlike now, referees were allowed to talk after the game. The referee this day was noted expert Walter Eckersall of Chicago.
“There was a world of power back of that offense which the Indians put up and it was entirely too heavy to try to stop by standing up and pushing with your hands as some of the Nebraska forwards did,” Eckersall said in the Omaha Bee. “The old Pennsylvania attack used by Warner came hard at that Nebraska line and the men did not go low enough or hard enough to stop it.”
Before this year’s pandemic-altered season, NU had played 18 non-bowl games in December, starting in 1891 with a 32-0 win at Doane on Dec. 5 and a 10-6 win at the Omaha YMCA on Christmas 1894.
Two games were charity events, a 20-7 loss in St. Louis in 1918 — another pandemic year — to that city’s Washington University and a 20-7 win over Colorado State in 1931 in Denver.
Before last week’s win at Purdue, the Huskers’ only two December conference games were a 31-12 loss to Oklahoma in Oklahoma City in 1944 and a 38-24 win over Kansas State in Tokyo in 1992.
NU visited Hawaii three times in the Bob Devaney-Tom Osborne era, and all landed on Dec. 4. The Huskers won 45-3 in 1971, 68-3 in 1976 and 37-16 in 1982.
NU went 2-4 in Big 12 championship games and lost its only Big Ten title game in 2012 to Wisconsin.