This article was originally published in Nov. 26, 1971, editions of The World-Herald. For more coverage of the Game of the Century, check out Omaha.com/gameofthecentury.
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NORMAN, Okla. — President Nixon was a man in waiting for about 30 minutes late Thursday afternoon.
But the President finally got his message through to Nebraska Football Coach Bob Devaney in the dying echoes of what must be the loudest, wettest and most delirious Husker celebration in history after the come-from-behind 35-31 win over Oklahoma.
Devaney had kept the President waiting until he took a "bath" with Nebraska Gov. J.J. Exon and University President Durward Varner, gleefully administered by the Husker players.
The entire coaching staff and a few bystanders also got doused.
But Nixon’s message finally came through the suds loud and clear.
Apologizing that he didn’t know the President was waiting "cause I don’t get a call from him every day, you know," Devaney said Nixon offered congratulations on the victory.
Devaney said: "He told me it was a great game and that it was not only billed as a game of the century, but one that had actually turned out that way. He also said it was not like some others that had ended in a lop-sided score or a tie, or something to that effect.
"He told me we had beaten a good football team."
Writers, listening in on the one-sided conversation amid the hubbub of the locker room heard Devaney get in three "Thank you, President Nixon" replies and one comment on the Nebraska-Alabama Orange Bowl game New Year’s night.
The President, perhaps caught up in bowl fever and the excitement of the game he’d witnessed from his Western White House, apparently forgot Nebraska still has a regular season game remaining at Hawaii Dec. 4.
Devaney was grinning that impish Irish smile when he told the President: "Thank you, sir. Alabama is a fine team, but I don’t think the boys are looking past Hawaii next week."
And who but the jolly Irishman could reply to Nixon’s comment about the excitement of the game?
"Yes, sir. They sold a lot of popcorn today. Nobody left."
The President had put a call to the press box just seconds after the game ended. Frantic attempts were made to reach Devaney, but the telephones on the field and in the howling locker room rang unheard.
The ears of the man for whom the bells tolled were deafened by the victory shouts of his players and the "who in the hell is Oklahoma? We are No. 1," shouts of Husker fans jammed around the locker room door.
An O.U. press crew member taking the President’s call promised to make connections with Devaney and have him return the call. "Tell him he can call collect," the operator said.
When Devaney finally became aware the President was waiting, he smiled and said: "Well, he is still in office."
Nixon had almost as much trouble getting through a few moments later to Sooner Coach Chuck Fairbanks.
Once again the call had to be returned with Fairbanks having to come to the top level of the pressbox to get the call during the filming of his weekly show.
The dejected-looking coach, whose team had come so close and yet so far, smiled when the connection was finally made. He too, got in only a few words.
"Yes sir, Mr. President," Fairbanks said. "We did play well. I was very proud of our team today. We just came out on the short end."
After the call was completed, Fairbanks said Nixon had said: "I didn’t like some of their calls." But Fairbanks did not identify who the President meant by "their."
Nixon apparently used some political tact, for Fairbanks said the President’s words to him were: "If you played again, Oklahoma would probably win."
The win was more than just peanuts for Gov. Exon who was spending Turkey Day with Oklahoma Gov. David Hall. He won a hundred pounds of peanuts from his friendly rival in a bet against a like poundage of Nebraska beef.
The team gets the peanuts. Exon, who had made an unusual visit to the locker room to exhort the Huskers before the game, claimed "It was the most exciting bath I ever had."
Dripping from two baths — the team took him back for the benefits of late photographers — Exon said "I am unbelievably proud of these kids and particularly what they have done for Nebraska. Now we all know who the real number one is."
Then he presented his Go Big Red Alpine hat to Jerry Tagge.
Exon, who had scampered hand in hand with the Nebraska Pom Pom girls leading the Huskers onto the field before the kick-off, said he would "not try too hard to rub it in" at the Sooner executive mansion Thursday night.
In his pregame pep talk to the team Exon told them: "We in Nebraska are all so proud of you, we are busting at the seams. Now go out there and give them the devil."
President Varner, coming up for air after his shower, could only exclaim, "Wonderful! It was wonderful, the game and the shower."
Bill Ward, president of the Orange Bowl Committee, who somehow managed to escape the victory shower, conceded he had "sweated a little" during the game in his Bowl’s gamble that Nebraska would still be No. 1 in its battle for the oranges New Years night in Miami.
"But there was really no sweat that we had picked the best," he said. "We picked the national champion that still had the mark of a champion. We couldn’t turn our back on continued success, and that mark of a champion came to the fore today, and we are just as proud as can be."
Among the proudest of all the Husker fans who shouted themselves hoarse in the gathering darkness and sprinkling rain were McCook’s Bill Kinney, his son, Kevin, 14, and Kevin Alger, 12, son of Mr. and Mrs. Everett Alger of Omaha.
Bill Kinney embraced his son, Jeff, one of the Husker stars who sparked the come-from-behind victory drive. Kevin looked on, beaming.
"Oklahoma is the greatest team I’ve seen," the star’s father said, then hurried to add, "other than Nebraska. It was a great game and I don’t mind telling you we said a few prayers sitting there watching today."
The Omahan Kevin almost busted when he got a chance to get into the dressing room to see his "buddy" Johnny Rodgers. In his arms he was clutching a family project-made "Johnny Rodgers Road Runner" doll, the family’s lucky piece and mascot.
"We all made it," Kevin said. "Dad, Mom and my sister, Kim. Johnny works for my dad in the summer and I think he’s the greatest."
Thanksgiving Day 1971 was complete for Kevin when Rodgers bounded over, sidestepping other players and visitors, to greet him warmly.