Put former Nebraska I-back Jeff Kinney in a room with 200-plus Husker football fans and guess what memory they’re going to want to revisit?
The 1971 Game of the Century was a popular topic at the first Big Red Today breakfast on Thursday, and Kinney was glad to reminisce as still shots of No. 35 in action rotated on the video screen at Anthony’s.
“We knew things were starting to get pretty serious when we traveled there and we had to take our own salad dressing,” Kinney said. “We knew it was a serious game at that point.”
No. 1 Nebraska beat No. 2 Oklahoma 35-31 in that classic in Norman, allowing the Huskers to stay on track for their second straight national championship. It was Kinney who scored the winning touchdown — his fourth of the game, and punctuation to a 171-yard rushing performance — on a 2-yard run with 1:38 remaining.
Kinney has one of the white jerseys from that 1971 game framed at home now after it previously hung in a McCook barber shop. The other sits at McCook High School.
Why two? NU had just gone to tear-away jerseys, and Kinney played the fourth quarter at Owen Field in 1971 with one torn badly around his right shoulder as he logged the last of his 31 carries.
“Our training staff is really pretty smart, and so was our equipment people,” Kinney said. “But they only brought two tear-away jerseys, which explained why the jersey looked like it did at the end of the game.”
Nebraska was 10-0 heading to Norman, with no win by fewer than 24 points. The hype only built in the weeks leading up to it.
“I think we really weren’t that nervous,” he said. “I know that doesn’t sound real, but we started talking about that game probably three or four games previous.
“It was just a unique bunch of guys and coaches at that point and time that accomplished some great things.”
Kinney was the guest for the first of six Big Red Today breakfasts, presented by The World-Herald and the Nebraska Greats Foundation. Kinney was joined by Sam McKewon of The World-Herald.
Kinney called it appropriate that the Thursday breakfast was sponsored by The World-Herald, “because every Sunday morning I’d wake up (and) I’d want to see all those photos from the previous game.”
“I grew up as a fan,” he said. “It was a big part of my life at a young age.”
Kinney also dreamed of becoming a Husker, something that started rounding into focus years later with the letters and recruiting attention. When then-NU assistant coach Tom Osborne started showing up at his home, Kinney said, “It became real at that point.”
“He took me fishing,” Kinney said.
Unfortunately, though, not under the best of weather conditions.
“He almost lost me to K-State that day,” Kinney joked.
Osborne was part of the staff built by Bob Devaney, who took over the NU program in 1962. With former teammate Jerry Murtaugh in attendance Thursday, Kinney shared one story about the time several players decided to drive to Omaha “for some activities.”
“For some reason, one of the guys got a little crazy, and Coach Devaney got called the next day,” Kinney said. “And we’re standing in the huddle and Coach Bob walks into the huddle and says, ‘Jerry, Jeff, Johnny … cool it, until the season’s over with.’ That’s all he had to say. We knew at that point we were in trouble.”
Kinney said he is excited for the coming season that starts Saturday when BYU visits Memorial Stadium. He called a friend who coaches in the NFL when Mike Riley was hired and liked what he heard.
“It just seems like they’re doing a good job of coaching up kids — and we have to remember that they are kids,” Kinney said.