At the first Nebraska Shrine Bowl 60 years ago, it stormed. Flooded the field at what was not yet known as Rosenblatt Stadium.
It got better for the all-star high school football game, which has lasted through changing times and attitudes. Saturday, in the fourth home the Shrine Bowl has known, the 61st renewal takes place at UNK.
The days of drawing crowds of 22,000 are long gone. Last year, the announced crowd was 4,575 and once the honor band played at halftime, the stands at Cope Stadium thinned out.
But the game is still between the North and the South, though with way less animus than, say, 30 years ago — the all-time series record of 31-26-3 South might not be in the game program.
It still raises money for the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children (total contributions more than $2.5 million), though its “Cash Calendar” revenue virtually matches its $139,000 in donations from 2013 to 2017 (based on federal tax returns) to the hospitals and the state’s three Shrine temples for transporting patients.
Did you know that the Shrine Bowl was the first game played after Memorial Stadium had AstroTurf installed in 1970? Or the next year, Tom Kropp added to his athletic legacy by scoring every point for his South team in a three-point win? Or in 1964, Omaha Creighton Prep had seven players initially selected? (Five ended up playing.)
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Here are more tidbits from the first 60 years:
1959: That first game, announced a year in advance, was called off only 15 minutes before the scheduled 8:05 p.m. kickoff at Municipal Stadium. One reason was that Shrine boss R.C. “Bob” Russell was caught in the downpour and was late getting to the stadium to make a decision. The North team never left its bus. When the game was played the next night — yes, a Sunday — the South won 7-6 on a 74-yard punt-return touchdown by Sonny Calta from Omaha South midway through the final quarter and the extra point by Rod Brethower of Chase County. The first game made $48,407, and expenses included $3,741 to fly the 60 players and their coaches to Minneapolis to visit a Shriners hospital.
Incidentally, there were provisions to have a sudden-death extra period in the event of a tie. But those were scrapped once the game was postponed.
1960: The game moved to Memorial Stadium, requiring NSAA sanctioning to get approval from the NCAA to play in a campus facility. It also meant playing the game in the afternoon heat since NU wouldn’t have permanent lighting until 1999. But an estimated 16,000 showed up, double the Omaha turnout for the rescheduled game.
1961: The Gale Sayers game. Not yet the Kansas Comet, the Omaha Central star scored four times — two rushes and two receptions in a 32-0 South win. (He’s incorrectly listed in game records with four rushing touchdowns.)
1980: Lincoln Southeast passer Craig Sundberg’s fifth completion of the South’s final drive, a 15-yarder to Terry Anstine with two seconds left, lifted the South to a 23-20 win.
1981: Dan Wingard from Omaha Westside saves the game from a 0-0 tie with a 41-yard field goal with 3:49 left for a 3-0 South win.
1999: With Memorial Stadium’s lights, the game returned to the evening. Offensive MVP Judd Davies from Millard North led the North to a 21-12 win.
2000: First, and so far only, overtime game. Lincoln High’s Richie Ross caught the winning touchdown on a fourth-and-13 pass in the end zone from Elkhorn quarterback Jared VanAnne and the North held on downs for a 30-23 game with seven lead changes.
2003: Last shutout. Andy Birkel’s 86-yard pick-six with five seconds left punctuated the South’s 24-0 win.
2005: Seacrest Field became the game’s temporary home — making Lincoln’s high school stadium the third Shrine site — because of turf installation at NU. On an extremely hot night (I barely made it through with heat sickness), Jordan Alegria of North Platte kicked a record four field goals in the North’s 18-13 victory.
2009: Last game won with a fourth-quarter comeback. Ryan Maloley of Elkhorn scored from the 1 with 3:59 left for a 19-16 North win.
2011: Aurora’s Tyson Broekemeier, playing for his high school coach (Randy Huebert), set records with five touchdown passes, 30 completions, 371 passing yards and 407 total yards as the South won 41-20 in the highest-scoring Shrine Bowl.
2013: Because of NCAA overreach, Division I schools were prohibited from holding all-star games and the Shrine Bowl went to Kearney for its fourth home. The reception was chilly only for weather — 30 mph winds brought out the sweatshirts in the crowd of 6,000. The North won an unremarkable 9-3 game.
2015: Storm clouds again. The South was declared a 31-26 winner when the game was terminated with 4:32 left. Cozad’s Conor Young caught a game-record three touchdown passes.
2017: Highest-scoring game. Wahoo Neumann’s Noah Vedral threw two of the South’s three touchdown passes as it won 37-30 after leading 34-10 before the North mounted a comeback under the game’s make-it, take-it rules.
A few more nuggets:
Most players all-time, one school: Creighton Prep leads with 127 through this year, followed by Lincoln Southeast with 112.
Most players, one year, one school: Prep had six in the 1960 game, matched by Boys Town in 1964. The most in the past 25 years is Norfolk’s four in 1995, when a late replacement was needed. The limit has been two for almost 20 years.
Shrine head coaches who had been players: Keith Staehr, Kimball, 1974 (York, 1964); John Faiman, Omaha South, 1976 (South, 1959); Dick Luebbe, Columbus, 1989 (Grand Island, 1963); Mark King, Lincoln Northeast, 1999 (Papillion, 1979); Dan Tesar, Tri County, 2001 (Dorchester, 1962); Ron Mimick, David City Aquinas, 2005 (Columbus Scotus, 1975); Brandon Cool, Kearney, 2007 (Aurora, 1991); Jeff Tomlin, Grand Island, 2008 (Alliance, 1984); Matt Turman, Omaha Skutt, 2017 (Wahoo Neumann, 1992).
Shrine head coaches whose sons were on their team: George “Crump” Redding (Clark), North Platte, 1965; Frank Hanel (Steve), Omaha Northwest, 1982; Dick Stein (Kevin), Chadron, 1990; Fred Petito (Joe), Millard North, 1997; Duane Spale (Brian), Grand Island Northwest, 2001; Glen Snodgrass (Garrett), York, 2019.
Sunday, I’ll present my Shrine 60 for 60 — the top talents to have played in the game that still has something else from 1959: “Strong legs run that weak legs may walk.”