Nebraska Football in 1892

What did a University of Nebraska football game look like in 1892? On November 19, Lincoln Weekly Herald editor J. D. Calhoun was one of 600 fans attending the game against Kansas at Lincoln Park. He had never seen a football game before.

“A lot of Kansas Jayhawkers had come up to play our N.U. Grasshoppers, and some of the boys told us it would be a great chance to see the college game in all its glory,” he wrote.

“Grasshoppers?” Nebraska played under various nicknames in the early years, but that year they were the Bugeaters.

“Two groups of stalwart young men—dressed and looking alike, except that the K.U. wore red stockings and the N.U. wore black—stood fronting each other in the center of the hard and level field. K.U. won the toss and took advantage of a hard gale that Kansas was at the time furnishing. The ball, which looked like a loaf of Vienna bread, was laid down, the boys stood around it, one grabbed it and passed it to one behind him. The latter made a rush, was seized, thrown down and tumbled upon by the entire teams, while the director of the riot blew a whistle and the crowd of spectators yelled and blasted tin horns deafeningly. A spectacled professor said it was fine.”

Early football was different in many ways from the modern game. No forward pass. Legal mass formations (such as the infamous “flying wedge”) in which players linked arms and rammed their way through the defense. Touchdowns worth four points, with a two-point conversion kick; field goals worth five. Five yards for a first down. Calhoun continues:

“The pile of wiggling humanity dissolved slowly and stood up, the ball was put down, grabbed, passed, and the pyramid of boys in white flannel piled on it. This was repeated two or three times, and our boys got the ball along into Kansas. About this time a Jayhawker got hurt and had to quit, and the game grew correspondingly in interest. Then a Kansas man got the ball and ran across the grounds, regaining all that his side had lost. He then formed the foundation of a very lofty and durable pyramid—but the hope that he would be crushed to death was not fulfilled. But then Flippin got the ball and handed it to Mockett and our boys gained ten yards. Just then there was a powerful scrimmage and a Jayhawker emerged with the ball and ran clear around the goal.”

George A. Flippin was the first African American to play football for the University of Nebraska. Just a week earlier, the University of Missouri team had refused to take the field against Nebraska after learning that the Bugeaters had a black player. The game was ruled a 1-0 forfeit—Nebraska’s first-ever conference victory.

Back in Lincoln, Kansas managed to score two touchdowns, winning 12-0. Calhoun wrote, “Our boys are more than a match for Kansas in strength, fully equal in pluck, possibly inferior in speed, and much behind in team drill. As individual players they are unquestionably superior, but do not work as a unit.” Two weeks later the Bugeaters played better against Iowa, ending their third season with a 10-10 tie in Omaha

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