By David L. Bristow
The Nebraska Cornhuskers wore blue jerseys during the first football game ever played at Memorial Stadium on October 13, 1923. The blue-clad Huskers defeated the Oklahoma Sooners 24-0 in front of ten to fifteen thousand fans at the partly completed stadium.
The color change was due to “the confliction in the colors of the two schools,” in the words of the Nebraska State Journal. The tradition of wearing white jerseys for road games had not yet begun, and Nebraska coach Fred Dawson apparently feared that having both teams in red might cause confusion on the field.
But the decision seems odd in hindsight, to say the least. As conference rivals, the two red teams had been playing each other annually for several years, but this is the first mention of anyone changing colors for the game.
Perhaps Coach Dawson was thinking back to the 1921 NU-OU game, which was played in ankle-deep mud on Nebraska Field. Before the first quarter was over, fans could not tell the players apart or read the numbers on the backs of their jerseys. Even so, Nebraska crushed the Sooners 44-0. But the field was dry for the 1923 game.
Nebraska wore blue at least once before the 1923 Oklahoma game. When facing a red-clad South Dakota team in 1919, the Huskers wore blue jerseys borrowed from the Nebraska freshman team. Perhaps this is where they got their blue jerseys in 1923—because it’s hard to imagine the university making a special purchase. Football budgets were a lot smaller then. Even Memorial Stadium itself was built entirely with donations because the state legislature refused to fund it.
What makes Coach Dawson’s decision seem doubly strange is that it happened on such a historic occasion—but that’s hindsight speaking. For one thing, the Oklahoma game was not yet the big rivalry it became in later years. In 1923 the Sooners had never beaten the Huskers and were coming off a losing season. Nebraska pulled away for an impressive win, but they did so in a half-empty stadium. The big hype was reserved for the following week, Homecoming, when the university held its official stadium dedication.
Nebraska would have been better off celebrating the Oklahoma game. As it turned out, Memorial Stadium was officially dedicated with a 7-7 tie against Kansas.
The university would have done better still to wait until November 10, when Notre Dame came to town. But no one expected that the once-beaten, twice-tied Huskers would upset Knute Rockne’s undefeated “Four Horsemen.” Read more about that game here.
Blue jerseys for one game? How about heather green for an entire season. The Huskers did that in 1919.