In 2018, the Husker football team started the season 0-6 for the first time in school history. It reminded us of a time when young Tom Osborne thought about hanging it up.
The year was 1968, and Nebraska had ended a disappointing 6-4 season with a 47-0 blowout loss at Oklahoma.
“I seriously considered resigning as a [Coach Bob] Devaney assistant after that game,” Osborne recalled.
He told the story during a November 28, 1973, speech at the Livestock Exchange Building in Omaha. Five days earlier, Osborne had ended his first season as head coach with another shutout loss in Norman, Oklahoma. This time the Sooners only won 27-0.
Otherwise the 1973 season was pretty good. The Huskers were 8-2-1, ranked #12 in the country, and were bound for the Cotton Bowl, where they would defeat #8 Texas on January 1, 1974. Osborne had inherited a good staff and well-stocked team from retiring head coach Bob Devaney.
Still, the recent loss to the Sooners stung, and Osborne was apparently making a point by bringing up the even worse loss in 1968.
“You can learn more in defeat than in victory if you will correct your mistakes,” he said.
The November speech wasn’t the first time Osborne had pointed to the ’68 Oklahoma game as a lesson. In February 1973 he had addressed a Fellowship of Christian Athletes banquet at Omaha’s Peony Park. With his first season as head coach still months away, he was greeted with a standing ovation.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that to me,” he said. “I haven’t won a single game yet.”
According to the Omaha World-Herald’s report, Osborne “cited Nebraska’s 47-0 loss at Oklahoma in 1968 as its most important game in recent years. After it he said the N.U. coaches ‘reevaluated our recruiting program and changed our offense and defense.’ From those changes, he said the Huskers’ national championships were built.”
As for the glorious 1970 and 1971 seasons, Osborne said winning a national championship “is nice, but you can’t build a life around it.” It’s never quite the thrill you expect.
“But that doesn’t mean we’re going to quit trying for them,” he added.
—David L. Bristow, Editor
Steve Sinclair, “Osborne: Title Not Thrill Expected,” Omaha World-Herald, Feb. 26, 1973.
Maurice Shadle, “Osborne Once Considered Quitting,” Omaha World-Herald, Nov. 29, 1973.