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Game of the Year of the Day, 1962: Nebraska 36, Miami 34

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Bob Devaney’s 1962 Nebraska Cornhuskers: one of the 50 best* of all time.

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Gotham Bowl 1962 Nebraska athletics

The date: December 15, 1962

The matchup: Nebraska (8-2) vs. Miami (7-3)

The stakes: This one is for the coveted (and final) Gotham Bowl title. Do stakes really get any bigger than that?

The back story: This might have been the most ham-fisted bowl organization of all-time. From 50 Best*:

The game was called the Gotham Bowl. Created to raise funds for the March of Dimes, the game had good intentions and no organization whatsoever. In fact, it would never actually make enough money to give any to the charity.

In 1960, Oregon State accepted an invitation, but the bowl couldn’t find an opponent. In 1961, Baylor and Utah State played in the cavernous Polo Grounds. And in 1962, Miami had agreed to play. While all other bowl invitations had gone out in November, Nebraska didn’t get an invitation until December 4, 11 days before the game. Devaney wasn’t particularly interested in accepting the bid, but the team was thrilled, and the game would go on.

Problem No. 1: The New York newspaper strike of December 1962 meant the game would get almost no publicity whatsoever.

Problem No. 2: When it was time for Nebraska to head east, the Huskers hadn’t gotten their guaranteed expenditure money yet. The team sat in the Lincoln airport until a check cleared.

Problem No. 3: The weather was predictably New-York-in-December dreadful. Field conditions were hard, slick, and cold.

This was a doomed endeavor from the start, but ABC’s Wide World of Sports cameras were there to take in the action, and against significant odds, there was incredible action. In what Devaney compared to a back-alley brawl (as in, nobody was watching it), Miami and Nebraska put on a show.

Whether or not anyone was watching, this was the start of something for the Cornhuskers. Also from 50 Best*:

Everything you know about Nebraska football began in 1962, from the wins, to the home sellouts, to the offensive prowess, to even the postseason battles with Miami: The teams would battle in the 1984, 1989, 1992, and 1995 Orange Bowls, along with the 2002 Rose Bowl, and the winner of four of those five games would become national champion.

In 1962, Bob Devaney came to Lincoln from Wyoming, attempting to build momentum where momentum had long since washed away. NU hadn’t won more than six games in a season since 1940 and hadn’t finished more than a game over .500 since 1950. Under William Jennings from 1957-61, the Huskers were both bad and boring. In his five seasons, they had averaged just 9.2 points per game. Devaney came to Lincoln promising both life and entertainment. He delivered almost instantly. In his first road game, the Huskers pounded Michigan 25-13. Just over a month later, they sold out a home game game (a loss to Missouri); they haven’t had a non-sellout since.

Miami would provide a stiff test, though. The Hurricanes had been outclassed by awesome LSU, Alabama, and Northwestern teams by a combined 82-13 but had otherwise gone 7-0 and averaged more than 20 points per game with All-American quarterback George Mira running the show. Could the Huskers keep up?

With a couple of breaks, yes they could.

The game: From the Lincoln Star:

Yankee Stadium, New York City — The house that Ruth built, the sport world’s most hallowed stadium, becomes part of Cornhusker football legend.

There have been more important games played here, certainly greater financial successes, but to Nebraskans the Huskers’ 36-34 win over Miami in Saturday’s Gotham Bowl will long rank with the most satisfying wins in the revered history of University of Nebraska football.

The Cornhuskers came here for 3 important reasons:

— To win the school’s first bowl game.

— To win on national television.

— To improve their image which was shattered by a 34-6 loss to Oklahoma

All 3 goals were accomplished with Gusto as George Mira, a magnificent moleskin matador, lost out in a brilliant individual fight against Nebraska’s superb team effort. [...]

After a 20-20 halftime tie, the Huskers twice went for the two-point conversion and made it both times. This was the difference in the game.

And although Mira made them look helpless on pass defense, the Huskers intercepted twice and these were the key plays.

Miami gained more than 500 yards but kept making mistakes before crossing the goal line. That, along with a second-quarter kick return touchdown, gave the Huskers just enough leeway to pull off a 36-34 win against the run of play. Two fourth-quarter interception wrapped things up.

The box score: The team stats:

Newspapers.com

The individual stats:

Newspapers.com

Mira was the star, going 24-for-46 for 321 yards and two scores. But the late picks were devastating. Meanwhile, NU’s Dennis Claridge (9-for-14 for 146 and a touchdown) hit on some big plays in the passing game while Willie Ross (10 carries for 77 yards, one catch for 28 yards, and the kick return score) was the MVP.

This was indeed the start of everything you think of about Nebraska. The Cornhuskers used this season to springboard them to four consecutive top-6 finishes and major bowl bids, and after a couple of 6-4 down years, Devaney livened up his offense by promoting young assistant Tom Osborne to offensive coordinator. He finished his career by going 43-4-2 from 1969-72, with four top-11 finishes and two national titles, then handing the head coach baton to Osborne.

Miami, meanwhile, would stagnate. Andy Gustafson was gone after going 3-7 in 1963, and while Charlie Tate drove the Canes to a No. 9 finish in 1966, he quickly fizzled as well. The program became lifeless in the 1970s, and the school weighed whether or not to fold the team up altogether. It decided against that, however, and instead hired Howard Schnellenberger in 1979. Good choice.