My off-season series of “Notre Dame Football Firsts” continues this week with the first meeting between Notre Dame and Nebraska, 1915
So far I’ve covered USC, Stanford, Navy, Purdue, the first Spring Game at Notre Dame, Michigan State, Pitt, Army, Michigan, Boston College, Miami, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. This week I’m going to take a look back at Notre Dame’s first matchup against Nebraska in 1915.
Notre Dame and Nebraska have played each other 16 times with Nebraska winning eight, Notre Dame winning seven, and one tie. Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory was 31-0 in 1947, and Nebraska’s largest margin of victory was 40-6 in 1973. Notre Dame’s longest win streak is three, and occurred between 1919-1921, and Nebraska’s longest win streak is also three, and occurred between 1973-2001. Nebraska has 912 all time wins, to Notre Dame’s 938. Nebraska has played in 53 bowl games to Notre Dame’s 39. Nebraska has had five national championships to Notre Dame’s 11. And Nebraska has had three Heisman winners to Notre Dame’s seven.
The first time the two schools played each other was on October 23, 1915, and Notre Dame lost by a score of 19-20.
In an article written by Bernie Kish, it is said, Jesse Harper, Notre Dame’s coach from 1913-1917, was the man responsible for starting the rivalry. In December of 1912, while still at Wabash, he wrote to Nebraska’s athletic manager, E. Eager, requesting a game with the Huskers. After three years and several letters, Harper finally arranged a meeting for the 1915 season in Lincoln.
Harper’s teams met Nebraska three times from 1915-1917. The Cornhuskers of this era were powerful squads. Under Ewald “Jumbo” Stiehm (pronounced “Steam”), the “StiehmRollers” dominated the Missouri Valley Conference from 1911 through 1915, going unbeaten in 34 straight games, and claiming five conference titles.
Notre Dame was also emerging as a Western powerhouse under Harper, losing only two contests in two years and defeating the likes of Army, Penn State, Texas and Syracuse. Harper, like most coaches at the time, had only one assistant — the captain from Notre Dame’s 1913 team-Rockne.
In late October of 1915, the undefeated Irish journeyed to Lincoln to meet the unbeaten Cornhuskers. As was to become the tradition, the visitors arrived early on the day before the game and stayed at the Hotel Lincoln. The tariff was $2.50 per room for two men, two beds and a private bath. Harper requested fish and eggs for both lunch and dinner for his team on Friday, noting “I hope you will be able to get us some nice fresh fish.”
The first game of the series, a 20-19 victory for the Huskers, was played before a record home crowd of 8,000 fans. Nebraska was paced by All-American Guy Chamberlin, a demon on both offense and defense. “The Champ” scored two touchdowns on runs and passed for the third. “Without Chamberlin at end, Notre Dame would have run wild all over the field,” said referee Walter Eskersall
Harper’s young team was led by the splendid play of Dutch Bergman, who scored Notre Dame’s last TD on a 10-yard run with time running out. Miller’s unsuccessful conversion foiled the Irish bid for a tie game and an undefeated season.
The following excerpt is from the December 11, 1915 edition of The Notre Dame Scholastic magazine.
... After the Haskell game two weeks were spent in desperate efforts to whip the team into shape for the Nebraska game. Scrimmage with the freshmen was an almost daily occurrence. Rockne worked wonders with the line during those two weeks. Rydzewski. was shifted from center, where O’Donnell was playing in faultless style to tackle. There “Big Frank“ played a much improved game and was chosen to start against the Cornhuskers. Elward and Baujan developed beyond the expectations of their most ardent admirers. Best of all, the men went into the Nebraska game knowing that it would take the best that was in them to win. There was no false confidence; instead there was a grim determination.
In one of the best football games ever seen in the West, Nebraska defeated Notre Dame, 20 to 19. The defeat was a peculiar one. On straight football Notre Dame swept the Westerners off their feet. The ball was in Nebraska’s territory at least two-thirds of the time; the Notre Dame backs were able to gain with ease. But disastrous penalties coming after our best gains set the splendid work of our backfield at naught, and the Nebraskans were able to find a weak spot in the Notre Dame defense — our inability to check the forward pass. Forward passes and the fine playing of Chamberlain, Nebraska’s star end, account for the three touchdowns scored by the Cornhuskers. After Nebraska had the game apparently won, Notre Dame came back with a spectacular attack which fell but one point shy of tying the score and which would have surely turned the tide of the battle had there been a few more minutes of play.
Next week I’ll look at the first matchup between Notre Dame and Penn State in 1913.
Cheers & GO IRISH!