Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tigers' win in 1978 was a blow to Nebraska.

Oct. 5--LINCOLN, Neb. -- First, James Wilder barged over one Nebraska defender, then he judo-chopped away the next. Or hurled him down. Replays making the rounds on are inconclusive.

However it was that Wilder uncorked such fury despite cradling the football in one arm, the Sikeston Train's fourth touchdown was the game-winner in Missouri's 35-31 victory over Nebraska in 1978.

The ripples of that game still resonate at Mizzou. Entering Saturday night's late game in Lincoln, the fourth-ranked Tigers had lost their last 15 at Memorial Stadium.

"For Mizzou, this is a chance to say, 'We are legitimate,'""" said Kellen Winslow, the East St. Louis native who was among MU's stars in the 1978 game, adding that the consequences of a loss would be that "voters will really punish them."

While MU got a bounce from the 1978 game, which sent them to the Liberty Bowl and a top 15 final ranking, the punishment for Nebraska in 1978 was momentous -- and nearly program-changing.

After a 17-14 win over top-ranked Oklahoma the week before, the Cornhuskers were ranked No. 2 and in contention for the national title entering the regular-season finale against the Tigers.

"I think emotionally it was a little bit hard for us to come back from that Oklahoma game; our defense was a little banged up," former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said Thursday. "But Missouri deserved to win. They played better than us."

Soon after the game, Osborne was said to have turned ashen upon discovering that Nebraska now would face a rematch with Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Nebraska lost the second bout 31-24.

In the weeks between the Missouri loss and the Orange Bowl, Osborne was so frustrated with fan reaction that he accepted an offer to interview at Colorado.

"We were going 10-2 and 9-3 back then and some people were unhappy," he told the Omaha World-Herald. "When we lost to Missouri, it was seen as a failure. Well, if you go 10-2 at Colorado, it's looked at as a great season."

Ultimately, Osborne said he couldn't break promises about his future that he'd made to players and recruits.

He went on to win three national championships, including the 1997 one that particularly was stinging to Mizzou -- which lost to Nebraska 45-38 in overtime after the fluke "flea-kicker" play enabled the Huskers to tie it late.

But the 1978 game has carried similar currency at Nebraska. Former Husker Bruce Dunning, for instance, still endures taunts for being the man Wilder flicked away.

And that's just from his former teammates: Former Husker Jim Pillen has been known to dial Dunning on MU-Nebraska game days and ask if he'll accept a collect call from "Mr. James Wilder."

According to The Associated Press, he then asks, "Do you still have James Wilder's cleat marks on your forehead?"

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Source Citation
"Tigers' win in 1978 was a blow to Nebraska." St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Louis, MO] 5 Oct. 2008. General OneFile. Web. 26 May 2010.
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Gale Document Number:CJ186400366

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