The suggestion that Nebraska might back out of playing at Oklahoma this fall didn’t sit well with one of the stars of the 1971 Game of the Century.
Johnny Rodgers, Nebraska’s 1972 Heisman Trophy winner, said such a move would be an embarrassment.
“We can’t really afford to have a reputation like that, trying to get out of playing top teams,” Rodgers said.
The game scheduled for Sept. 18 in Norman, Oklahoma, would mark the 50th anniversary of Nebraska’s 35-31 win over the Sooners in a clash of the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the nation.
However, the Huskers have contacted teams in the Mid-American Conference and Old Dominion about playing in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Sept. 18, according to unidentified sources who spoke to Stadium. The Lincoln Journal Star also reported Nebraska officials have explored the feasibility of not playing the Oklahoma game.
Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos did not reply to a text from The Associated Press seeking comment, and an athletic department spokesman did not respond to messages.
It would cost Nebraska $1 million to break the contract, which was signed in 2012. The teams also are scheduled to meet in Lincoln in 2022.
Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione issued a statement saying the Sooners plan to play.
“The Oklahoma-Nebraska football series represents one of the most unique traditional rivalries in college football,” Castiglione said. “The planning for this game was intentional as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century. We’ve been looking forward to celebrating these two stories programs and have collaborated on various aspects of what promises to be a special weekend.”
The Huskers and Sooners played 71 straight seasons as members of the Big Six and Big Eight. The game decided the Big Eight championship 31 times in 36 seasons. The teams moved to the Big 12 in 1996 and met twice every four years. Nebraska went to the Big Ten in 2011.
Oklahoma leads the series 45-38-3, having won the teams’ last meeting 23-20 in the 2010 Big 12 championship game.
No game was bigger than the one in ‘71. The Huskers won in Norman and went on to a second straight national title. It was the Sooners’ only loss, and they were No. 2 in the final polls.
Rodgers is one of the most identifiable figures from the game, returning a punt 72 yards for a touchdown for the signature play of his career.
Rodgers said he already has been invited to participate in events surrounding the game and that he had gotten calls Friday from former teammates who are disgruntled about the possibility of the game being called off.
Nebraska has gone 12-20 in three seasons under Scott Frost. The school was among the most vocal in favor of the Big Ten playing a 2020 season during the pandemic.
On the notion of ducking the Sooners, Rodgers said, “That’s an attitude we’re not accustomed to. We can’t be trying to get out of being competitive, because that’s our whole nature. Our whole state bleeds Big Red football. We want to be known for playing the best and beating the best. It’s unheard of.”
Oklahoma has won six straight Big 12 championships and appeared in four of the last six College Football Playoff semifinals. Nebraska has had losing seasons four straight years and in five of the last six.
“If we’re going to start getting our reputation back, we’ve got to start beating and playing the best,” Rodgers said. “That’s just the only way. What are we going to play? Division II schools or something. We play Ohio State. We should definitely be wanting to play Oklahoma.”