In an alternate timeline, thousands clad in scarlet and cream would descend upon Memorial Stadium in just over a week to ring in another season of Nebraska football. As the first notes of “Sirius” would blare from stadium loudspeakers, signaling the start of the Tunnel Walk, fans would leave their worries and concerns at the door for a few hours with the hopes of cheering the Huskers to a win.
In reality, the coronavirus , which led to the cancellation of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in the spring and the College World Series in the summer, has impacted college football as well. While the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and several smaller conferences still plan to play this fall, both the Pac-12 and the Big 10 have shuttered their fall seasons.
In an attempt to help fill that void, each week The Daily Nebraskan will take a look back at a previous season in Husker football history, recapping the season along with any key players, moments or storylines. On what would have been week one, the logical place to start this rewind is 1890, the inaugural season of NU football.
The first game in Nebraska’s history occurred on Nov. 27, 1890, against the Omaha YMCA. According to the Omaha Daily Bee, the game was played under collegiate rugby rules. NU won its debut as it pitched a 10-0 shutout behind three safeties and a four-point touchdown run from Albert Troyer.
The Bee’s account of the game, which it described as “about as rough-and-tumble an affair as an out-door sport could possibly be,” mentioned a return game to be played in Lincoln a few weeks later. However, such a game never transpired. Instead, the team did not take the field again until early 1891.
On Valentine’s Day in 1891, NU played the second game in school history against Doane University, then called Doane College, in Crete. By now, the team was known as the Old Gold Knights — the nickname “Cornhuskers” wasn’t used until Nebraska State Journal sports editor Charles “Cy” Sherman assigned it to the team in 1899. Sherman became known as the “father of the Cornhuskers” and eventually became an honorary letterman’s club member.
Once again, NU pitched a shutout in an 18-0 win. Oliver, who had no first name listed on the roster, ran for two touchdowns in the first half, while Ebenezer Mockett added a third rushing score and James Porterfield rounded out the scoring in the second half after recovering a Doane fumble in the end zone.
The Valentine’s Day win gave NU a perfect 2-0 record in its debut campaign while simultaneously kicking off a series between the two schools that would ramp up with three more meetings the following season.
Dr. Langdon Frothingham, a new faculty member from Harvard, served as the team’s coach during its first season. A primary reason Frothingham served in the role was the fact that he’d brought a football with him when he arrived to campus.
Though Frothingham was the coach, it’s uncertain whether or not he actually traveled with the team to Crete for its second game, as he returned to Boston in 1891. The team did not have the same coach for multiple seasons until 1893, when Frank Crawford coached during the 1893 and 1894 campaigns.
Ernest Gerrard, the quarterback for the 1890 team, would go on to become an author and published a few works, most notably “Elizabethan Drama and Dramatists: 1583-1603,” which is still available for purchase on Amazon today.
Mockett became a successful automobile dealer and was one of the first such dealers in Lincoln.
Though the 1890 NU football team may have only played two games, it still holds a spot in history as the first iteration of what would become a program with a rich tradition of success.