Playing under Coach Bob Devaney, Nebraska won its first bowl game in
three tries, upsetting Miami and George Mira, 36-34, in the second and
last of New York's now-defunct Gotham Bowl. Playing in Yankee Stadium
before only 6,166 fans in freezing weather, the Huskers and Hurricanes
put on one of the greatest bowl shows ever, trading scores in every
Willie Ross of Nebraska returned a kickoff 92 yards in the second
quarter. Ross' 1-yard plunge and Bill "Thunder" Thornton's subsequent
two-point run gave the Huskers' the lead for good, 36-27, with 12:10
left. Mira completed 24 of 46 for 321 yards, led a valiant comeback
attempt but was thwarted by a last-minute interception by Husker guard
The Gotham Bowl was not exactly a prestigious post season game. The 1961
match up between Baylor and Utah State drew a mere 15 thousand fans
through the gate, but there were important elements to the game. It was
on national television and the game was played in the nation's largest
media market, New York City. University of Nebraska officials were less
than enthusiastic about the invitation, but pressure from fans and even
the governor of the state eventually led to the Huskers accepting the
Nebraska's opponent for the December 15th contest was a powerful
University of Miami squad led by George Mira, one of the greatest
passers in college football. Ben Rizzo was a speedy receiver and one of
Mira's favorite targets. Nick Spinelli helped balance the powerful Miami
offense with a strong rushing game. The Hurricanes were considered heavy
favorites in the game.
For there part, the Husker featured some dazzling players as well.
Junior quarterback Dennis Claridge, running back Bill "Thunder" Thornton
and six foot five inch All-American lineman Bob Brown held their own
against some quality opponents throughout the year.
Even before game day arrived trouble plagued the Gotham Bowl. New York
newspaper workers went on strike, virtually shutting down any pre-game
publicity for the game. Add to that the bitter New York winters and
Gotham Bowl officials began to worry whether the game would take place
or not. "Promotion for the game was in fair shape a couple of weeks
ago," lamented Bowl Director Bob Curran.
The game was designed as a charity fund raiser for the March of Dimes.
The charity was hoping to get a cut of the profits from the Gotham Bowl,
but the prior year there were no profits. In fact the game lost
$100,000. The last thing the Bowl or the charity needed was a newspaper
strike just before the game. "We lost a great deal of needed help
because of the newspaper strike." stated Curran.
Husker officials were rightfully concerned over their financial
investment into the game. So much so that the plane carrying the Huskers
to New York for the game was held on the runway of the Lincoln airport
for two hours until word arrived that a certified check to cover the
teams 35-thousand dollars in expenses was deposited by the Gotham Bowl
officials. Miami made a similar demand and received their $30,000
expense check up front.
Upon arriving in New York Husker coach Bob Devaney was approached by
journalists who expressed surprise that the team even showed up. "I'll
tell you right now, if I had to do over again I wouldn't. That's for
damn sure." stated Devaney.
As expected the weather didn't cooperate for the game. The damp air
combined with a 14 degree temperature to provide for near miserable
conditions. New York fans stayed away in droves. 6,166 tickets were sold
for the game and another 5,000 were given away. Nevertheless the number
of fans actually in the Yankee Stadium stands was only a couple
thousand. Many thousands more, however, were able to watch the game from
the comfort of their living rooms as the contest was televised by ABC's
Wide World of Sports.
Game time finally arrived and the two teams did all they could to
provide a great game for those who watched. Nebraska opened up the
scoring midway through the first period. Claridge drove the Cornhuskers
down to the Miami one yard line. Bill Thornton plunged over from the one
to put Nebraska up 6-0 with 7:56 left. That was just the start of the
offensive fireworks as Miami surged back quickly. Hurricane quarterback
Mira capped a Miami drive with a 10 yard pass to Rizzo with thirty
seconds left in the quarter to tie things up 6-6.
On their first drive of the second period Miami scored again, this time
on a 30 yard scoring toss from Mira to Nick Spinelli. Miami seemed to
have things under control. But that feeling didn't last long. On the
ensuing kickoff, Husker back Willie Ross fielded the ball at the eight
yard line, broke to his left, and dashed 92 yards for a Husker
touchdown. The extra point kick gave the Huskers a 13-12 lead. Miami
didn't waste time striking back themselves. Mira drove the Hurricanes 12
plays in five minutes to the Nebraska one yard line. Halfback Nick Ryder
did the honors on a one yard plunge for the touchdown. Miami went for
the two point conversion and succeeded on a Mira to Rizzo toss. Miami
had regained the lead 20-13.
The Miami defense shut down the Huskers on the next drive and took the
ball back again. Mira drove the Hurricanes down to the NU 22 yard line
where they faced a fourth down decision. Miami's decision was to fake a
field goal attempt. Mira's pass, however, fell incomplete and Nebraska
Claridge engineered another fine drive to close the half. Claridge
tossed a 15 yard pass to Dick Callahan, a 42 yard toss to Dave Theisen,
a nine yard strike to Callahan and the finished it off with a six yard
scoring pass to Mike Eger with just 42 seconds left in the half. The
extra point kick was good and the teams went to the locker rooms tied
The hearty fans present in Yankee Stadium for the game may have been
very grateful the game was entertaining, because the halftime
festivities probably left a lot to be desired. While the teams warmed
their bones in the locker rooms, Nebraska's "Sunshine Girl" Joyce Burns
took the field and twirled her baton in the centerfield area to music
piped in over the public address system. That was the whole halftime
show. Neither school thought enough of the game to send their marching
bands to perform. Bowl game halftime shows have come a long way since
As the second half began, the Huskers knew they would have their work
cut out for them. Mira was definitely on his game. "There wasn't much we
could do to stop him on that frozen turf." said Devaney. "We gave up
trying to rush him and just hoped for the best."
Returning to the bitter cold temperatures, it took both teams a while to
get warmed up. Neither offense was able to generate a scoring threat
through the early parts of the third period. Miami finally got the break
they were hoping for when they recovered a Husker fumble at the NU 21
yard line. Five plays later Miami fullback John Bennett drove over from
three yards out . The PAT kick put Miami on top 27-20 with six minutes
gone in the quarter.
Miami threatened again on their next drive, but were halted by the
Nebraska defense at the NU 30. Finally the Nebraska offense got back
into the game. The Cornhuskers drove 70 yards in 10 plays, 61 of those
yards coming on Dennis Claridge passes. Thornton powered his way into
the end zone on a 1 yard run for the score. NU went for the two point
conversion and got it on a Claridge scramble. Nebraska regained the lead
28-27 with just eight seconds left in the third period. The two teams
then settled in for a wild finish for the Gotham Bowl.
Miami's first attempt at a fourth quarter rally was thwarted by none
other than Claridge. A Mira pass was deflected at the Miami 43 yard line
and intercepted by Claridge who returned it to the 39 yard line.
Nebraska took advantage of the turnover five plays later when Ross dove
in for a 1 yard touchdown. Thornton ran the two point conversion in
and Nebraska took a shocking 36-27 fourth quarter lead.
Miami regrouped on the next drive thanks in part to a 44 yard kickoff
return by Spinelli. Miami took six plays to cover the remaining yardage
and pull within two points 36-34 on a one yard run by Ryder five minutes
into the final period.
The Huskers tried to put the game away, but came away empty on their
next drive when things stalled at the Miami 8 yard line. The Hurricanes
had one last chance as the game was winding down.
Mira continued his amazing performance, completing two passes and taking
advantage of a Husker pass interference call to take the ball down to
the Nebraska 43 yard line. With one minute left on the clock, Mira fired
a pass, but it was intercepted by Husker Bob Brown and the threat was
over. Claridge burned off the rest of the game clock with three dive
plays and a punt that rolled dead as time expired. The Huskers had their
first post season win in three tries 36-34 in the Gotham Bowl.
Despite losing, Mira was named the game's MVP. He completed a school
record 24 of 46 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns. Husker coach
Devaney called Mira "the greatest I ever saw." Husker quarterback Dennis
Claridge completed 9 of his 14 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown.
Husker back Willie Ross led the ground game with 77 rushing yards.
The game was an overwhelming success for the growing Nebraska football
program. The upset victory and national television audience brought the
team to a new level of competition. The game, however, was a complete
failure for Gotham Bowl officials. The lost $50,000 that year and
folded after the 1962 game.
Note: This excerpt is taken from the Miami student yearbook, The
When the Hurricanes
beat Florida in the last game of the season a bowl berth accompanied the
victory. The players had their choice- the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville or
the second annual Gotham Bowl in New York. They wanted New York with its
flashing lights, subways, Broadway and Yankee Stadium. They got it, but
tinted with newspaper strikes, poorly promoted bowl games and weather
like half the team had never felt before, either in football uniform or
Nebraska was the
opponent, only it almost didn't show. The Cornhuskers waited at the
airport, bags in hand, until partial payment was placed in escrow. We
balked at first, but were more trusting and arrived in the Northland
without a team to play.
Finally, amid hundreds
of unkept promises by Gotham Bowl officials, Nebraska kicked off before
a "standing room only” mob of 6,166 fans rattling around in the Big
Arena. But 6,166 shivered through the best-played, most exciting college
football game in New York since Army and Notre Dame were matched in
Miami and All-America
George Mira lost the game, 36-34, but gained a nation of fans. Mira set
new school records by completing 24 of 36 passes for 321 yards. The
Hurricanes altogether gained 502 yards and amazingly chalked-up 34 first
downs- all in below-freezing weather that was expected to stymie even
the best offense.
Red Smith hailed Mira as the best collegian to play in New York since
Notre Dame's Johnny Lujack in '46. Football buffs didn't see a bowl game
as good until the last one, when Wisconsin's comeback fell short of
Southern California in the Rose Bowl.
The Gotham Bowl
probably won't be staged next year, and if it is, we won't go. But
nine-out-of-ten people who saw the offensive display won't remember who
won, just how incredible the performance was in 17 degrees and without