Gotham Bowl

1962

 

Nebraska 36

Miami 34

Nebraska Fight Song

 

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 quarter.

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 Bob Brown.

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 invitation.

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 took over.

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 20-20.

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 1962.

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 Ibis, 1963:

 

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 snow suit.

 

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 1946.

 

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.

 

Syndicated columnist 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 snowsuits.

 

Ken Hunt is wrapped up by the Huskers (above), Miami deflects a Claridge pass (below).

 

Miami's Hoyt Sparks slips on icy field, missing a sure TD reception near the goal line.

 

Mira scrambles for yardage.

 

John Bennett tries to recover Husker fumble. He did not.

 

Mira releases pass over Nebraska's Bob Brown.

 

Before a sparse crowd, Miami cheerleaders and players shivered on the sideline.

 

Attendance- 6,166

Scoring Summary

First Quarter
NU- Thornton 2 run (Claridge run failed)
UM- Rizzo 10 pass from Mira (Wilson kick failed)
 

Second Quarter
UM- Spinnelli 30 pass from Mira (Mira pass failed)
NU- Ross 92 kickoff return (Johnson kick)
UM- Ryder 1 run (Ryder pass from Mira)
NU- Eger 6 pass from Claridge (Johnson kick)
 

Third Quarter
UM- Bennett 3 run (Wilson kick)
NU- Thornton 1 run (Claridge run)
 

Fourth Quarter
NU- Ross 1 run (Thornton run)
UM- Ryder 1 run (Wilson kick)

 

Individual Statistics

 

Passing

UM- Mira 24-46-321

NU- Claridge 9-14-146
 

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