Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska, has for decades been nicknamed the Holy City. There is an abundance of churches in town, most of them Protestant, and several store windows display Bibles opened to instructive passages. Although Nebraska ended Prohibition in 1934, the city prevented residents from purchasing liquor by the drink until 1968. Solemn Lincoln, then, is an appropriate reflection of Nebraska's citizens—clean living, God-fearing folk who, like their German and Russian ancestors, are content to pull a living from the soil.
In the fall, however, the Holy City becomes the state's entertainment center. Saturdays some 60,000 Nebraskans, dressed in red, drive over from towns named Aurora, Beatrice and Wahoo and stream into Memorial Stadium to watch the Cornhuskers play football.
Typical of them are four farmers from the village of Shelby who haven't missed a home game since 1962, Bob Devaney's first season. One Saturday their car caught fire on the way to Lincoln, so they abandoned it at the side of the road and hitched a ride to town.
No less enthusiastic toward Cornhusker football are the students and administrators at the university. Pep rallies are still held on Friday evenings, and the president, Dr. Joseph Soshnik, visits the locker room after the games. The Corncobs, a student organization, recently contributed $1,500 for athletic scholarships. Last spring 3,500 students demonstrated against the war, while the annual intrasquad football game, held the same day, drew more than 13,000.
"We are fortunate," says Coach Devaney. "Enthusiasm goes with football, and the atmosphere of the university and the state is largely responsible for the success of our program."
In his eight seasons at Nebraska, Devaney's successes have been abundant—six bowl games, five Big Eight championships and never a team with fewer than six victories. Nebraska this year, Devaney readily admits, "will be one of my best."
Devaney's Irish optimism can be attributed to the talent of his receivers, Split End Guy Ingles and Flanker Johnny Rodgers. Ingles, a senior, was overlooked by most college scouts during his high school career at Omaha West-side because he weighed only 140 pounds. He was discovered, quite by chance, during a game against Omaha Tech. Playing halfback, he scored four touchdowns and rushed for 170 yards. "Two Nebraska coaches happened to be at the game to look at guys on the other team," Ingles says. "If I hadn't had a good day it is likely I never would have played college ball."
Ingles comes from a wealthy family. His father is the manager of the Omaha branch of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith.
Johnny Rodgers, a sophomore, also grew up in Omaha, but under very different circumstances. Rodgers was raised in the ghetto and learned his football in the streets "dodging trash cans and telephone poles." He earned local prominence as a member of the Gene Eppley Boys' Club tumbling team when he was a third-grader. The team performed at places like The Crossroads shopping center, and tiny Johnny provided the act's big finish: a dive over a pyramid of schoolchildren ending in a complete flip. At Tech High, as a football player, Rodgers became a celebrity. He was named All-America twice, banquets were held in his honor and he accumulated 30 trophies. They are displayed in the boys' club along with a poster that reads, "John Rodgers says you can do it too—stay in school."
"Now I'll have to prove myself all over again," Rodgers said one day last spring. "Trophies and newspaper clippings don't count. Ain't nobody who knows what Johnny Rodgers has done."
The thousands of Nebraskans who will come to Lincoln six Saturdays this fall will learn all about Rodgers. Together with Ingles and a cluster of proven running backs, he will be an important part of the Big Eight's most devastating offense. Bob Devaney's Cornhuskers are, once again, the best show in the Holy City.