Anyone within a hundred miles of the heartland can tell you that the Nebraska Cornhuskers wear the colors of Scarlet and Cream, but you may have to do some searching to find a diehard who can explain the legacy of the Blackshirts to you. Or maybe not, since Husker fans are raised from birth to know the ins and outs of their staggeringly successful football squad.
In 1964, head coach Bob Devaney needed a way to identify his starting defensive unit from his offense, and tasked assistant Mike Corgan with figuring it out. Corgan went to the store hoping to find a solution, and returned with an armload of black pullover jerseys. That year, the Blackshirts were given out at the start of practice, and then promptly returned at the end of each session. The idea was that they had to be earned, and the only way to do so was by putting it all on the line, each and every day. As the years passed and the Huskers surged, the importance of the Blackshirts did as well, and now, the designation is one of the most revered in all of college football.
The first Nebraska gridiron crew debuted all the way back in 1890, but it was Devaney who solidified the program as one of the country’s elite. In ‘69, the Huskers posted a record of 9-2, which not only set off a string of 33 consecutive campaigns of at least 9 victories, but also served as the start of a 32-game undefeated streak that resulted in national title triumphs in ‘70 and ‘71. Two years after the second crown, Devaney stepped down and was replaced by long-time assistant Tom Osborne, who wasted little time in continuing Nebraska’s championship march.
Osborne’s 25 years on the sidelines can probably be best summed up with the Huskers’ 25 straight bowl appearances, or perhaps, it’s the national titles earned in ‘94, ‘95 and ‘97. Actually, the best indicator of just how important Osborne was to folks in Lincoln can be found after he retired. From ‘01 to ‘07, Osborne served as the congressional representative of Nebraska’s 3rd District. However you want to look at it, Osborne raised the lofty standards set by Devaney, and in many ways, exceeded them -- much to the delight of Husker Nation.
While Heisman winners such as Johnny Rodgers (‘72), Mike Rozier (‘83) and Eric Crouch (‘01) were celebrated individually for their on-field exploits, arguably the most decorated soldiers of the Scarlet and Cream army are the supporters themselves. Often called “the greatest fans in college football,” Nebraska diehards are truly something else. The sellout streak at Memorial Stadium stretches all the way back to ‘62, and fans can break down “The Run” about as easily as they can recite the alphabet. They “throw the bones” after big defensive plays, but the gesture they’re most known for isn’t menacing at all. At the end of each game, win or lose, Husker Nation stands and applauds their opponent. Good job, good effort, better luck next time.