College football has plenty of “where were you when” moments. The watershed plays that etch themselves in fans’ memories.
For Nebraska running back Johnny Rodgers’ punt return against Oklahoma, my memory is a little fuzzy because I was 23 years away from being born. But I remember where I was when I first heard my dad imitate the iconic call from Nebraska Cornhuskers play-by-play announcer Lyell Bremser.
“Man, woman and child did that put ’em in the aisles! Johnny ‘The Jet’ Rodgers just tore ’em loose from their shoes!”
It’s a rite of passage for Nebraska football fans to perfect this call before you go to your first game. You’re required to perform it in front of your parents, your older brother, your grandpa and the spirit of Bob Devaney.
All lenient family sympathy goes out the window and if it’s not up to standards they throw corn kernels at you.
It comes with good reason. The play is one of the most iconic in the history of the sport.
Johnny Rodgers’ Punt Return
The stage couldn’t have been bigger. It was the top-ranked Cornhuskers against the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners on Thanksgiving Day 1971.
The game started off with each defense subduing the opposing offense. OU was due to punt after a stalled drive.
Returner Johnny Rodgers stood back to receive the punt for Nebraska. He catches it at the 30-yard line, evades a tackler then zooms up field. He goes and goes and goes until he crosses the goal line to give Nebraska an early lead.
The future Heisman Trophy winner made a mockery of the Sooner coverage team and stunned the hyped crowd at Owen Field in Norman.
The teams traded blows with the Huskers taking a 35-31 lead with just over a minute remaining in the fourth quarter. Nebraska prevailed by sacking Sooner quarterback Jack Mildren twice to secure the win.
The Husker football team went on to defend its national championship — the second national title in school history — by defeating Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl.
Rodgers’ 72-yard punt return gave Nebraska a huge boost and cemented itself in college football lore. The call, the moves and the speed combined for the overwhelming highlight of the Game of the Century.