2012 year marks the 50th anniversary of the Sellout Streak, the longest streak in college football, the most famous of all Husker records. Over the past five decades we've witnessed 319 games - some wonderful, some not so wonderful. 277 wins and 42 losses - better than an .860 winning percentage at home over five decades. Not bad.
Let's take a look at those games:
The streak started in 1962 - November 3rd, 1962, to be exact. It was Homecoming, and we lost to Missouri 16-7. Not an auspicious beginning, maybe, but the Huskers would go on to win the next four from the Tigers and 37 of the next 49, so we probably paid them back for that one well enough.
From 1962's humble beginnings the streak continued, reaching a couple of milestones along the way. The one-millionth fan to watch a Husker game during the streak went through the turnstiles on October 15th, 1966 - another Homecoming, this time with a happier ending. This time the sixth-ranked Huskers beat Kansas State 21-10. Three years later we hit two million fans during the streak. They were treated to yet another memorable game, this time a come-from-behind thriller against Kansas as Jerry Tagge guided the Huskers 88 yards in the waning minutes, setting up Jeff Kinney for the game's final score - and a Husker win. In all, 2,224,915 fans watched the Huskers play 40 games during the sellout streak in the 1960s. They were treated to 32 wins and only 8 losses during the 1960s, an era which would set the stage for Nebraska's first two national championships.
The Bobfather retired in 1972, having guided the Huskers to two National Championships and presiding over the first 59 sellouts of the streak. The foundation had been set, and it was up to Devaney's protege, Tom Osborne, to keep the streak going.
Osborne did all right.
By the time the streak hit 100 games, six million fans had watched the Huskers amass an 84-16 record. The 100th sellout was a 42-17 win over Penn State on September 29th, 1979, as Junior Miller helped Coach Osborne erase an early 14-point Penn State lead during a 28-point eruption in the second quarter. The Huskers ended the 1970s with a 56-8 home record, with an anguishing three of those losses coming against arch-rival Oklahoma.
The sellout streak continued into the 1980s as Osborne amassed some truly fearsome teams. The home fans were treated to 58 wins in the 1980s - but again the Sooners were a puzzle Osborne could not solve, as Oklahoma contributed three of Nebraska's six home losses in the decade. In fact, only three teams beat Nebraska in Lincoln in the 1980s: The Sooners, Penn State and Florida State, who pulled the trick twice, winning 18-14 in 1980 and 17-13 in 1985. Barry Switzer's Oklahoma teams beat Nebraska in Lincoln in back-to-back years due to a "scheduling glitch": In 1986 they won 20-17 on a last-second field goal after the Huskers led 17-7 with 11 minutes to go, giving rise to talk of Sooner Magic (although Jamelle Holieway and Keith Jackson had more to do with it than magic); while the 1987 loss in a game erroneously dubbed "The Game of the Century II" was more of a Sooner route from start to finish. The teams entered the 1987 game at 1 and 2 in the polls, but Oklahoma left little doubt who the #1 team really was after an early TD gave Nebraska a 7-0 lead.
A couple of major milestones were passed in the 1980s - our 150th consecutive sellout came in a September 12th, 1987 tilt when #2 Nebraska took on #3 UCLA. It was a shootout, as Steve Taylor took advantage of a Bruins defense loaded up to stop the run by throwing for a then-record five touchdowns en route to a 42-33 Husker victory. The game was more lopsided than the final score indicates, as the Bruins tacked on two TDs in the last four minutes to pull within two touchdowns. The second milestone, the ten-millionth fan to watch a game during the streak, occurred the year before when the #4 Huskers hosted Oregon. The Ducks weren't so mighty that day as the home fans enjoyed a good old-fashioned pasting by the Huskers, 48-14 - even getting to see a defensive TD scored by one of the all-time favorite Blackshirts, Broderick Thomas.
All was not rosy as the streak entered the 1990s, however. After beating LSU in the Sugar Bowl following the 1986 season, Tom Osborne endured a rough stretch of seven straight bowl losses dating from the 1987 season through 1993. Husker fans openly grumbled about Tom's refusal to pass, and Husker legend Charlie McBride was persona non grata around Huskerdom in these dark days. Changes had to be made by a coach who, rumor had it, "couldn't win the big game."
Recruiting efforts changed. Osborne and his coaches scoured the country for speed at all positions. McBride ditched the ineffective 5-2 scheme and adopted a 4-3 defense. The natives stayed restless, however, as 1990 and 1991 both featured home losses: a gut-wrenching fourth-quarter collapse against Colorado and Eric Bieniemy on a cold November night in 1990 and a similar late-game collapse against Steve Emtmen and Washington on a night that looked primed for a Husker coming-out party in September, 1991. The Husker faithful would have to endure yet another season of disappointing losses in 1992 - although they didn't have to watch the Huskers lose at home - before 1993 dawned.
1993 - the year of Tom Osborne's ascendency. Bolstered by a fresh resolve to "recruit speed" made years ago, the Huskers ran through their schedule, thrilling home crowds against all comers, including the season-ending home win against Oklahoma - Tom's third straight - before the infamous "final blow" and "Unfinished Business" disappointment of the Orange Bowl against Florida State set the stage for one of college football's greatest runs of any era.
1994 began auspiciously for the Huskers on the road, trouncing West Virginia in the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, then a breeze in Lubbock against Texas Tech before returning home to a fan base who couldn't help but feel that, for the first time in recent memory, something was different about this team. Unfinished Business was the motto that year, and the Huskers left no doubts that they were on a mission. Colorado came to Lincoln on October 29th, 1994, ranked ahead of the Huskers (the Buffs were #2, the Huskers #3), but fans attending the 200th consecutive home sellout were treated to yet another dominating win by the Huskers against Colorado and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Rashaan Salaam. Salaam rushed for over 100 yards that game, but didn't find the end zone until the Huskers had established a comfortable 24-0 lead.
1996 was the only year in that four-year stretch that the Huskers didn't win the National Championship, but the sellout streak ground on all the same, as the second home game of the year, a 65-9 blasting of Colorado State, saw the 15 millionth fan take in yet another Husker victory.
The end of the 1990s saw the end of perhaps the most dominant streak of any team in college football history. It saw the end of an era, as Dr. Tom Osborne announced his retirement amidst a run at his third National Championship in 1997. It also saw the Huskers play 65 home games, winning all but three.
The 2000s began a decade of decline for Nebraska. Frank Solich, tasked with the unenviable job of following the legendary Tom Osborne, struggled to keep pace with the burden of expectations. One last hurrah during the streak under Frank's tenure occurred in the third home game of 2002, when the Huskers took down overmatched Utah State during the 250th consecutive sellout. Despite this, Frank only lost three games in three years in front of the Husker Faithful in the 2000s, but inevitably, Frank was forced to move on after the 2003 season.
Thus began the darkest period in the modern era of Husker football: A period of four years, 2004-2007, which saw the Huskers lose eight of 27 home games. Still, amid the turmoil of those dark days, milestones were set. On Senior Day, November 12th, 2005, the Huskers fought and scratched their way in a come-from-behind thriller against Kansas State, eking out the win, 27-25, on Jordan Congdon's field goal with barely a minute remaining in the game. That day saw the 20 millionth fan cross the Memorial Stadium threshold during this streak to cheer on their Huskers - and they were sorely needed.
Just two seasons later the Huskers made yet another coaching change, bringing in the untested but fiery Bo Pelini. Pelini has fared somewhat better than his predecessor, posting a (currently) 23-6 record in front of the home crowd. Pelini also presided over the festivities of Nebraska's 300th consecutive sellout, a 55-0 dismantlement of Louisiana-Lafayette in front of the Homecoming crowd. This game has been, to date, the only home shutout of the Pelini era.
Today, the Huskers' consecutive home sellout streak sits at 319 - and counting. The Huskers' 350th consecutive sellout won't happen for four more years (against Penn State, November 19th, 2016 if the schedules remain unchanged), but the next major milestone - and one I'd like to see UNL celebrate - should occur on Saturday, August 30th, 2014. That day, the Huskers host Florida Atlantic, coached (if nothing changes) by former Husker Defensive Coordinator, Carl Pelini.
On that day, the 25 millionth fan will take their seat at Memorial Stadium, celebrating one of the greatest streaks in all of sports.
Thanks, fellow Husker Fans. We did this, generations of us, together.