S. Dakota St. visiting Nebraska 1st time since ’63

Unless the unthinkable happens, South Dakota State’s game at

sixth-ranked Nebraska on Saturday will go down as a forgettable

matchup to everyone except the team wearing the yellow and

blue.

That’s how it went on a September afternoon in 1963, when 35

players for the Division II Jackrabbits came to play on the big

stage against a Nebraska team on the verge of becoming one of the

nation’s top programs under Bob Devaney.

South Dakota State went back to Brookings with a 58-7 loss that

wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

”Right before halftime, Mr. Bob Brown laid one on me and broke

three ribs,” said Doug Peterson, who started at quarterback for

the Jackrabbits that day.

Brown was a future All-Pro the likes of which the Jacks never

saw before or after that game, and Peterson is proud to say who

delivered that crushing blow as he blocked on a punt return.

Peterson was out for two weeks, and two of his teammates broke

bones in that game, too.

”I don’t remember the game itself, but I do remember there was

one game that year where I gave out all my crutches to the other

team,” George Sullivan, the Huskers’ trainer at the time, said

Monday. ”I’m sure that was the one.”

South Dakota State has moved up to the Football Championship

Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA, and has played Iowa

State and Minnesota in recent years. But the Jackrabbits are in the

Missouri Valley Conference and mostly rely on the score crawl at

the bottom of the TV screen for exposure.

Former athletic directors Fred Oien of SDSU and Steve Pederson

of Nebraska set up Saturday’s game three years ago, with the

Jackrabbits agreeing to come to Lincoln for the bargain price of

$375,000.

Oien’s program was in transition from Division II and looking

for a big-name opponent. Pederson was looking for an easy mark

after giving Bill Callahan a contract extension just before the

Huskers went into the free fall that led to both of their

firings.

The Jackrabbits aren’t devoid of tradition. SDSU is the alma

mater of place-kicker Adam Vinatieri, the 2002 and 2004 Super Bowl

hero for the New England Patriots, and Jim Langer, the Miami

Dolphins’ Hall of Fame center.

South Dakota State, however, will go into this game winless,

having lost 26-3 to Delaware and 24-14 to Illinois State. Nebraska

is coming off an impressive 56-21 win at Washington that has thrust

the Huskers into the national championship conversation.

Though there’s no betting line on the game, the disparity might

not be as great as it was in 1963, when the Jackrabbits brought in

a bunch of undersized boys from South Dakota, southwest Minnesota

and northwest Iowa to play against a national program uninhibited

by scholarship limits.

”We rolled over them – pathetically,” lineman John Kirby

recalled last week.

Wayne Rasmussen was the most accomplished player for South

Dakota State. He went on to play defensive back nine seasons for

the Detroit Lions. Tom Osborne, a graduate assistant under Devaney

in ’63, said he remembered Rasmussen but nothing else about the

game.

”You can tell by the score that we were slightly overmatched,”

Rasmussen said. ”There were very few Division II-Division I

matchups. It probably benefited us a lot more than Nebraska. For

them, beating the devil out of us probably didn’t mean a lot.”

The drubbing was South Dakota State’s only loss in a 9-1 season

that included a conference championship.

Nebraska finished fifth in The Associated Press poll that

season, knocking off Oklahoma in the last regular-season game and

beating Auburn in the Orange Bowl to go 10-1.

”The press pooh-poohed the whole thing,” Nebraska center Lyle

Sittler said. ”Some people thought it was a great thing for us to

play a team from a neighboring state that wasn’t in the Big

Eight.”

The 31,000 fans at Memorial Stadium who paid $4 for a ticket saw

Nebraska hold the Jackrabbits to two first downs and 31 total yards

(minus-17 rushing and 48 passing). The Huskers led 37-0 at

halftime, holding SDSU to minus-22 yards and no first downs to that

point.

Ron Meyer, who took over at quarterback after Peterson got hurt,

threw a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter against reserve

defenders for his team’s only points.

”After the first couple minutes, you had the feeling that it

wouldn’t be our day,” Meyer said. ”The physical size and skills

of Nebraska were too much. They scored every which way you can, and

it added up in a hurry.”

Ed Maras, who played defensive end and tight end for the

Jackrabbits, said Nebraska outweighed SDSU’s linemen by 40 to 50

pounds a man. Like Peterson, Maras recalled Brown putting big hits

on him as he ran pass routes over the middle.

Maras said he also can still hear coach Ralph Ginn’s pre-game

pep talk.

”Coach told us, ‘They put their pants on the same way you

do,”’ he said. ”But they didn’t.”