Published September 20, 2010
LINCOLN, Neb. – 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."