When Danny McManus arrived at Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium on Sept. 7, 1985, the then-sophomore Florida State quarterback allowed himself to soak up the scene.
There was Tom Osborne, in the flesh. McManus, who grew up in Hollywood, Fla., saw plenty of the Nebraska coach on trips to the Orange Bowl.
“You just remember the sea of red and then our pocket of garnet and gold in the end zone,” McManus (right) said. “And those were the people who came on the flight with us.”
By the end of that hot September day, Florida State pulled off one of the most rare feats in college football — forcing Nebraska to start a season 0–1.
McManus and Florida State defeated Nebraska 17–13 on that day. It’s also the last time Nebraska lost a season opener. The Cornhuskers’ season-opening win streak, the longest active streak in the country, could turn 30 this season.
Nebraska opens the season against BYU, a seven-point underdog. In other words, Nebraska’s season-opening win streak is in danger of ending for the first time since 2003 when the Huskers defeated a ranked Oklahoma State team 17–7.
Incidentally, McManus, the last quarterback to beat Nebraska in a season opener, has ties to new Huskers coach Mike Riley. McManus, now an assistant general manager for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, played his first season of a Canadian Football Hall of Fame career under Riley for the Blue Bombers in 1990.
At the time of the Florida State-Nebraska matchup in 1985, though, neither McManus nor the Seminoles had approached a high level of fame.
Florida State at that point had been to the Orange Bowl twice under Bobby Bowden — both losses — but the Seminoles wouldn’t win their first national championship for another eight years. Nebraska, meanwhile, was near the height of their powers.
Defeating a top-10 Nebraska team on the road to start the 1985 season was a key step in Florida State’s ascent to becoming a national power in the 90s and beyond.
“To be able match up with Nebraska and stay in toe to toe and to be able to punch over enough points to finish the game, it was huge,” McManus said.
To start, though, going toe-to-toe with Nebraska wasn’t a sure thing. Fullback Tom Rathman, now the running backs coach with the San Francisco 49ers, reeled off a 60-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the game.
“I remember looking at their offensive and defensive line and thinking we don’t have a chance,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who was then a first-year volunteer assistant with Florida State. “That’s a big strong corn-fed line. But we found a way to win.”
Nebraska did its part to help Florida State, completing only 3-of-14 passes for 40 yards with an interception. The Cornhuskers turned the ball over three times. A low snap on a punt set up Florida State running back Cletis Jones for what would become the game-winning touchdown in the second quarter.
Nebraska outgained Florida State 412-290 that day, but the Seminoles were able to hold the stalemate — and the four-point lead — throughout the second half.
Maybe Florida State had the advantage of playing a week earlier, a 38-12 win at Tulane. Maybe Florida State was just more used to the conditions in Lincoln.
Former Florida State center Jamie Dukes doesn’t remember setting any blocks for Jones or anyone else in that game, but the All-American and nine-year NFL veteran remembers the heat.
Memorial Stadium then had artificial turf, sending the on-field temperature soaring to 132 degrees, then a record for a game at Nebraska.
“It was just unbelievable,” said Dukes, now an analyst for the NFL Network and a radio host in Atlanta. “We were taking our shoes and stepping into buckets of ice water just to cool them down. It was an unbelievably hot day.”
Thirty years later, the carpet turf has long since been replaced. Osborne and Bowden have retired. Pro careers have come and gone for the players in that game.
Nebraska eventually got revenge for its season-opening loss to Florida State. The following year, the Cornhuskers defeated then No. 11 FSU 34–17 in 1986 to start the current season-opening win streak.
McManus will be rooting for Nebraska’s streak to hit 30, not just because it means his old coach will start 1–0 with the Huskers, but also because it gives him a little piece of college football history.
“I’ll be rooting for coach Riley,” McManus said. “Got to keep that streak going.”
(N) indicates neutral site game