Future dentist drilled the Sooners in 1959

Friday, October 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) _ Harry Tolly was not yet a dentist on Oct. 31, 1959, but on that date Tolly helped perform a monumental root canal on Cornhusker football history.

If you want to find the spark that ignited the Nebraska-Oklahoma fire, look back to what Tolly and his teammates did that dreary Halloween afternoon at Memorial Stadium.

``It still comes up,'' Tolly said. ``It must be a big one.''

With quarterback Tolly running the Nebraska offense, the Big Red beat the Bigger Red at the time, the Oklahoma Sooners, ending OU's 17-year winning streak against the Huskers.

``For years we'd been talking here, and the writers wrote it, talking about how we wanted to build up to Oklahoma's level,'' said Don Bryant, who covered the game for the Sunday Journal and Star. ``They were the yardstick for football excellence.

``That was the foot in the door at least we upset them in '59 and then did it again in 1960 down in Norman,'' he said. ``That was really something. That got things rolling.''

NU's 25-21 victory, which also stopped the Sooners' amazing conference winning streak at 74 games, set off a wild celebration in the Capital City.

Husker fans had plenty of pent-up frustration to release. Losing seasons were the norm in those days, and it was not uncommon for Memorial Stadium to be mostly empty on game days.

That was the case again when Coach Bill Jennings and his 2-4 Huskers faced the Sooners in 1959. Oklahoma was only 3-2, but the Sooners were ranked No. 19 and had not lost a conference game since 1946.

OU took a 7-0 lead early, but in the second quarter Tolly threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Richard McDaniel to make it 7-6.

A field goal by Ron Meade in the third quarter put the Huskers ahead 15-14, and all of a sudden Memorial Stadium was the place to be. As news of the potential shocker spread through town, the stands began to fill.

Those arriving early in the fourth quarter arrived just in time to see a spectacular punt return by Pat Fischer that set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Tolly. Meade hit the extra point, making it 21-14, and added a field goal before Oklahoma's Prentice Gautt scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with about four minutes left.

Down by four, the Sooners had one last chance to win, starting their final drive at their own 42-yard line. Oklahoma made a push for the end zone before Meade capped the history-making Husker win with an interception.

``Meade intercepted a pass in the end zone to end the game,'' Tolly said. ``That's how close they came to pulling it out, and they seemed to pull out a lot in those days.

``They didn't that day.''

In large part because of Tolly.

``And that Harry Tolly,'' Coach Jennings said after the game, ``he just played the way he has every game...just as hard and as well as he can.''

Celebrating fans stormed the field and tore down the goalposts. They marched from the stadium to the governor's mansion, leaving Gov. Ralph Brooks a giant piece of one goalpost as a lawn ornament.

Tolly said portions of those posts have become treasured souvenirs for Husker fans everywhere.

``I don't know how many people have that mounted up somewhere,'' he said. ``I have my piece in a drawer.''

When Tolly's playing career ended, he worked for Jennings as a graduate assistant. After two years of coaching he was accepted into dental school, forcing a major career decision.

He discussed his options with incoming NU coach Bob Devaney, who warned Tolly about the uncertainties of the coaching profession.

``He said, 'If you've been accepted, you should pursue it.'''

Tolly did, and with the support of his wife, Ann, he graduated from dental school in 1966. He's practiced in Lincoln for 33 years, currently joined by his son, Chad.

As for the coaching spot Tolly surrendered, it was taken by a young guy named Tom Osborne.

``My greatest contribution,'' Tolly said, ``was stepping aside.''