For those who played in it and watched it, the 1971 Central 10 Conference championship game is one they will never forget.
One of the Most Memorable Games in Cardinal football history? Absolutely.
The game was played 49 years ago. I’m in my seventh decade today, but I still vividly recall portions of that night through the 13-year old eyes of an 8th grader cheering for his heroes and hoping fervently to be in their shoes someday.
To this day, I consider Albion’s 28-24 victory over David City at the Albion athletic field the most exciting Cardinal contest I have ever personally witnessed, spanning more than 50 years.
That’s a big statement encompassing a lot of high school football games. It was that kind of night. That kind of game.
Both teams had some great high school athletes. Albion quarterback Dave Rosenbaum (who I still consider the best “pure passer” I’ve ever seen play for the Cardinals), halfback Gordie Foster, (regarded by many locals, myself included, as the “best” football player in school history until Wyatt Mazour happened), back/end Jeff Bolin (one of the most dynamic athletes our community has ever seen in a multitude of sports). The list could go on – dominant linemen, sure-handed ends, resolute defenders.
Personally, years before Nike’s “Be Like Mike” campaign, I wanted to “Be Like Tim.” Both of them. Each side of the ball. I speak of stalwart all-conference center Tim “Tank” Green and all-state defensive tackle Tim Christo.
I had known “Tank” since residing on the same block as a youngster. Larger than life physically and in personality. As a budding junior high school center/nose guard, “Tank” took me under his wing, mentored me and provided inspiration. I never knew Tim Christo well, but in 1971 viewed him as the ultimate defensive lineman. “Tower of strength,” “wrecking ball,” what have you, Christo was an intimidating presence on the field. If an opposing player crossed his path, they were going to get hit. Hard.
This was a very talented Albion team.
David City countered with one of the best Nebraska high school players of all time, future University of Nebraska All-American defensive end Bob Martin, along with star quarterback Marv Aldrich and two-way back Warren Wondercheck, among others. The Scouts were ranked #1 in Class C by state newspapers entering 1971 and held that position throughout the season.
Albion went from unranked in the preseason to Class B #1 with three straight shutouts to open the campaign, defeating Hartington Cedar Catholic 14-0, Centennial 30-0 and Ord 24-0.
The fourth week of the season featured one of Nebraska’s Games of the Week, as David City hosted the Cardinals. Unfortunately, the high hopes of Albion players and fans fell with a thud, as the Scouts thumped an injury-plagued Card squad 28-6. Rosenbaum, Green, Christo, ends Jim Hagemann and Mark Borer all missed the contest with various ailments, and Albion could not make up the shortage of manpower.
The Cardinals were still banged up the following week, and a lesser team may have folded against rugged Central 10 West Division rival Central City. Not this Albion team. With stout defense, 100-yard rushing games by Foster and Terry Clark, and touchdowns from Christo and Craig Sup, Albion edged the Bison 12-6 to retain first place in the division.
From there, a healthy team gained momentum each week, steamrolling Schuyler (46-8), St. Paul (42-8) and Aurora (32-13) to advance to the Central 10 title tilt.
There waited East Division champion David City. Still unbeaten. Still #1 in Class C.
What followed was a high school classic in Albion between two of Nebraska’s best before an overflow crowd.
Albion erected extra bleachers on the ‘visitor’s side’ of the field, and also put bleachers behind each end zone. Still, it was “standing room only,” with many fans ringing the old cinder track oval. As a youngster, this was the first time I really understood what sportswriters and sportscasters meant when they said there, “was a buzz in the crowd.” Even before the opening kickoff, people were excited!
Bolin returned that opening kick 24 yards, and Albion immediately marched 65 yards to score the game’s initial touchdown. A 15-yard pass completion from Rosenbaum to Kim Smith (remember that combination) was a key play on the drive and Foster covered the final six yards. Rosenbaum again connected with Smith for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 Albion lead.
It didn’t last long, as Aldrich hooked up with Martin for a 48-yard touchdown pass, and Martin’s two-point conversion tied the score with 7:31 to play in the first quarter.
On Albion’s ensuing possession, Wondercheck intercepted a Rosenbaum pass and raced down the sideline 25 yards for a touchdown. Martin again scored the conversion, giving the Scouts a 16-8 advantage.
The teams traded punts, then swapped fumbles. Albion drove to the Scouts’ 14-yard line before coughing up the ball, but David City returned the favor at its own 27. On second down, Rosenbaum found Smith in the end zone and Christo banged in for the conversion and a 16-16 deadlock.
Albion recovered another Scout fumble and drove from the David City 41 to the one-yard line in the final moments of the first half, but could not cross the goal line before time expired.
Disaster struck Albion early in the third period, as the Cardinals inadvertently touched their own punt and David City recovered at the Card five-yard line. The Scouts scored two plays later and added the two-point conversion for a 24-16 lead.
Albion stormed back, Rosenbaum directing a six-minute drive that produced six first downs and ended with Christo punching the final yard to paydirt. The conversion failed, however, and the Cardinals trailed by a deuce.
The defenses stiffened at that point, with both offenses ineffectual for the remainder of the third quarter and much of the fourth. Albion gained possession at its own 20-yard line with only minutes to play, facing an end zone 80 yards distant and a do-or-die situation.
Christo began the drive by barreling to the 34 and Foster gained 10 yards and a first down on two carries. Rosenbaum and Bolin hooked up for a big gain to the David City 30 and, two plays later, “Rosy” lofted a perfect rainbow into the outstretched fingers of Smith in the back of the end zone. Twenty-nine yard touchdown! Albion lead!
David City took possession with seconds remaining, could not advance, and the final whistle started an Albion celebration as Central 10 Conference champions!
The Omaha World-Herald would rank Albion #7 in its final Class B Top 10 and the Lincoln Journal-Star placed the Cardinals #5. Cardinal Coach John Cookson said, “We were a bit disappointed in the Omaha ranking. We feel the Lincoln paper had us ranked about where we deserved to be.”
At least one 13-year old Albion fan had no doubt a healthy Cardinal team was #1, however.
Along with Rosenbaum, Christo, Foster, Bolin and Green, Albion starters in 1971 included back Craig Sup, ends Stan Kunzman, Smith, Hagemann and Borer, and linemen Art Howell, Scott Sallach, Randy Christo and Jerry Oliverius.
Cookson noted that the senior class of Sup, Dave Flanagan, Tim Christo, Borer, Green, Tom Streeter, Oliverius, Brian Rasmussen, Howell, Kunzman, Hagemann and Dick Mosier, “did a remarkable job” of leadership.
In later comments, Cookson said he felt the key to the championship season, “was our win over Central City. From there on we started to come into our own, both offensively and defensively.”
Cookson believed his team, which outyarded David City 344-169 and had a 25-6 advantage in first downs, dominated play in the championship game, but were victims of their own mistakes in the first three quarters. He was confident throughout.
“I always had the feeling we were going to score.”
I found some anonymous quotes about 1971 Cardinal football in the ‘72 Albacard, Albion High School’s longtime yearbook, including the following by a freshman female …
“After David City beat us, I cried; after we beat them, I cried.”
That succinctly sums up the ‘71 Cardinals, their season and the conference championship game.