Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

‘The Nebraska Kid’

Edwards, Rattay reflect on 25th anniversary of historic day in Lincoln
Friday, September 22, 2023
Article Image Alt Text

Courtesy of Getty Photos Louisiana Tech travels to Lincoln to face Nebraska on Saturday, lining up with the 25-year anniversary of Troy Edwards’ historic performance against the Cornhuskers, when he caught 21 passes for an NCAA record 405 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Through decades of dynasties, game-changing coaches, and all-world athletes in the history of college football, there’s a record that still stands.

And a Louisiana Tech Bulldog lays claim.

Twenty-five years ago, wide receiver Troy Edwards shattered history books and received admiration from opposing and hometown fans alike with 21 catches, 405 receiving yards, and 3 touchdowns against the defending national champion and No. 4 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers.

It was, and still is, an all-time performance for the Tech Hall of Famer, as Edwards’ 405 yards still sits as the most in a single game in FBS history.

And now, as the 2023 Bulldogs head back up to Lincoln for a meeting with the Cornhuskers once again, the memories of Edwards’ recordsetting day hold extra weight and are still worth remembering for those who lived that day firsthand.

Even in the immediate aftermath of the game, in which Nebraska ended up winning 56- 27, Edwards himself was not yet aware of how great he was that Saturday afternoon.

“I never knew, and nobody told me what I did,” Edwards said. “The only time I heard was when they told me to stay after the game. And credit to Nebraska fans because even though they beat us, they all stayed and gave me a standing ovation for my performance. There was no bad talk, just respect. I still remember that.”

This is the story of August 29, 1998, the day the “Nebraska Kid” reached national stardom.

In for a big day

Ron Thulin had heard it all before.

Thulin, assigned to call the game for Fox Sports Net to kickoff the 1998 season, was familiar with the usual pregame meetings with players and coaches to assist the broadcast in background notes.

And he had been to Memorial Stadium before as well, seeing firsthand the home of the Cornhuskers act as a death trap before the ball is even kicked off.

But he could feel the Bulldogs, and Edwards specifically, were different ahead of the matchup.

“I had seen so many teams come into Lincoln and as they get on the field and go through walkthrough their eyes get huge,” Thulin said. “I remember one time a coach, I think from a WAC school, said, “My team is going to look at this crowd and the energy and crap their pants.’” And for a lot of teams, it was that overwhelming. I mean you’ve got 70-80,000 people and it’s all red in the stands.”

The week started with what was taken as bulletin board material for the defending champs, with Edwards’ confidence standing out to Thulin and others, indicating what fans should expect by game’s end.

“I never went into a game thinking I was going to see a blowout,” Thulin said. “I didn’t have any expectations but, on the Friday before at walkthrough, I remember going up to Gary Crowton and he told me, ‘I just don’t think we can run on these guys. But I know we can throw against them.’ And so, I went up to Troy and I asked him what he thought and he just looked at me and went, ‘Nobody can guard me.’ And I’ve heard that probably 100 times, but there was something different about him and this team, and they were not in awe of the stadium and how big Nebraska was.”

Edwards’ rationale came from an understanding the Cornhuskers were going to play man coverage on him. No double-team. No extra eyes. Edwards and his defender all afternoon.

It was a welcome surprise for Edwards and led to his expectations of a big game.

“I knew before we played because they went one-on-one with me,” Edwards said. “Nebraska was the only school where they said we’re not double teaming him. They were going to live and die with what they did, and respect to them, they won. But I knew a big day was coming.

“They said I was a trash talker before the game when I said I don’t believe anybody can shut us down and all that, and they turned into bulletin board material,” he continued. “It doesn’t take much to do that in football. But it wasn’t anything arrogant against Nebraska. That’s one of the greatest universities for football ever.”

Tech quarterback Tim Rattay, who force-fed Edwards all game long, was shocked to see Nebraska stick to its guns with man coverage as well. But like his dynamic wide out, he wasn’t complaining.

“We were used to him getting doubled,” Rattay said. “And Troy always knew he was going to play well, and he knew no one could cover him, and we always felt good going into a game. I felt comfortable and confident, and we were an older team so we were a confident group, and we had a lot of talent on the line and at receiver too.”

Rattay, who is in his third season as quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma State, has heard and given clichés going into big games. While the talk pregame made it seem Tech and its high-flying offense treated Nebraska like any other matchup, Rattay admitted he and his teammates knew this was their chance to show something special.

“I can’t sit here and say we treated it like another game,” Rattay said. “ We had played good teams before, and we just wanted to go out there and play and go up against one of the best teams in the country.”

And that big day was coming.

‘Have Mercy!’

The game clock read 12:55 left in the fourth quarter when Tech began its drive at its own 20- yard line.

Trailing Nebraska by multiple scores and in full launch-mode, the Bulldogs were running out of time to try and miraculously climb back in the ballgame.

With time not on their side, Edwards and Rattay figured, why not score on the first play of the series?

The Bulldogs had four receivers split out wide, with Edwards on the far-right side of the formation. After a deadly double- move in which Edwards acted like he was coming back to the ball after sprinting up field, he faked his turn and continued to run, losing his defender in the dust.

Rattay noticed and launched an 80- yard strike to his leading target down the right sideline, one last wowmoment on a day full of them.

Thulin, who was on the call, couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

“Oh my goodness! Troy Edwards again! 80 yards! Have mercy!” Thulin said on the broadcast during the touchdown. “ My goodness; coach (Artie Gigantino), we have seen some good receivers in our time, but this young man is a super star.”

Reflecting on his call and Edwards’ game as a whole, Thulin still remembers what one of his aids told him in between timeouts.

“I remember my spotter, my stat guy who was working me at the time, poked me and goes, ‘We’re watching something special here,’ and I just went, ‘You’re right,’” Thulin said.

The 80-yard touchdown may have been the last of the day, but it wasn’t the most memorable.

After a penalty on the Bulldogs set them back at their own six yard line, Rattay attempted a deep shot to Edwards down the left sideline, but he had stopped short of the ball, and it fell incomplete.

“We were on the five or six yard line, and I remember we called Troy was wide open and I missed him,” Rattay said. “So we came back to the huddle and Crowton called it again and then Troy went 97 yards. I was surprised he could still run that fast after he just ran 50 on the missed throw and then came back and ran 100 more. It shows Crowton’s genius because he knew we had it and I just missed him, so he just called it again.”

Yes, on the next down, Tech ran the same play again and connected, as Edwards exploded out of his break and never broke stride as he scurried into the end zone for the touchdown.

“Look out! The 4.4 speed is on. Can they catch him? Touchdown Louisiana Tech! 94 yards — an explosion by Rattay to Edwards again here in the second half,” Thulin said on the broadcast.

The drive was two plays, 94 yards and took 17 seconds. And according to Fox Sports Net sideline reporter Eric Clemons’ sideline report minutes after the score, Edwards was heard laughing at Nebraska defenders trailing him on his way to the house.

Despite the miscommunication on the first attempt, Edwards was all smiles walking back to his huddle.

“I started clapping my hands because I was thinking, ‘Oh yeah, now I get to go 90 something yards,’” Edwards said. “Some people might have been upset where we were but I just kept thinking, ‘My touchdown is about to be 90-plus.’ The next play I went 94 yards for a touchdown.”

Earlier in the third, Rattay connected with Edwards on a 52- yard touchdown off an underneath pass designed to play like a screen as the underneath defenders were blocked by the time Edwards caught the pass.

Rattay, who finished top 10 in Heisman voting in 1998 and wrapped up his day 46-of-68 for 590 yards and 4 touchdowns, said his big numbers came thanks to the explosiveness of Edwards and the confidence from his head coach Gary Crowton.

“Coach Crowton loved to throw the football, and that’s how we practiced was throwing the ball about 70% of the time,” Rattay said. “And when you’re in the game and you look over, he just keeps calling passes; and obviously we were behind so we were trying to get the game closer and get back in it. That was the main goal.”

Edwards gave credit to his quarterback and coach for the historic day in Lincoln.

“Tim Rattay is the greatest college quarterback I ever saw and Gary Crowton is the best offensive mind I’ve ever seen, college and the NFL,” Edwards said.

National legacy

The greatest records in sports are often viewed as untouchable – Barry Bonds’ home run count or Tom Brady’s Super Bowl rings.

For Edwards, he’d like his to remain that way.

He doesn’t want anyone to break his single-game receiving record or single- season touchdowns record (27) he set in 1998. For a competitor like him, it would be unthinkable to want or not care about someone breaking his mark.

“This is my personal opinion, but if somebody ever tells you that he wants his record broken and he doesn’t mind, they’re lying,” Edwards said. “I promise you I never want it to be broken. And if it is, that’s a hell of a game and I would want to meet the kid. But yeah, I never want those records broken. And I’ve got the most touchdowns in a single season too. That’s why I competed, to be the best. And I still track numbers and see if anyone is close every year.”

In the days and months after the game of his life, Edwards became aware his performance reached beyond Ruston and Lincoln.

The college football world knew his name, and it came up with a new one as well.

“I recognized it was a major thing when people kept coming up to me or calling me, ‘ The Nebraska kid.’ That’s what I kept getting called, ‘The Nebraska Kid,’” Edwards said.

Can the record ever be touched? Rattay, Thulin, and Edwards don’t think so, given how much offenses in college have changed in the last 25 years.

“Now, there are better athletes on every team,” Thulin said. “So, now you have three guys getting 120 each rather than one guy getting 200 or 300. Every team in general has just better athletes now from top to bottom. I think that record is there to stand and I don’t see it being broken to be honest.”

Rattay and Edwards agreed, citing teams’ ability to recruit at higher levels at important positions and more defenses having safety nets to limit an individual’s impact.

“It’s funny because whenever kids tell me, ‘Oh, we’re better than y’all’ and all that I just tell them, ‘We used half the plays you guys use and you still haven’t broken it. You use 110 plays now and still haven’t gotten it,’” Edwards said.

Rattay’s respect and love for Edwards goes beyond his memorable afternoon in Lincoln. The former Bulldog gunslinger said Edwards’ inner confidence was unlike anything he’s seen, combined with God-gifted physical tools that made him near impossible to stop.

As for the record, Rattay will bet on Edwards to hold his name in history for years to come.

“The way college football is now and the fact that record still being what it is, it goes to show how special he was,” Rattay said. “He’s still the best college receiver I’ve ever seen, and I’d put his game tape against anybody.”