Jeff Kinney was part of national championship teams in both 1970 and 1971. During the ‘71 campaign, Kinney had one of the greatest seasons ever by a Husker running back, rushing for 1,136 yards and 17 touchdowns, helping him set Nebraska career records in rushing and touchdowns. His finest game came against Oklahoma in the “Game of the Century,” when he rushed for 171 yards and four touchdowns. A first-team All-American and All-Big 8 selection, Kinney is one of the all-time greats in Husker football history.
Big Red Report caught up with Kinney for a Q&A session.
Q: Where do you live?
A: Castle Rock, Colorado
Q: How long have you lived in Colorado?
A: I just moved here this past July from Stilwell, Kansas.
Q: What caused you to move?
A: It was a job move. My company thought it would be in my best interest to move either to Colorado or California. Being I have a son in Colorado, it would be better to be close to family.
Q: What kind of job do you have?
A: I have been working for Royal Bank of Canada a little over two years. I work with institutions like banks, insurance companies, money managers and corporations, as far as their fixed income investments go.
Q: What do you like about your job?
A: I get to meet a lot of nice people and develop relationships, which has always been important to me. The best thing I like about it is the trust that develops over the years between the client and myself.
Q: Are you married?
How many kids do you have?
A: I am not married. I have three kids: Jeff, Mike and daughter Kristin.
Q: Did any of your kids play sports collegiately?
A: Both of my sons did. Both were scholarship quarterbacks, Jeff at Illinois and Mike at Kentucky and then Colorado State.
Q: Did Nebraska recruit your sons?
A: Coach (Tom) Osborne asked Jeff to walk-on, but it is tough to turn down scholarship offers from schools like Illinois and Michigan State to be a walk-on at Nebraska.
Q: Do you still get autograph requests?
A: I still get quite a few letters from people all over the country requesting autographs. So I guess there are a few people that are still alive that remember me (laughing).
Q: What is your hometown?
A: McCook, Nebraska
Q: What high school did you go to?
A: McCook High School. We were Class A at the time.
Q: What positions did you play in high school?
A: I played everything.
Q: Which position did you feel you were best at?
A: I loved playing defense. If it were my decision, I would like to have played safety in college.
Q: What position did Nebraska recruit you at?
Q: What schools recruited you besides Nebraska?
A: Most of the Big 8 schools, UCLA and Texas.
Q: Which school finished runner-up to Nebraska?
A: Kansas State, because I thought about being a veterinarian.
Q: Being from Nebraska, how high was your interest in the Huskers?
A: I was a young boy growing up when Coach (Bob) Devaney came to Lincoln and really started to develop their program. My family and I got really excited about Nebraska football. Every Saturday we would listen to Nebraska play football on the radio.
Q: When you got to Nebraska, did you play on the freshman team your first year?
A: I started out at quarterback but made the mistake of scrambling a couple times, so I was moved to running back and flanker.
Q: When did you solely work on being a running back?
A: It would have been my sophomore year. There were a couple of injuries to other players, so they moved me to tailback.
Q: When did you get your first start?
A: It was during my sophomore year.
Q: So you were a three-year starter at tailback?
A: Yes, but I split time with Joe Orduna my junior year.
Q: What kind of player were you at Nebraska?
A: Being a running back, I felt like I had the ability to read blocks well. I was more of a slasher/power runner with the ability to take the ball outside, but also could run up the middle and off-tackle.
Q: What was your playing height and weight and what kind of speed did you have?
A: I was 6-2 and weighed around 210 pounds. My 40-yard dash time was 4.5 or 4.6.
Q: What kind of offense did you run during your years at Nebraska?
A: We ran the I-formation. But sometimes we would go to a spread formation, which was a passing formation, and I would go from tailback to flanker.
Q: Did you catch the ball very much?
A: During my sophomore year I was the team’s top receiver and one of the leading receivers the Big 8, catching over 40 passes.
Q: What kind of coach was Bob Devaney?
A: He demanded a great deal of respect from coaches and players. He was a guy you wanted to please. He let his coaches coach and was there to supervise things. He was a legend and will always be in my mind.
Q: Tom Osborne was your offensive coordinator. What kind of coordinator was he?
A: Tom was very intelligent and worked closely with Coach Devaney and the other coaches to come up with a game plan. Our passing and running game wasn’t that complicated. Everything was predicated off of probably six to eight plays, with variations of runs, reverses and passes.
Q: Do you have any plays that really stand out to you?
A: There are enough good experiences that I still remember. One was as a sophomore playing against Missouri and catching a pass over the middle and going about 80 yards for a touchdown. They were a pretty good football team and that play brought us back in the game. Another was against Colorado my junior year when I returned a kickoff for almost 80 yards, setting up a touchdown. That turned the game around.
Q: How many carries in a game did you feel you could handle as a tailback?
A: I guess my limit was 35 carries, because that was the most I ever carried the ball in a game.
Q: What makes an ideal tailback?
A: You want a pretty standard answer?
A great offensive line. They have to make things happen in front of you. They have to get some kind of movement or some kind of direction that allows you to have a seam or soft spot where you are moving the pile four to six yards down the field at a time.
Q: What was the best defense you went up against?
A: Our own Blackshirts. But Missouri played us as tough as anybody. They were a physical football team and put eight men in the box, so you had to knock them off the ball.
Q: Did you graduate from Nebraska?
A: Yes, I graduated with a degree in education.
Q: Did you play professional football?
A: I was drafted in the first round (23rd overall) of the NFL draft by the (Kansas City) Chiefs.
Q: How long did you play professionally?
A: Six years.
Q: Entering that 1971 season, did your team have the mentality that they could win a second-straight national championship?
A: We felt it from day one. It wasn’t a cockiness, we just wanted to prove every week we were a good football team and play for the fans of Nebraska. We wanted their approval just as much as the coaches. The Blackshirts took a great deal of pride in shutting people out, and our offense took a great deal of pride in controlling the football and putting points on the board. That was our attitude every week.
Q: Was Oklahoma just as good as Nebraska in that “Game of the Century” in 1971?
A: I wouldn’t say they were just as good as we were, but they were awfully close. It took every play in that game for us to win.
Q: What kind of team was Alabama when you played them for the national championship in the Orange Bowl?
A: They weren’t as physical as we were, and we just handled them. I remember a funny story from Barry Switzer. When we played Oklahoma, it was on Thanksgiving Day, and Alabama played Auburn that weekend. We beat Oklahoma, and Alabama beat Auburn. Oklahoma ended up playing Auburn in the Sugar Bowl and we played Alabama. Oklahoma was beating Auburn 31-0 at halftime, and Switzer told his players, “I wonder if the Alabama players are wondering what is going to happen to them against Nebraska!”
Q: Do you have a memorable moment from that 1971 season?
A: After the game against Oklahoma. We were trying to get to the locker room and the fans were on the field. I ran into my dad in the middle of the field, and he gave me a big hug and took what was left of my jersey and gave it to a barber shop back in McCook, Nebraska. Then on the flight back to Lincoln, there were probably 30,000 people there to greet us. We couldn’t even get the plane close to the terminal, so they just parked it on the runway and we walked through all the fans back to our cars. That was the coolest experience I ever had.
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Shane Gilster is the Editor of Big Red Report Magazine. His stories focus mainly on catching up with former Huskers and examining Nebraska athletic history.
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