LINCOLN — When Nebraska football’s historic sellout streak started, Dennis Claridge was the Husker throwing the passes.
The first starting quarterback — and starting punter — for Bob Devaney, Claridge died this week after a three-year battle with bladder cancer, according to a Nebraska spokesman. Claridge had been a long-time orthodontist in Lincoln after his playing career at NU and three seasons in the NFL. He was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame in 1976 and was, until Jerry Tagge came along in the early ‘70s, the best quarterback in Husker history.
He’s also the one who helped kick-start the Devaney era. Claridge was NU’s quarterback in 1961 — the last year of Bill Jennings — 1962 and 1963. He quarterbacked Nebraska to its first two bowl wins — the Gotham and the Orange. When the Huskers in 2009 honored the 300th straight sellout, Claridge was one of the four players from the 1962 team invited to Nebraska’s practice to see the throwback jerseys.
The Robbinsville, Minnesota native was a top high school recruit — 6-foot-3, 210 pounds — secured by Jennings before his firing. In 1961, Claridge threw for 464 yards. In 1962, under Devaney, he was more prolific, with 1,199 total yards, including 829 passing. His 64 points scored that year set a then-school record. In the Gotham Bowl — a 36-34 win over Miami — Claridge threw for 146 yards.
In 1963, Nebraska lost just once — 17-13 to Air Force. That loss kept NU from playing for the national title, but the Huskers were perfect in the Big Eight and beat Auburn 13-7 in the Orange Bowl, finishing No. 5 in the final Associated Press poll. Claridge was a team captain and Academic All-American that season.
The Packers picked Claridge in the third round of the NFL Draft. He played three seasons in the NFL.
Claridge is the second prominent Husker quarterback to pass away this year. David Humm died March 27.