Dennis Claridge, who quarterbacked the Nebraska Cornhuskers to a 13-7 Orange Bowl victory over Auburn following the 1963 season under second-year coach Bob Devaney, died Tuesday after a 3-year battle with bladder cancer. He was 76. Claridge, a native of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, was a recruit of former coach Bill Jennings and largely credited for the Big Red Renaissance under Devaney, who replaced Jennings in 1962. Claridge and Devaney were key figures in the Memorial Stadium’s NCAA record sellout streak that began with a homecoming game against Missouri in 1962 and lasts to this day.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Claridge led Nebraska to a 9-2 record in 1962, Devaney’s first season, and a 10-1 record in 1963, including a perfect 7-0 mark in Big Eight Conference games. The only loss that season came to Air Force, and Claridge helped the Cornhuskers finish strong in the Orange Bowl, when he scored Nebraska’s only touchdown on a 68-yard run. He led Nebraska to the program’s first two bowl victories, the Gotham Bowl and the aforementioned Orange Bowl.
“He got the turnaround going,” noted Nebraska football historian Mike Babcock said. “Guys like Dennis Claridge, Bob Brown, were key guys. He was a big guy. He was a big quarterback. He could throw, and he could run.” Babcock told the story of Jennings recruiting Claridge and basically stealing him late from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, of which Robbinsdale is a suburb.
“I’m not sure what the connection was with him, but it looked like he was going to Minnesota,” Babcock said. “The story was he already had his books or already had checked into his dorm, and Nebraska hadn’t started class, and Jennings convinced him to come to Nebraska.”
Claridge returned to Nebraska for his senior season after being selected in the third round of the 1963 NFL Draft as an eligible junior, and he joined the Green Bay Packers in 1964. There, he was a member of the 1965 NFL Championship, playing behind Bart Starr and Zeke Bratkowski under legendary coach Vince Lombardi.
Claridge was selected in the 1966 expansion draft by the Atlanta Falcons, and eventually returned to Lincoln to become an orthodontist after receiving his Master’s degree in orthodontics from the University of Iowa in 1972.
A member of Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Claridge served there as an usher, communion assistant, on the church council, stewardship committee, was a capital campaign chairperson, and helped with Meals on Wheels, Teammates and the Honduras dental team. “He was a leader and pillar of faith at our church,” Southwood senior pastor Greg Olsen said. Claridge, born in Kingman, Arizona, is survived by his wife of 54 years, Rhoda; children and families: Dave; Dan and Kim Claridge; Nick and Tara, Cody and Anna, and Bo; Denise and Kevin Meyer, Elsa and Owen; sister-in-law, Becky Stevens. Services will be held 10:30 Saturday morning at Southwood Lutheran Church in Lincoln.