Most Nebraskans are familiar with Herbie Husker and his agricultural roots — both his name and outfit are a testament to his Nebraska football team and the agricultural origins of the University of Nebraska. Herbie has been a mainstay at Husker football games since his introduction in 1974, when he was illustrated by Texas cartoonist Dirk West.
But before Herbie first donned the trademark overalls he’s known for, he had a predecessor — Harry Husker, created by none other than Nebraska Farmer’s own Bill Goggins, back when the Nebraska Farmer offices were at 9th and P streets in downtown Lincoln, Neb.
Bearing similarities to his successor, Harry Husker sported a red cowboy hat with a big white “N.” But instead of overalls, Harry wore a red blazer and a tie. Instead of a corncob and a football, Harry held a Nebraska pennant and what appears to be a game day program.
EARLY MASCOT: Although he never became the official mascot, Harry Husker became a staple at Husker football games for about four years, until Herbie Husker was introduced.
'Life' of Harry Husker
Harry made his debut in a feature in the Nov. 7, 1964, Nebraska Farmer issue. The article, “Farm boys pack the pigskin — and pack away the beef at the University of Nebraska,” explained that a group of Nebraska ranchers and feeders supplied the Cornhusker football team’s training table with “Beef State beef steak.” “Through this unique arrangement, ranchers donate the cattle, and farmers supply the feed to fatten the animals for the training table,” the article explained.
On the cover was a photo of two senior linemen, center Lyle Sittler of Crete and guard Ron Griesse of Kearney, enjoying some Nebraska steak at the training table.
Accompanying the inside feature was the original Harry Husker, and Goggins eventually granted the UNL Athletic Department permission to use the red-clad caricature. According to the book “Million Dollar Party: A Restaurant Memoir,” by Lincolnites Robert and Susan Ihrig, Goggins never received any royalties for his art, but did receive lifetime football tickets — not uncommon among business trade-outs at the time.
Harry, aka “Mr. Big Red,” never became the official mascot, but he could be found at Husker football games for a short time, from 1970 until 1974. He reportedly retired because the mascot’s fiberglass head was so large it required its own bus, according to reports made to the Lincoln Journal Star and huskeralum.org.
Goggins passed away more than 10 years ago, but for an article in Nebraska Farmer’s 150th anniversary issue in December 2009, Don McCabe, Nebraska Farmer’s editor at the time, spoke with Goggins’ son, Bill Goggins Jr., who grew up with memories of his dad’s creation on televised football games. Bill Jr. also remembered Harry adorning their house for Christmas.
In the article, Bill Jr. recalled, “One Christmas prior to an Orange Bowl game against Alabama, my dad made two huge posters, one of them Harry and the other of Santa Claus, and we attached them to our roof and placed lights around them. Beside the posters was a banner that read, ‘Deck the Tide, and we’ll be jolly.’”