LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) -- Whenever Jim Pillen talks to Bruce Dunning, he invariably asks, "Do you still have James Wilder's cleat marks on your forehead?"
They can laugh now.
Pillen and Dunning were members of the last Nebraska football team to lose to Missouri in Lincoln. That was in 1978, on a day Wilder ran for 181 yards and four touchdowns, running over Dunning for the last score in a 35-31 victory that dashed the second-ranked Huskers' national championship hopes.
Thirty years later, Missouri is poised to end its 15-game losing streak in Lincoln. The fourth-ranked Tigers (4-0) will bring in their best team in decades Saturday night. The Cornhuskers (3-1) are in a rebuilding mode under first-year coach Bo Pelini.
"We've all heard about it," Tigers quarterback Chase Daniel said. "We hadn't won at Kansas State in 12 years before last year. We hadn't won at Colorado in years. This is another streak we would like to break."
Missouri has beaten Nebraska three straight times in Columbia, including 41-6 last year. In Lincoln, the Tigers haven't come within a touchdown of the Huskers since a 23-19 game in 1982. Through the 1990s, when Tom Osborne fielded some of his most dominant teams, 30- and 40-point blowouts were common. Even Bill Callahan, fired at the end of last season, beat the Tigers handily in 2004 and '06 at home.
This time, the oddsmakers say Missouri is supposed to win.
Warren Powers, who coached the Tigers in '78, said Gary Pinkel has taken a downtrodden Missouri program and rekindled the excitement of the 1960s and '70s.
"He's done a good job of winning back the kids in the state, and with Chase he has a super leader," said the 67-year-old Powers, now working for a car dealership in St. Louis. "They've got a real good team, and I think they'll go a long way."
There were multiple story lines at play on that cloudy and bitterly cold mid-November afternoon in 1978.
Nebraska, which had opened the season with a 20-3 loss at Alabama, had come into the game No. 2 in the national rankings after beating Oklahoma 17-14 the week before. It was Tom Osborne's first win over the Sooners, and Nebraska's first since 1971. A victory over Missouri would send Nebraska to the Orange Bowl to play for the national title against Penn State.
Missouri was led by a first-year coach in Powers. He had played halfback at Nebraska in the early 1960s and had been an assistant under Bob Devaney and Osborne. The Tigers had beaten fifth-ranked Notre Dame in the opener but lost to a pair of top-ranked teams in Alabama and Oklahoma. They came to Lincoln 5-4 and needing a win to make a bowl game.
Osborne, now Nebraska's athletic director, recalled Wednesday that his team was spent defensively after beating Oklahoma.
"Not to take anything away from Missouri. They had a great team and played well that day," Osborne said. "We just weren't as sharp defensively. Both teams went up and down the field that day."
Nebraska's Rick Berns broke an 82-yard on his first carry, giving Nebraska the lead 18 seconds into the game.
"Everybody let down and said we were in a cakewalk," said Dunning, a linebacker known as "Stunning Dunning" back in the day. "We actually were in for the fight of our lives that day."
Berns ran for 255 yards against the Tigers, but it wouldn't be enough. The Huskers couldn't tackle Wilder, a 220-pound sophomore who had his breakout game in Missouri's veer offense, and couldn't cover tight end Kellen Winslow, who caught six passes from Phil Bradley for 132 yards.
Missouri, trailing 31-28, got the ball for the last time at its 26 with 5:59 left and the wind chill near zero. Bradley hit Winslow for 33 yards to the Nebraska 15, and two plays later Wilder scored the winning touchdown. On his last carry, a 7-yarder, he rammed Dunning and then shoved him aside on his way to the end zone.
"You don't want to make excuses, but we had a busted defensive scheme," Dunning said. "I won't name names. No excuses. I was a good tackler, and I should have made the tackle. But he went right over me. If I had made that tackle, we would have won the game."
George Andrews, a defensive end who went on to play for the Los Angeles Rams, said he experienced the greatest emotional highs and lows of his athletic career within a span of consecutive Saturdays.
"Probably that loss sticks with me as much as any in my football career," Andrews said.
Missouri went on to the Liberty Bowl and beat LSU 20-15. Nebraska grudgingly played Oklahoma in a rematch in the Orange Bowl and lost 31-24.
"Winning at Notre Dame was good, but winning at Nebraska your first year as coach was great, too," Powers said. "Not many people do that."
The '78 Nebraska players still see each other from time to time at reunions. Some, such as Pillen and Dunning, remain good friends.
Pillen, who lives in Columbus, Neb., used to make a long-distance call to Dunning, who lives in Indianapolis, on the day Nebraska and Missouri would play.
The operator would ask Dunning if he would accept a collect call from "a Mr. James Wilder."
"Put him on," Dunning would say, and then the two would reminisce and catch up with each other.
"We've tried to make levity out of the anguish," said Pillen, a former defensive back. "That's one our class has never put to bed. It's insane you have something hang with you for 30 years."
Missouri, too, suffers.
"It's been a tough deal, not being able to get it done in Lincoln all these years," Powers said. "It's tough on whoever goes in there to play. But it's always been really tough for us."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)