Miami, Florida- Squinting out across the Orange Bowl field Saturday
night, Alabama Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant may have been able to envision
what it would be like if he had accepted that offer to coach the Miami
Dolphins two years ago.
He could have thought the Baltimore Colts had sneaked into the Orange
Bowl a few hours early for their American Football Conference playoff
game today against Miami. But the Nebraska collegians, not the pro
Colts, were the parties responsible for the Cornhuskers' shockingly easy
36-8 triumph. Red lettering on the backs on white jerseys spelling out
names like Tagge, Kinney, Rodgers, Grover, Harper and Jacobson said so
But Nebraska dominated the early going so convincingly that the game
ballybooed as the College Super bowl was played before a half-empty
stadium during much of the fourth quarter. It was supposed to be another
"Game of the Century," rivaling Nebraska's 35-31 win over Oklahoma a few
weeks earlier. It was billed as the National Championship game, Nebraska
ranked first and Alabama second.
And it was hardly necessary for Nebraska Coach Bob Devaney to suggest
how the Pope might vote in the final polls as he did here last year.
Devaney has said that the few hours after a victory are the most
satisfying in a coach's life. But he had to savor every glorious second
of the game that obviously should wrap up his first selection as the
Coach of the Year by the Football Coaches Association of America, an
honor that has eluded him so far.
The trouncing should also finally erase from memory those
back-to-back losses to Alabama and the Bear in 1966 and 1967. Another
dash of sweetness for Devaney was the victory margin 32 points, five
more than his losing spread in the 34-7 Sugar Bowl loss in 1967, the
game regarded as his most frustrating defeat.
The game, played before 78,151 in 70-degree weather, and the
elaborate pagentry of the Orange Bowl Classic showed no ill effect from
the two-hour downpour that ended just before the game. The colorful
pregame and halftime shows could only be rivaled in flair by Nebraska's
incomparable Johnny Rodgers, whose 77-yard punt return in the opening
quarter served notice that the Huskers' one touchdown favorite odds were
not nearly enough.
But it was the nose-bloodying work of the Blackshirt defensive unit
that was mainly responsible for keeping the N.U. unbeaten string going
up to 32 and winning streak to 23. The Blackshirts held the Crimson
Tide, an outfit that scored at a 32-9 points per game pace through 11
unbeaten regular season games, to a single touchdown. Defensive captain
Jim Anderson's gang set up three touchdowns by recovering fumbles.
Anderson personally applied the coup de grace when he intercepted a pass
from Alabama third-string quarterback Benny Rippitoe and returned it to
the Tide one-yard line to give the offense its shot at the final
touchdown 4:45 from the end.
The Tide led in first downs, 16-15; rushing plays, 57-47; and yards
rushing, 241-183. But N.U. held a total offense advantage of 342 yards
to 288 and passing, 159-147 on 11 completions in 20 attempts. Another
statistic that reveals a great deal is the 136 yards Rodgers gained
returning punts to 36 for the Tide.
He darted to his right, shaking loose from the first foe. A key block
by Jim Anderson allowed the junior sprinter from Omaha Tech to turn the
corner. Another block was supplied by Jerry List, who lost his helmet in
the process. From midfield on in, it was no contest as Rodgers logged
his fourth punt return touchdown of the season and sixth of his career.
The 77-yarder was three yards short of the Orange Bowl record (video).
If that play didn't take the starch out of the Tide, the next play
did. Steve Williams was decked by Randy Borg while returning the
kickoff. The ball popped free and into the inviting arms of John
Peterson 27 yards from the Tide goal. Seven plays later, the Huskers
were sitting happily on a 21-0 lead. Tagge's 20-yard pass to Gary Dixon,
only the second reception of the year for the Californian, carried it to
the nine. Two carries by Dixon netted two yards and Tagge passed to
substitute fullback Maury Damkroger, who was jolted out of bounds inches
from the end zone. Tagge's fourth-down sneak for the touchdown came with
12:43 left-in the half. His backward leap over the goal was reminiscent
of a similar dive exactly one year ago at the opposite end of the field
that earned N.U.'s first national title.
The Huskers did have to move the ball some distance to open scoring
in the first-half blitz, during which N.U. earned a 225-96 total offense
edge. It came on N.U.'s second possession, a 53-yard march in five plays
after Tide punter Gantt fumbled a high snap and was smeared by Jim
Branch and Willie Harper.
Two carries by Jeff Kinney for seven yards and an 11-yard Tagge-to-Rodgers
pass moved the ball to the Tide 35. Then another Husker break. Tagge
went long to split end Woody Cox near the left corner of the end zone.
The pass was obviously long, but Nebraska was awarded a first down at
the two when Williams was declared guilty of interference. Kinney earned
the honor of opening scoring when he charged over Dick Rupert and Keith
Wortman with 2:01 left in the first quarter. It was his 17th touchdown
of the year and gave him a career mark of 34, padding his N.U. record.
Rich Sanger, another record-holder (NCAA points after touchdown, 60)
provided one of the very few disappointments for Husker partisans by
missing the PAT.
Nebraska got that point back after Rodgers' dynamic kick return when Tagge passed for the two-point conversion to Damkroger. Everything went so well for Nebraska in the first half that a Rodgers fumble even contributed to a touchdown. Tagge passed complete to his favorite target on about a 30-yard gain before Rodgers lost his hold on the ball near Alabama's 20. The ball bounced toward the goal with Rodgers and Steve Wade in pursuit. Wade won with a recovery at the two.
Alabama came back in the second half with grit and determination to
earn whatever comfort can be found in statistics. The Tide's
All-American halfback Johnny Musso gained a much-deserved 79 yards on 15
carries, but he, like so many other highly touted backs, toiled in the
shadows of the irresistible Kinney. The roughneck from McCook came up
just one yard short of the 100-yard category on 20 carries.
But that was the extent of Alabama's challenge until the game-ending
drive that ended on Nebraska's eight.
Nebraska added three more points on a 21-yard Sanger field goal on the
last play of the third quarter and a final touchdown following
It seems fitting that the last touchdown went to No. 2 quarterback
Van Brownson, who shared quarterbacking for two years before yielding
finally this year to Tagge.
That sent up a din of "We're No. 1" that engulfed the Orange Bowl and will be heard for another year around Nebraska. Nebraska finally had won a high stakes game with old foe Alabama and the Bear, "I don't like to think that there's a guy around who can just walk out on the field and beat me any time he wants to," said Nebraska coach Bob Devaney. "Even if his team is very good."
Rodgers on incredible 77 yard punt return (above) and looking back at Bama (below).
Terry Davis scores Alabama's only touchdown in the third period.
Jeff Kinney explodes through Tide defense.
Back to Back titles for Nebraska and Devaney.