On Saturday, two storied programs will meet in a game that isn’t widely anticipated. No. 24 Nebraska will host Miami in a game that would have likely been for all the marbles in the 1980s and ’90s. Now it’s just another game on the docket. Let’s travel back to a time when this game meant everything…
The year was 1983 and under head coach Tom Osborne, Nebraska was destroying the competition. In the first five weeks of the season, the Cornhuskers put 44 on Penn State, 56 on Wyoming, 84 on Minnesota, 42 on UCLA, and 63 on Syracuse. They did have some close battles (a 14-10 win over Oklahoma State and a 28-21 victory over Oklahoma), but this looked like a team of destiny.
The Huskers scored over 50 points a game and averaged over 400 yards rushing per game. Turner Gill was behind center and Mike Rozier cruised to a total of 2,148 rushing yards on the season. In the process, he won the Heisman Trophy.
At the end of the season, the Huskers sat at 12-0 and had been ranked No. 1 since the preseason. On January 2, 1984, only one team stood in their way…
Coached by Howard Schnellenberger and quarterbacked by Bernie Kosar, the Miami Hurricanes lost their opening game to Florida by 25 points. Some teams would have packed it in and moved on, but the Canes kept fighting. After wins over Notre Dame, Louisville, Mississippi State, West Virginia and Florida State, they found themselves 11-1, ranked fifth, and in position to play spoiler to Nebraska.
The Huskers were 10.5-point favorites in the game, but the 1984 Orange Bowl didn’t start the way many anticipated.
After driving down the field, Nebraska had a field goal attempt blocked, and before the Huskers knew it, they fell behind, 17-0. Trailing early, Nebraska pulled out all the stops in its attempt to mount a comeback. The centerpiece of this effort was a “Fumblerooski”:
This spurred Nebraska on the comeback trail, and the two teams went into the locker room at halftime tied at 17.
Miami came out to play in the second half and took a 31-17 lead, looking like a team destined for the upset. This particularly seemed to be the case when Rozier was forced to leave the game with an injury. However, Turner Gill and Rozier’s backup, Jeff Smith, did not care how grim the outlook appeared to be. They led the Huskers to two touchdowns, pulling Nebraska within one extra point of the Hurricanes.
Earlier that day:
– the No. 2 team in the country, Texas, lost to Georgia, 10-9, in the Cotton Bowl.
– the No. 3 team in the country, Auburn, beat Michigan, 9-7, in the Sugar Bowl.
– the No. 4 team in the country, Illinois, got rocked by UCLA, 45-9, in the Rose Bowl.
Down by one point with time running out, if the Huskers lined up and kicked the extra point, it was very likely that they would have won the national championship (at this time college football did not have overtime). However, Osborne didn’t want to back into a national championship; he wanted to win it outright.
Turner Gill took the ball and rolled right. He tried to fit a short pass to his receiver in the end zone, but it wasn’t to be.
On the strength of a stopped two-point conversion, Miami would start an unlikely run of championships (four in nine years) and would leave college football fans with one of the most debated finishes to a game in the sport’s history… and what some would call the greatest game ever played.