The 5 Most Memorable Fiesta Bowls

The annual renewal of what are now called the New Year’s Six bowls marks the perfect time to look back at these classic postseason events. The Fiesta Bowl doesn’t own the longevity of the other New Year’s Six bowls, but its most memorable games left quite an imprint on the college football history books and on the fans who have watched this sport. Here are the five most memorable games in the Fiesta Bowl’s existence. You’ll find ample disagreement on No. 5, which could go in any of several different directions, but the top four are hard to deny.

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5 – 1988: FLORIDA STATE 31, NEBRASKA 28

Bobby Bowden. Tom Osborne. One school was a new-money power at the time, the other a fixture on the college football scene. The 1987 season marked the first of the 14 straight seasons in which Florida State finished in the top five of the polls. This win made that streak possible. Nebraska carried the run of play most of the way, but a 97-yard Seminole touchdown drive in the fourth quarter — culminating in a go-ahead touchdown with 3:07 left in regulation — left the Huskers stunned.

Full game here:

4 – 1996: NEBRASKA 62, FLORIDA 24

This game wasn’t close, but it was one of those rare blowouts which left a lingering mark on the mind of anyone who witnessed it.

The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers are, for many, the greatest team in college football history, and probably the greatest team since the 1979 Alabama Crimson Tide. You’ll get a strong and legitimate argument from those who would say the 2001 Miami Hurricanes set the standard, but this Fiesta Bowl is Nebraska’s best argument. The 1995 Florida Gators were arguably Steve Spurrier’s best Florida team. Keep in mind that the 1996 team won its national title only after luckily getting a rematch with Florida State in that season’s Sugar Bowl. Nebraska tossed aside the ’95 Gators as though they were plush toys.

Tommie Frazier wasn’t the greatest college player ever in terms of NFL stock or raw talent, but in terms of pure on-field accomplishments as a collegian, he belongs on the sport’s Mount Rushmore. His touchdown run is one of the most iconic plays in Nebraska history, right there with Johnny Rodgers’s kick return against Oklahoma in 1971.

Full game here:

3 – 1987: PENN STATE 14, MIAMI 10

This game made college football history by receiving stand-alone treatment from NBC, being moved off New Year’s Day and into a Friday, Jan. 2 broadcast window. This wasn’t elegant football, but Penn State’s defensive masterclass against Vinny Testaverde and the rest of a powerful Miami offense created a tense game, a significant upset, and a “Where were you when?” moment in college football’s storied history.

Full game here:

2 – 2003: OHIO STATE 31, MIAMI 24 (OT)

One of college football’s all-time classics, this game — given a fresh examination by the 30for30 documentary, The U Part Two — featured several outrageous plot twists, a delicious contrast in styles between the two teams, and a highly controversial denouement. No one who watched it will ever forget it.

Full game here:

1 – 2007: BOISE STATE 43, OKLAHOMA 42 (OT)

The hook and lateral.

The halfback pass on fourth and two in overtime.

The Statue of Liberty for the do-or-die 2-point conversion in overtime.

Three perfectly executed trick plays — under suffocating pressure — captured the imagination of football fans everywhere, enabling Boise State to topple Oklahoma in the midst of the program’s reign over the rest of the Big 12. The Boise State win validated the Bowl Championship Series’ expansion from four games to five, and it also showed how programs from what are today referred to as non-Power 5 conferences can compete with the big boys. The victory launched Chris Petersen to a higher level at Boise State, where his teams would continue to compete for BCS bowls over the next several seasons.

Just to make the moment even more indelibly etched in everyone’s mind, there was also a marriage proposal by the star running back (Boise State’s Ian Johnson) to a cheerleader right after the game on the field. This was a magical night of sports, not just because of the game itself, but the sense of theater which enveloped it.

Full game here:

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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