New Years at Bernie's


1984 Orange Bowl: Miami versus Nebraska

40 years ago tonight, The U was born; with Miami defeating Nebraska in one of the best football games I ever watched.

Later on today, Jim Harbaugh's Michigan Wolverines will face off against Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide in the Rose Bow; with a trip to the College Football Championship Game on the line. While this game - along with the future Big Ten Washington Huskies playing the Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl - will be must-see viewing; both match-ups have big shoes to fill if they want to live up to what transpired 40 years ago tonight in Miami.

On that New Years' night, Dr. Tom Osborne's undefeated and #1 ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers took the field against Howard Schnellenberger's #5 ranked Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl. The Huskers earned the invite to South Beach by rolling through their 1983 season undefeated (including eeking out an 84-13 win at Minnesota) and winning the old Big Eight Conference. Nebraska was led on offense by their version of the Holy Trinity. Turner Gill was the prototype option quarterback. The Ft. Worth, TX native mixed in 1,516 yards passing with 531 yards rushing. I-back was manned by Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier, who parlayed is 300 carries into 2,295 yards rushing (at a 7.7 yards per carry clip). Wing Back Irving Fryer (who would go on to a long career as an NFL wide receiver) mixed in enough pass receptions (40) to keep defenses somewhat honest against Nebraska's Power I option offense.

In addition to the 84-13 massacre that occurred September 17, 1983 at the Metrodome; Nebraska also managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the following games:

  • August 29, 1983: Nebraska 44 - (#4) Penn State 6 (in the Kickoff Classic)
  • October 1, 1983: Nebraska 63 - Syracuse 7.
  • October 22, 1983: Nebraska 69 - Colorado 19.
  • October 29, 1983: Nebraska 51 - Kansas State 25.
  • November 5, 1983: Nebraska 72 - Iowa State 29.
  • November 12, 1983: Nebraska 67 - Kansas 13.

The closest any other team got to the Cornhuskers was in the regular season finale, when Barry Switzer's Oklahoma Sooners got within a touchdown, losing to Nebraska 28-21 (following this loss, Switzer re-installed the wishbone offense for 1984 with true freshman quarterback Troy Aikman: yes, THAT Troy Aikman!)

Perhaps the Cornhuskers should have taken a look at the scoreboard prior to kickoff, as the meteor had landed prior to kickoff in Miami. At the Cotton Bowl, #2 ranked Texas was upset by post-Herschel Walker Georgia 10-9; while #4 ranked Illinois who swept the rest of the Big Ten was upset in the Rose Bowl by a 4-loss and 1-tie UCLA team led by quarterback Rick Neuheisel. And over in New Orleans, the #3 Auburn Tigers were about to kick off the Sugar Bowl against Bo Schembechler's Big Ten runner-up #9 Michigan Wolverines.

The 'Canes earned the 'home' game by overcoming a season-opening 28-3 loss at Florida by winning 10 straight games; including a 17-16 upset of Florida State in their regular season finale. Miami surprised the college football world, as they appeared to be rebuilding with star quarterback Jim Kelly off to the pro ranks, signing on with the USFL's Houston Gamblers (and running the run-and-shoot offense to perfection). Taking over for Kelly at quarterback was redshirt freshman Bernie Kosar. Leading the defense was true freshman Jerome Brown (defensive takcle) and Winston Moss (linebacker).

With Nebraska firmly established as 11-point favorites, this Orange Bowl appeared to be Nebraska's coronation as consensus National Champions. But, as the old saying goes, that's why they play the games. Any thoughts of this being an 84-13 rout were erased by the end of the first quarter, when two Bernie Kosar touchdown passes and a field goal gave Miami a 17-0 lead. Perhaps to motivate his team, perhaps in a fit of desperation as the option isn't exactly a come-from-behind offense, Dr. Tom called one of the most (in)famous plays in Nebraska football history, The Fumblerooski:

Another touchdown narrowed Miami's lead to 17-14 at halftime. Things didn't look good for Nebraska in the second half, as all-world I-back Mike Rozier left the game with an ankle injury early in the third quarter; and the Hurricanes outscored the Cornhuskers 14-3 to take a 31-17 lead into the fourth quarter. In one of the unsung hero moments, backup I-back Jeff Smith led a furious comeback, scoring his second touchdown on an option pitch with 48 seconds to go pulling Nebraska to within a point 31-30.

In hindsight, kicking the extra point and ending the game in a 31-31 tie would have won Nebraska the consensus National Championship. At that moment though, Dr. Tom decided to go for two and the outright victory. Thus, for the second time in the game Nebraska ran one of the most (in)famous plays in its football history:

Miami held on to win the 1984 Orange Bowl 31-30 claiming the consensus National Championship, much to the chagrin of Auburn fans. While the Orange Bowl was being played, Auburn kicked 3 field goals and defeated Michigan 9-7 in a Sugar Bowl offensive performance that would have embarrassed Woody Hayes. Auburn thought they had won the National Championship, until they learned that Miami had leapfrogged them in both polls' standings.

In the aftermath of winning the National Championship, Howard Schnellenberger made one of those 'Why in the hell did he do THAT?' decisions that he admitted in later years he deeply regretted. Schnellenberger left Miami to be head coach/general manager/part owner in the aforementioned USFL. Replacing him was the 40 year old Oklahoma State head coach, some guy named Jimmy Johnson. Jimmy picked up where Howard left off, and completed Miami's transformation to The U; a team that would dominate college football for the next 20 years.

As for Nebraska, the remainder of the 1980s could best be summed up as, 'close, but no cigar'. Barry Switzer went back to running the wishbone and beating Nebraska on a regular basis. It would be eleven long years until Dr. Tom's Cornhuskers broke through and won the National Championship, defeating the same Miami Hurricanes in the same Orange Bowl on New Years' night 1995.


1983 Miami Hurricanes Reunion

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