College football said it wanted a Super Bowl.
Well, it got one Tuesday night.
No polls. No votes. No controversy.
No drama, either, except for the kind provided by quarterback Tommie Frazier, slicing through one cluster of would-be tacklers after another until a simple run around end became a 75-yard showcase touchdown in Nebraska’s 62-24 Fiesta Bowl victory.
Pick a year, any year. Nebraska was San Francisco, Florida was Denver. Nebraska was Dallas, Florida was Buffalo.
If the NCAA wants to continue this Super Bowl suggestion, it would be a good gesture to keep the national championship game out of that year’s Super Bowl site, thus ensuring its identity as something more than a warmup act for the NFL’s big flop.
And if Florida wants to shoot for the moon again, it had best figure a way to keep its quarterback from staring up at it most of the game. Not that every defense has the fireplugs of Nebraska’s. Or any offense the firepower of Frazier (199 yards rushing), tailback Lawrence Phillips (165) and a line that would make even the Dolphins discover a running game.
“We got clobbered, and I’m embarrassed we couldn’t make a game of it, coach Steve Spurrier said to national television.
This is a coach’s natural refrain in the cooling of a dream, but it needn’t be everyone else’s. There is ample room for the Gators to feel disappointed at the night yet to appreciate the season that delivered it.
There is also space to praise Spurrier for reaching this height while admitting his clipboard was handed him by Nebraska’s Tom Osborne.
Spurrier made a living off the Southeastern Conference by throwing anywhere, anytime, against anyone. So he wasn’t backing down Tuesday even when the opponent and the scenery suggested he should.
If a blowout can have a momentum-swinging moment, it came in the second quarter and Spurrier pulled a collegiate Barry Switzer, getting a reprieve on a bad call only to try it again with game-tilting results.
From the 4-yard line, a five-receiver formation left quarterback Danny Wuerffel unprotected against blitzing linebacker Terrell Farley. The miracle was Wuerffel escaped a safety, spinning out of the end zone by a foot.
But Spurrier doesn’t play anything safe, so didn’t here. He played it dumb. Same formation. Same blitz.
Different landing zone for Wuerffel.
This time Jamel Williams slammed him for a safety. A 13-10 game jumped to 15-10 game, and Nebraska jump-started its synergy into a 29-point second quarter.
A fatal flaw was exposed by Nebraska’s pressure. Wuerffel began throwing balls he never had. He was intercepted three times and threw for just 255 yards in the suddenly Fun ‘n’ Popgun offense.
It had 124 total yards its first three possessions and zero in the three possessions after the safety.
And Nebraska, which hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher in a bowl game in 11 years, suddenly had Phillips rushing for 105 by half.
But Spurrier couldn’t be blamed in this Fiesta Bowl any more than Jimmy Johnson could’ve in 1987 in Miami’s title-tossing loss to Joe Paterno.
These things happen. What made this such a charming story inside Florida was the Gators’ decades-long wait for Tuesday to come. Its history is filled with more Lindsay Scott touchdowns than SEC championships.
It waited 89 years to come within one night of a title. No one doubts Florida will have another such night before 2085.
Maybe before then it will learn to protect its quarterback against a great defense.
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