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STILL THE 1: Nebraska 62, Florida 24 // The '90s version of the Big Red Machine feeds on Gator bait

Oh, the troubles he's known. Lawrence Phillips spent much of Nebraska's perfect season being booked, charged and criticized for personal imperfections.

Tuesday night, player No. 1 from team No. 1 took out his frustrations on the Florida Gators, who were beyond frustrated and anything but No. 1.

More like Big Red dead.

Tommie Frazier suggested, in pre-Fiesta Bowl preachings, that the Gators might melt in the national-championship cooker. Nebraska's quarterback, in his third consecutive January stab at the No. 1 ranking, said, "I am more than confident that I will do better" than Florida's celebrated air gun, Danny Wuerffel.

Cockiness well backed up.

For a Tempe quarter, the Swamp boys from Florida appeared to be a threat to leave the Arizona desert with their school's first national championship in 90 years of football.

Only a sandy mirage.

During the 12-0 wonderworks that lifted Florida to its national-championship chance, the Gators were killers in the second quarter. Their prey was outscored 180-44. But, ah, no Nebraska among them. Not a Frazier or a Phillips. During a 15-minute Tuesday night smear, Florida would be indelibly tattooed with a 29-0 second-quarter embarrassment.

A trend that wouldn't bend.

Nebraska would do to Florida what the Gators so demonstratively did to not-so-mighty Vanderbilt, Georgia, Northern Illinois, South Carolina and Kentucky in the regular season.

Noooooooo contest.

All of Steve Spurrier's creative, tricky, airborne "ball plays" soon wouldn't matter. Van Gogh and Rembrandt could have been collaborating on Xs and Os for the Gators and still they would've been plowed under by Cornhuskers who were bigger, stronger and far better.

Florida needed a masterful performance by its defense, but instead the Gators were pitiful at getting a grip on scrambling quarterback Frazier or blistering, swift, tough tailback Phillips.

They grasped only disaster.

Touchdown Tommie, while shepherding the 'Huskers to back-to-back national championships, delivered his highest insult of all to the Gators with a 75-yard touchdown run in which an estimated 27 players from Florida missed tackles. Some seemed to miss him two or three times.

While the Gators were being humiliated on defense, a heretofore respected Florida offensive line was frequently helpless to protect Wuerffel against crimson-shirted defenders. Danny got edgy, got wild and often got intercepted. Nebraska kept crushing the Gators in fundamentals.

Frazier predicted that Florida, as a first-timer in the national-championship arena, would be queasy. Butterflies were only a portion of the Gators' woes. They got caught in a big, menacing machine and were chewed up like pizza in a frat house.

Let's take a deep breath.

No, the Florida kids should not consider turning back their Southeastern Conference championship. Go ahead, Gators, order your rings. Florida also should continue to treasure its imposing whippings of Tennessee, FSU, Auburn and Arkansas. Before there was a Tuesday night of shame, there was much fame.

Nobody could've handled Nebraska in Sun Devil Stadium. Not a Tennessee or a Colorado or a Florida State. Perhaps the San Francisco 49ers would've had a shot.

Any more doubters?

It's time we quit plucking for flaws in Nebraska's persona. Time to quit assessing that Tom Osborne is too dull, too uncreative and too old-fashioned to compete with the hotshot Spurriers.

No longer are 'Huskers just good and big, as they've been since Schwarzkopf was a corporal. They're now good, big and fast. Far quicker, especially on defense, than Nebraska bowl teams of even recent vintage that were outrun for seven Januarys in a row, most notable by national champs from Florida State and Miami.

Florida's Gators couldn't join a Sunshine Odd Fellows Club. Miami Hurricanes won four national championships in the odd-numbered seasons of 1983-87-89-91. FSU became an Odd Fellows king in 1993. But for the Gators, the 1995 season would end without the ultimate magic.

Tempe's evening was invigoratingly cool. Mountains encompassing the Valley of the Sun bloomed with godly colors when struck by fading daylight.

Tuesdays aren't famous for football, but America's stage was appropriately cleared. No more college bowls. No further NFL playoff biz until the weekend.

El Perfecto was the setting.

But, for the Gators, imperfection would become the norm. It got ugly. Now it is Florida that must retool, if future Gators are to get to such national-championship moments, without sadly flopping.

Gators must go back to football basics. Learning how to block Nebraska-like rushers. Learning to tackle Nebraska-like rushers. Learning to cope.

Seldom has 12-1 felt so bad.