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Gateway Virginia

Wednesday, January 1, 1997

Tech held edge over Nebraska in fans' support
But Pro Player Stadium was far from full for its first Orange Bowl

Times-Dispatch Staff Writers


MIAMI — Whether roaring their approval when the Hokies ran onto the field, cheering madly for a nice Hokies gain or vociferously ripping the refs for a flag, Virginia Tech's fans — most of them in one corner of the field — easily trumped Nebraska in the Orange Bowl when it came to crowd support.

Of course, that's not all that surprising considering Hokies fans bought twice as many tickets (about 16,000 to 8,000) as Cornhuskers rooters.

Even so, there were many empty seats in 75,000-seat Pro Player Stadium — especially in the upper decks. Even many of the luxury boxes — one reason the event moved here this season from the actual Orange Bowl stadium — remained vacant during the game.

Although Orange Bowl officials said before the game a crowd of about 65,000 was expected, the gathering appeared no larger than 50,000 — if that.

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By halftime, tailback Ken Oxendine already had run 13 times for 101 yards, and two of his bursts helped fuel the Hokies' two first-half scoring drives. He gained 20 yards on a pitch on the possession Tech went ahead 7-0, and had a 39-yarder to the Nebraska 21 to set up the touchdown that pulled the Hokies to 17-14 just before intermission.

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Lee Corso and Dick Vitale took turns ripping the Hokies last week on ESPN radio concerning Tech's off-field problems. While it was strange to hear Mr. Hoops discussing a football team, it was hardly startling to hear Corso needling the Hokies. He's done so often the past couple of seasons.

His latest putdown: "It's bad enough when you have a team named the Hokies. Then they get in trouble. Now you have double trouble — like dumb and dumber."

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The field at Pro Player Stadium may have looked plush on television, but a pregame walk from end zone to end zone revealed many bare spots of painted dirt and grass so short it might as well have been dirt. The end zones were even worse, with little more than thick paint. Five days earlier, the Carquest Bowl had been contested here between Virginia and Miami.

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Big East official John Paquette said yesterday the Hokies most likely will open their '97 season Aug. 30 at Rutgers. Tech's non-conference games next fall: Miami of Ohio, Arkansas State, Alabama-Birmingham and Virginia.

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Last night was the Hokies' 10th bowl game, and fourth straight. It was the Cornhuskers' 35th, and 28th straight. Tech dropped to 2-2 in bowls under coach Frank Beamer; Nebraska improved to 12-13 under Tom Osborne.

Overall, Tech is 3-7 in bowls; Nebraska 18-18.

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The Hokies will spend another day on Miami's beaches before leaving for Blacksburg tomorrow. Nebraska, though, was scheduled to head home today.

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Last night's Orange Bowl was the 63rd of its kind — but the first not played in the Orange Bowl stadium near downtown Miami. Bowing to pressure from the Bowl Alliance, event organizers switched the game to 9-year-old Pro Player Stadium, which is situated in northern Dade County but closer to downtown Fort Lauderdale in Broward County than Miami in Dade County.

PPS's parking acreage, spiffy bathrooms and luxury suites dictated the change — one that will reward the Orange Bowl with next season's No. 1-vs.-No. 2 showdown. Many locals mourn the passing of tradition, however. So does Nebraska coach Tom Osborne.

"The old Orange Bowl had so many memories," said Osborne, who attended 15 games in the old stadium since becoming a graduate assistant at Nebraska in 1962. "I think back to the games with Bob Devaney, Alabama and Bear Bryant, Charlie McClendon coaching LSU — really kind of historical events in my mind. There's a tremendous history there. I don't think there's a bowl game any place, including the Rose Bowl, that has that many memories — at least not to me."

One dissenting vote was cast by Tech cornerback Loren Johnson. He grew up in Mirimar, Fla. — several end runs across the Dade-Broward line from the game site — and was thrilled to be playing near home and before the home folks last night.

"I'm living a dream this week," said Johnson. "I've always dreamed about playing in Pro Player Stadium."

* * *

Osborne was asked the other day about a remark he made last year when Lawrence Phillips and several other Nebraska players made headlines on criminal charges. At the time, Osborne said his Cornhuskers were not like the Miami Hurricanes. He said he apologized then via letters to Miami President Tad Foote and coach Butch Davis. He repeated those sentiments on Florida soil.

"That was a terrible statement — it was stupid on my part," said Osborne. "It came off the top of my head. I was 2,000 miles away. . . . We might be worse than Miami."

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