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The 1997 FedEx Orange Bowl

Cornhuskers happy to see the year end

By Andy Jasner
SportsLine USA Staff Writer
December 31, 1996

MIAMI -- For most schools, an 11-2 record would be cause for a wild celebration.

But Nebraska isn't most schools.

Despite coach Tom Osborne's pep talks all throughout the week about how the Orange Bowl was as important as any game the Cornhuskers have played this season, somehow you saw through that facade.

Soon after No. 6 Nebraska disposed of No. 10 Virginia Tech (10-2), 41-21, Tuesday night in the Orange Bowl at Pro Player Stadium, Osborne walked into the interview room like a beaten-down man ready for a long vacation. Tom Osborne

That's only natural after a tumultuous season, which began with the tragic death of former quarterback Brook Berringer, and ended with three players suspended for separate drunk driving arrests.

"It's been tough," Osborne said.

GIVE OSBORNE CREDIT FOR PREPARING his team to play in a bowl game -- its NCAA-record 28th consecutive appearance -- which had no national championship ramifications for the first time since 1993.

"This was about respect," said oft-maligned Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost, who passed for 136 yards and rushed for 62 yards and two touchdowns. "This will have a lot to do with where we start next season."

It would have been easy for the Cornhuskers to go through the motions on this rainy New Year's Eve in South Florida. It would have been easy for them to simply look ahead to next season.

This was about pride, respect and heart, and Nebraska proved it possesses all of those qualities even without a national championship at stake.

The college football world should take notice. You may knock the Cornhuskers down; but there's no way you'll keep them down.

"I don't care what anyone says, this was a big win for our program," said Nebraska running back Damon Benning, who rushed 15 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns and was named its Most Valuable Player. "We saw the hurt in Coach Osborne's eyes after the loss in the Big 12 championship. We wanted to win for him and lay it all on the line in our final game."

VIRGINIA TECH, MEANWHILE, wanted to show the nation that it, too, was for real, that its 10-1 record wasn't a fluke.

For nearly three quarters, the Hokies did just that, trailing just 24-21 after wide receiver Cornelius White caught a beautifully lofted 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jim Druckenmiller.

But Virginia Tech couldn't stop Nebraska's punishing smash-mouth offense, anchored by Benning. The Cornhuskers scored on every possession in the second half.

While the Hokies were disappointed, they were hardly baffled and beleaguered.

"We're still trying to climb that mountain," said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. "Sometimes you take little bitty steps and sometimes you take a step backwards. But you have to keep going and that's what we're doing."

Both schools have taken steps backwards off the field in 1996, with a combined 23 players involved in off-the-field shenanigans, ranging from drunk driving to allegations of rape.

They've been labeled as renegade programs.

"Things have happened that we're not proud of," Beamer said. "I'm most disappointed that some players, who we cared about, and still do care about, have gotten themselves into some jams."

MAYBE IT'S FITTING THAT THE 63rd Annual Orange Bowl Classic was moved from New Year's Day to New Year's Eve and from the Orange Bowl to the newer Pro Player Stadium for the first time in its storied history. Maybe this was a night for resolutions, a time for new beginnings.

For Nebraska, that would involve no more troubled players, and a healthy new year culminating with a national title in the 64th annual Orange Bowl, which will accept the top two ranked teams in the alliance.

Sounds all too perfect.

Hey, but it does have plenty of appeal.

Andy Jasner is a sportswriter on SportsLine USA's staff and a graduate of Syracuse University, who won the Liberty Bowl

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