LINCOLN - Howard Schnellenberger, clad in his maroon sports coat, looked all the world like an airline ticket agent.
Friday, Memorial Stadium was the jetway and Schnellenberger and his Oklahoma Sooners validated Nebraska's ticket to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
The Huskers struggled at times offensively, but the defense not only stymied the Sooners' sorry offense, but scored a pair of touchdowns of its own in a 37-0 victory in the swansong for the Big Eight Conference.
Nebraska, as Big Eight champion, qualifies for the Bowl Alliance, and as the likely No. 1-ranked team, a spot in the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., Jan. 2.
The celebration was short, however, another sign that Nebraska is operating on its own playing field these days. Beating Oklahoma, it seems, is no longer No. 1 on the list of Husker players and fans. Being No. 1 is.
"It's kind of interesting. I can remember a few times when we'd gone through the Big Eight undefeated and there was really a huge amount of emotion and everybody was excited," Nebraska coach Tom Osborne said. "They're certainly not real quiet down there (in the locker room), but on the other hand it's kind of like something they expected they would do.
"I think the real focus now is certainly the whole ball of wax."
You could say Nebraska has had its bags packed for the desert all season. Friday's performance was hardly spectacular, but in the season-long scope of things, it was typical.
The Huskers, who extended streaks for regular-season wins (36), home wins (30), wins (24) and conference wins (23), did little to hurt themselves in slowly wearing down a gallant opponent.
"Our offense kind of kept plugging away," Osborne said. "We felt that if we could keep going after them, some of those 2- and 3-yard gains would become 5 and 6 and 7 and they did in the fourth quarter.
"And I was very, very pleased with the way our defense played today."
Equally as pleased were representatives from the Fiesta Bowl, whose yellow sports coats paled in comparison to the smile on their faces. The Nebraska win, coupled with wins by Florida today against Florida State and next week against Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference championship game, would set up a showdown of unbeatens.
The only complication is Ohio State, which could saunter unbeaten into the Rose Bowl by beating Michigan today. By winning out, the Buckeyes will certainly take advantage of their chance to chant "We're No. 1."
"I get tired of coaches saying their team is the greatest or their player is the greatest," Osborne said. "Who pays any attention to that anyway."
But voters were most certainly paying attention to Nebraska Friday, in particular Husker quarterback Tommie Frazier. His Heisman Trophy candidacy is not centered on stats, but after a unspectacular performance, the wisdom is its Ohio State running back Eddie George's award to win today.
"That's left up to the voters," Frazier said after a rushing for 35 yards and completing 12 of 25 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. "Right now, I don't really care about that. I'm just happy with the win."
That is what makes Frazier such a strong candidate despite statistics. Frazier failed to reach even the 2,000-yard mark in total offense.
But the senior is 32-3 as a starter, leading an offense this season that was guilty of less than 1-1/2 turnovers a game. A Nebraska quarterback wasn't sacked all season.
Want more positive signs going into the Fiesta Bowl: Lawrence Phillips is regaining form after returning from his suspension and the defense is on a steady climb.
In the last two games, Nebraska has blanked Oklahoma on just 51 rushing yards and allowed Kansas just three points and 72 yards on 32 carries.
"A lot of guys know what it takes to get it done after last year, and that shows this year," said defensive lineman Christian Peter, one of 21 Husker seniors to play his final home game. "I couldn't have wished for anything better than to go out and get a shutout in my last game here."
The Huskers and Husker fans are hoping for more, however, when the desert is the destination.
Even the goal posts withstood this Nebraska-Oklahoma showdown.
"They're a very good football team," Schnellenberger said. "When they put the pressure on, they do quite well."
Flight 1996 to Tempe. All rows now boarding.