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Hansen: Newcombe's confidence apparent in his wardrobe, words

Register Sports Columnist

Lincoln, Neb. - Bobby Newcombe was dressed to kill . . . the Hawkeyes?

"Look at that," said Frank Solich, his Nebraska coach, as the two crossed paths in the interview room. "Look at you."

The Iowa football team will see for itself Saturday at 11:05 a.m. when the fifth-ranked Cornhuskers open their season against the unquestionably unranked Hawkeyes.

Tuesday, Newcombe looked like a million bucks. The worry in Iowa City is that, on Saturday, he'll look like 500 yards.

A T-shirt-and-shorts kind of guy on press conference day most weeks, Newcombe jumped out of bed Tuesday morning and called a sartorial audible. To celebrate his recent appointment as Nebraska's starting quarterback, he showed up wearing a gray double-breasted suit, white shirt and tie.

Matt Davison, one of Newcombe's favorite targets, was so impressed, he greeted Newcombe by pretending to be his personal valet, brushing imaginary lint off the quarterback's suit coat and pants.

Was it a fashion statement or a football statement?

A friend gave Newcombe the idea, he said later, and he figured, why not? It's a new day, after all. A new season. Maybe even the dawn of a new era for Cornhusker football.

In all, the decision to hand Newcombe the job is a very big deal in Nebraska. Solich said the starter would play most of the game, with reserve Eric Crouch playing at least one series in each half.

You don't think it's a big deal?

"Rumors fly after Newcombe named starting QB," said the headline in Tuesday's Lincoln Journal Star.

The headline did not appear in the sports section. It was at the top of page one.

A very, very big deal. When it comes to football, this is a different galaxy. Last season, the Cornhuskers lost four games. To get an idea of the fan response, picture the stock market crash of 1929.

Big Red fans are still fretting about the ground game that let them down last season. That woeful running attack ranked sixth in the nation.

That's what we're dealing with here. Think Iowa wrestling, only multiply the interest level by a thousand. When you're dealing with Husker Football Nation, it helps to suspend your disbelief.

Those flying rumors, by the way, were pretty much grounded by lunchtime. Crouch had not quit the team in disappointment over losing the starting job, though most of the local media seemed certain Solich had to talk him out of bolting.

Solich said the subject never came up, and Crouch had declined interview requests. Which left us with Newcombe, all dressed up with somewhere to go: New Orleans on Jan. 4 to play for the No. 1 ranking.

That's the long-range plan, anyway. Newcombe must have mentioned the plan five times Tuesday, if he mentioned it once. The plan means nothing, he hastened to add, if Nebraska doesn't win Saturday.

Anything concern you going into the Iowa game, Bobby?

"Nothing," he said, straight-faced. "The only thing that concerns me is that our team is so fired up to play this game, so confident to play this game, I'm just worried we're not going to get to play the whole game, the first-team guys."

Reporters laughed, figuring he was just having some fun with them. But he wasn't. If Newcombe's deadpan expression could have talked, it would have said, "What's so funny?"

When the formal interview ended, I followed him out of the room. A third-year junior from Albuquerque, Newcombe is a polite young man who is more about intensity than arrogance.

A nice young man and a wonderful talent. The world saw a healthy Bobby Newcombe for about two games last season. Iowa will see a healthy Bobby Newcombe take the first snap Saturday.

Away from the TV lights, he mentioned the Iowa defensive backs by name. Matt Bowen, he said, "has tremendous speed."

Tarig Holman "is an excellent cover guy, especially in a man-to-man defense."

Joe Slattery "makes some good plays."

Newcombe might have botched a pronunciation or two, but his comments were respectful. Still, he refused to back down from his earlier statement.

When I introduced myself to him in the hallway, I said I was from Iowa. I told him the remark about not getting to play the whole game will probably end up on a bulletin board in Iowa City.

I told him I didn't want him to come across sounding disrespectful if he hadn't really meant to say what he did.

"I was serious," he said.

Is that bad or good for the Hawkeyes? By noon Saturday, we'll have a much better idea.



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