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Published Sunday, September 9, 2001

A perfect football night, yet ...


Last modified at 12:42 a.m. on Sunday, September 9, 2001
  

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The Huskers won by 17, covering spreads from here to Goshen. The defense put a capital R in rock-ribbed, forcing Notre Dame's offense to come up a couple syllables short of respectable.

The place was wild. Parachutists dropped from the sky at halftime. I chose to sit with the fans rather than in the staid press box and the decision was worth it. Memorial Stadium was rocking, rolling and red as it's ever been.

It was a perfect fall football night in Lincoln.

Then why did I need a little Listerine as I made my way down from the west stadium Saturday night?

It wasn't the pizza. It wasn't the burger from the tailgate. It wasn't even the stadium coffee.

It was the second half.

Nebraska came away with a 27-10 victory over the 17th ranked Fighting Irish in a game like a bad marriage: plenty of fireworks in the beginning but only pain and frustration at the end. And eventually everybody wondered what could have happened. They seemed like such a nice couple.

Early on, they were. The 78,118 of us, most ever at Memorial, nearly fell out of our seats when Eric Crouch hit John Gibson for a touchdown, a kickoff and a fumble after the Huskers had marched the opening kickoff down the throats of the lads from South Bend for a touchdown.

Immovable object

The scarlet and cream stretched their halftime lead to 27-3, had a punt return called back early in the third quarter and then seemed content to live a sedentary life between the tackles in the third and fourth quarters.

Notre Dame wasn't much better. The Irish scored on a four-yard, four-play drive that was as dull as Nebraska's second half game plan. They finally made it into the end zone when Tony Fisher scooted outside on fourth down.

The outside was a no-man's land for the Huskers after the band left the field. Crouch and Company pounded the ball inside play after play, a good strategy if it's working but hardly the stuff of champions when you're gaining eight yards in three tries.

Sure teams adjust at halftime, but at times during the last 30 minutes the game resembled an immovable object against an immovable object.

That's too bad because the Huskers, in addition to having that speedy, snarly defense, looked unstoppable at times in the first half of a game that could never have lived up to its hype and billing.

But then no game could have done that. Ticket prices ranged from face value (from a family member or someone on whom you have some serious dirt) to you-gotta-be-kidding-me kind of bucks. Things were pretty dicey a couple hours before game time. I saw the Sultan of Brunei outside the west stadium holding a sign that read "Need four."

Four quarter offense

Regis Philbin, a 1953 Notre Dame grad and insufferable devotee of the Fighting Irish, turned down Husker fan Warren Buffett's invitation to the big game. Philbin taped his "Millionaire" show from South Bend during the week.

He blistered the Huskers when he could, taking special aim at what he sees as a weak-sister schedule.

The man who put "final answer" up there with "paper or plastic" forgets that the Golden Domers, although better this year, have been successful recently on a steady diet of the Navies and Rutgers of the world.

So lighten up, Reegie. Where's Kathy Lee when we needed her?

In the end you could overlook Regis snubbing Warren. You could overlook Rush Limbaugh being introduced before game time wearing gold and blue. Rush must have mistaken Nebraska for a Democratic state.

You could even overlook a couple passes against a Husker defense that was up to the task, as it has been twice before this season.

The bad taste in our mouths was from an offense that exploded in the first quarter, but ended the game with hardly a whimper.

Notre Dame/Nebraska is history. The hype is behind us. Ticket prices can now just be high instead of whatever kinds of scalps were taken this weekend.

We should play the Irish every year. That might lower prices and create a powerful rivalry between two of the nation's best.

In the meantime, the Huskers, who were the nation's best team at times Saturday night, need to find a way to move the ball all four quarters.

And the Sooner the better.

George Ayoub is senior correspondent at The Independent.



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