If a coach could read the tea leaves correctly, then Bob Devaney would have announced his retirement on January 1, 1972 immediately following Nebraska's 38-6 victory over Alabama in the Orange Bowl which capped a 24-0-1 two year run that included national titles in both seasons. What better way to ride off into the sunset? You know, if the sunset had an athletic director's chair sitting at the end of it.
However, the tea leaves, Devaney and just about every sportswriter and prognosticator out there saw a double national champion that was coming back with Rich Glover and Johnny Rodgers ready to wreak havoc on both sides of the ball. The prediction: three peat. Start planning those Orange Bowl parties now, right?
The steamroller was to begin its path of destruction in Los Angeles against unranked UCLA. However, Mark Harmon, better known to your non-Husker loving buddies as NCIS investigator, Jethro Gibbs, delivered an early head slap to NU's title hopes by running for and passing for TD's en route to a 20-17 upset.
The ship righted itself with seven straight victories that more resembled piranha feedings than competitve games. Included in that run was a 77-7 thrashing of Army at West Point that led an attending General Omar Bradley to remark that he hadn't seen the US military treated in such a fashion since Kasserine Pass*.
Devaney may have contemplated immediate retirement after a 23-23 tie against Iowa St. Taking over with a 1:03 left after NU had grabbed the lead, the Cyclones drove the field to even things with :23 to go. Only a missed extra point prevented the unthinkable.
National title hopes now officially doused, Thanksgiving Day saw the bid for a fourth straight Big 8 title receive the same treatment as the family turkey. Oklahoma came back in the 4th quarter to win an offensive stinker 17-14. An injured Greg Pruitt carried only twice for 7 yards and a mostly ignored Johnny Rodgers totaled 63 yards. Thhpppt.
With an 8-2-1 record and #9 ranking that most teams would crave and that a now success-gorged Husker fan base considered unacceptable, Nebraska headed to Miami to play Notre Dame. (OU accepted a Sugar Bowl date against 10-1 Penn St.) To put it mildly, Johnny Rodgers sent the old man out a winner.
In what would prove to be a masterstroke, Devaney rolled the dice and decided to move the Jet to I-back for the final contest and the result was mayhem for the hapless Domers. Johnny accounted for 5 TD's in a personal assault on all things Gipper. He ran for three, caught a 50 yard pass that was mostly him running for another, and just for good measure chucked a 52-yard pass to All Century All Name member Frosty Anderson for six more. Final score, 40-6.
OK, maybe going out a national champ is everyone's dream, but ya' gotta admit - pimp slapping the Irish on your way out the door instead is still pretty damn satisfying.
Let's raise a glass to the Bobfather one more time.
* - not really