Before Taylor Martinez started making come-from-behind victories a regular occurrence, there was one that was special - the Miracle at Missouri. In 1997, Nebraska was ranked #1 and was facing Missouri, who wasn't the pushover that they had been for much of the previous fifteen years. I'm not sure Nebraska realized it until the game was well underway, though. It was a tight game throughout, and in the fourth quarter, Missouri took a 38-31 lead on a Corby Jones touchdown pass. Nebraska's subsequent drive stalled and Nebraska had to punt the ball away with just over three minutes left in the game. Things looked awfully bleak from my perspective in section 14 of the south end zone of Faurot Field. I kept telling my girlfriend that "you've gotta believe." Over and over. I'm sure she was ready to slug me after I said it for the tenth time as the game closed. The Blackshirts held, and Missouri punted the ball back to Nebraska with just over a minute to go.
"You've gotta believe."
The improbable happened. Scott Frost led the Huskers down the field, and as time expired, fired a pass to wingback Shevin Wiggins in the end zone. Wiggins dropped the ball as he fell to the ground, and the ball inexplicably bounced off of Wiggins' foot and into the hands of freshman Matt Davison just before it fell to the ground incomplete. After the extra point, the game went into overtime, but the demoralized Tigers were no match. Scott Frost scored on a 12 yard run on the opening possession of overtime, and Missouri simply couldn't recover. The Huskers won 45-38 on one of the most incredible plays in college football history...and went on to finish the season undefeated and claim a share of the 1997 national championship.
All 15 years ago yesterday.
Wait a minute...yesterday? Why commemorate this a day later?
Simple. It wasn't until 15 years ago today that I finally realized what I had actually experienced. You see, I was at that game, but sitting at the far end of the field. Through my binoculars, I saw the ball flip up into the air... then pandemonium. Nebraska players jumping up and down. Missouri students rushing the field. And until I finally spot a referee with his arms up in the air, completely clueless as to what was happening.
"TOUCHDOWN!!!!" I scream. My dad asks me "Who?" All I can say is I have no idea, and don't care. Husker fans are hugging and screaming and cheering. I look to Missouri's new jumbotron at the far end zone, hoping for a replay. No luck. No Tiger fan wants to see that again. So after the game, we head out of the stadium and tell a few Missouri fans "heck of a game". They're understandably disappointed, some even justifiably surly. So we get to the car, and high tail it out of town. No sense waiting around for any trouble.
The Missouri post-game show is understandably downtrodden, but nobody describes the crucial play that forced overtime. Too painful, I guess. The Nebraska radio broadcast is nowhere to be found in central Missouri. We keep driving west, scanning the radio dial, trying to learn how the heck the game made it to overtime. We find NHL and NBA games. We find other college football games. We even find a station that carries ESPN radio, but all they say is "Nebraska won on an incredible comeback." My dad keeps asking "Who scored the touchdown?" I keep saying, I don't know...they won't say. They just keep saying it was an incredible play.
We just keep heading home, stopping in Kansas City for gas and some fast food. I get home right at 1 am, and suddenly remember that ESPN has a late edition of SportsCenter. Maybe they'll have the highlights of the game.
Sure enough, it's the lead story. And then I finally see it.
Oh. My. God. It was about 1:05 am on Sunday morning, November 9th, 1997. And I've just witnessed the greatest play in my time of following Nebraska football. I know Nebraska won the game on the 8th. People watching the game on television knew exactly what happened on the 8th, but those of us in that stadium in Columbia only knew the result, not the how. Heck, even the Missouri students weren't aware Nebraska had even scored; they had to be escorted away from the goalposts so that Kris Brown could tie the game with the extra point.
So there I'm standing in my kitchen, staring at a 13" portable television set ... with my jaw on the floor in amazement at what had happened hours before. I was there in person; I have the ticket stub to prove it. I tried to watch it through my binoculars...but I missed one of the craziest plays in college football history.
15 years ago tonight?For what?#stillillegal— AJ (@AJtheHater) November 9, 2012
Was it a legal catch? Missouri fans will claim it was a deliberate kick and illegal. Not sure how you can intentionally try to kick the ball in that situation as you are being thrown to the ground, but if I was a Missouri fan, I'd probably claim the same thing. All I know is that it's a touchdown, and Nebraska won the game.
And for about seven hours after the game, that's all I knew. It wasn't until the next day that I finally was able to see what had actually happened in Columbia, Missouri.