Twenty years ago today, Nebraska took it’s #1 ranking down to Columbia to face off against the Missouri Tigers in a game that is now legendary in the annals of college football. SB Nation’s Bill Connelly was there, and wrote about his memories over at Rock M Nation today.
I was there too, and thought I’d share my memories as well. Bill remembers more of the first 50 or so minutes of the game than I did; like most Husker fans, we weren’t exactly expecting this one to go down to the wire like it did. In fact, after Nebraska went three-and-out with four minutes left in the game, I started to prepare myself for a quick departure. I’d been on the road for an upset or two over the years (Iowa State 1992 and Arizona State 1996), and knew that delirious fans might get a little out of control with the visiting teams.
It was a weird game, going back and forth. At one time in the fourth quarter, the sprinklers came on in the south end zone; I thought at that time, THAT was the weirdest thing of the game. But Missouri couldn’t run the clock out and was forced to punt with just over a minute left.
I pulled my binoculars back out of my bag and told my girlfriend (eventually to be my wife) “you gotta believe.” Scott Frost found Kenny Cheatham for a long pass on the first play, then hit Matt Davison two plays later to put Nebraska in scoring position. I repeated myself to my wife:
“You gotta believe.”
Another pass to Cheatham put the ball at the Mizzou 12 yard line. After every play, I repeated myself.
“You gotta believe.”
I’m not sure whether my girlfriend was getting tired of me saying it over and over or what, but a couple of plays later, she responded with “I believe.” But the clock kept ticking and then the play that will go down in college football history happened.
We’re sitting in the far south end zone, probably a good 120-150 yards away. In my binoculars, I see the pass and the ball flip up. And then pure confusion. I start scanning the far end zone to figure out what happened, and finally I see a referee with his hands up in the air. I scream “TOUCHDOWN!”
My dad yells back at me “Who?”
The smartass in me says “Nebraska!” I mean, I have no idea what happened, and things are going wild on the field. The Missouri students have stormed the field and are tearing down the goal posts. The Nebraska bench is running all over the place celebrating. It was the most surreal thing in the world as both teams seemed to be celebrating at the same time. I keep looking up at Missouri’s new jumbotron for a replay, but there’s none to be had. (I mean, if I was Missouri’s video crew, I wouldn’t want to punch that replay up either.)
We all know what happens next: after the gut punch of all gut punches, Missouri doesn’t have a chance in overtime. Nebraska scores so quickly in overtime that apparently Omaha’s channel 7 never even made it out of commercial until Frost was crossing the goal line with the winning touchdown.
After Missouri natives Grant Wistrom and Mike Rucker sacked Mizzou’s Corby Jones to end the game, we reverted back to our original plan to get to the car and get out of town quickly. We figured the natives would be quite restless; I nearly got my head handed back to me by a Missouri fan when I mentioned that this was probably going to be a classic finish.
We headed out of Columbia west on I-70 on our way home, if only to figure out who scored the winning touchdown. The Missouri postgame show was understandably like a funeral; they weren’t going to tell us. We started scanning the dial for other stations, but in central Missouri, we’re too far from any Nebraska radio affiliate. Scanning the dial we found other football games and a few ESPN radio stations, which would give us scores. Periodically, they’d mention “that incredible finish between Nebraska and Missouri” but wouldn’t tell us any more.
And every time they said something like that, my Dad would keep asking “But who scored?” We got to Kansas City and turned north and arrived back in Omaha in pretty good time; apparently we got out ahead of most of the postgame traffic. I arrived home just before 1 am, and quickly went upstairs to turn a TV onto the west coast edition of SportsCenter.
And sure enough, Nebraska/Missouri was the first game on the show. And only then, seven plus hours and 350 miles later, did I finally learn what happened on that play.
And my jaw hit the floor.
There was nothing like being there in that moment except for one little detail: not knowing that it was Matt Davison making the catch off of Shevin Wiggins’ foot for hours upon hours. In hindsight, that perhaps made the craziest play I ever witnessed in person somehow even more memorable.
You gotta believe.
Twenty years later, Nebraska looks like anything but a national title team; in fact, it’s a team struggling to even get to a bowl game. Some fans have already turned the page on this program, but that’s a mistake.
You gotta believe.
Who knows... maybe Scott Frost has another miracle ready for Nebraska.