The Orange Bowl was always my favorite bowl. Growing up, I’d watch all four bowls. The Cotton would come on first on CBS, followed by the Rose on NBC, then the Sugar (ABC) and Orange (NBC). To me, the Orange was the most exciting, under the lights, with a game that almost always produced drama. And who could forget the halftime show? As a kid, I loved it. Years later, on deadline, I would grow to loathe it.
The first time I went to Miami, Fla., was for the 1983 Orange Bowl, the Nebraska-LSU game. (Note: When you give the year for a bowl game you use the year the game was played on, not the season that preceded it).
Combine my years of covering the Big 8 champ there every year, and my job at The World-Herald beginning in 1991, I probably covered every Orange Bowl except two (1991, 1995 seasons) from the 1982 season through the 1997 season.
Enough about that. Here’s my top 10 memories of going to Miami:
10. The first trip
My first Orange Bowl, 1983, and my first trip to the state of Florida. I remember driving downtown to the media hotel, the Four Ambassadors, and it was pretty swank.
When I checked in, the front desk gave me a warning: “Please be careful when you leave the hotel.”
Front Desk: “We’ve had some rioting in Overtown.”
Welcome to Miami.
Roger Craig and Dave Rimington played their last games for NU and a Husker team that would have played for the national title, except for the Penn State out-of-bounds catch, beat LSU 21-20.
But what I remember most about that trip was asking LSU head coach Jerry Stovall for an interview. He said sure, and invited me to do it up in his hotel suite. That was a different time to be a sports writer.
The days leading up to the 1984 game. They held the press conferences that week in a closet, by today’s standards. I remember a writer asking Tom Osborne if he had ever husked corn. Tom said he had, then went on to describe how to do it.
Having covered Nebraska most of that season, from the Kickoff Classic on, it was fascinating to watch Osborne that week. Miami coach Howard Schnellenberger turned every press conference into a community pep rally and arrived to media day at the Orange Bowl in a helicopter. You could see the home field building and Osborne tightening up. Nebraska had pounded everyone that year, but that week, Schnellenberger had made them an underdog and put Osborne on the defensive. I thought the Huskers played that way early.
“Look at this, this is amazing.” That was a New York Times writer sitting next to me, watching Miami take the lead as Hurricane players stood on benches and waved towels to get the crowd going. It was amazing, and most everyone in that press box was cheering for the story. That is, Miami.
Hurricane Andrew. The Category 5 Hurricane hit south Florida in August 1992. It was devastating and you could see how bad on all the pictures on TV.
But on a late December day in 1992, I got a personal view. I’ll never forget it.
It was a day off from interviews. I was talking to one of the Orange Bowl committee guys about the hurricane. He told some stories. Then he said, “You want to see it?”
Andrew was considered the worst hurricane to hit south Florida since 1935. In Miami-Dade County alone, 25,524 homes were lost and 101,000 were damaged. That’s not including all the businesses blown or washed away.
The Orange Bowl rep drove me through Homestead, one of the hardest hit areas in the county. It was absolutely devastated. We drove past block after block of strip malls gone, roofs off, windows boarded up. Neighborhood after neighborhood of houses wrecked forever, many of them with the addresses spray-painted on out front.
And some of them painted with obscene statements toward Andrew.
It was a different look at the Orange Bowl, and I would never look at the game or what it meant to that city the same way again.
7. A suave Switzer
Barry Switzer in the Oklahoma hospitality room before the 1987 Orange Bowl against Arkansas. The Big Eight hotel was the Fountainebleau, which I loved as a James Bond fan because it was used at the beginning of “Goldfinger.” Anyway, we were up in the Sooner party room one night and Switzer bounced from group to group, chatting up everyone and stopping only to watch his son play several show tunes on a piano in the middle of the room.
6. Osborne bounces back
Tom Osborne, the Morning After. First, after the 22-0 loss to Miami in the 1992 game. The Nebraska writers would always go to the NU team hotel the morning after the bowl game to talk to Osborne and players before they flew home. The Huskers looked overmatched the night before and Osborne looked depressed. As he was leaving, he mentioned he was going recruiting. To see some quarterback in Bradenton, Fla.
5. On the upswing
Two years later, the morning after the 1994 Orange Bowl, the thrilling 18-16 loss to Florida State in the national title game. NU had been 18-point underdogs but came within a missed field goal of the upset. The morning after that heartbreak, Osborne was awake and in a good mood, a very good mood, talking about how much pride he had in his team. You could really see what the man was all about, and see his time was coming soon.
4. Two halves, please
I don’t have any great nightlife stories. My favorite Miami hangout was the Orange Bowl hospitality room. They put us in a tall hotel near Biscayne Bay called the Omni. It had a shopping mall and theater down near the bottom. That’s where I spent a lot of time, when I wasn’t at practice or press conferences. With so many trips to the OB, the World-Herald gang became friends with the OB media staff, starting with Andy Massimino and his staff of Nick and Doug, who was a wrestling coach and loved to talk wrestling. Nick used to set out mini donuts every morning, and then for some reason cut them in half and put each half on its own plate. So to get one mini donut, you had to have two plates. They also had two orange juice dispensers, one with the real stuff, the other called a “Orange Bowler,” which had a nice rum concoction blended in. Only the hard cores would nurse a hangover with an Orange Bowler.
You hear about South Beach and all the attractions, and we hit the beach on occasion. But I spent most of my nights up in that room, and the relationships you made with bowl people and the other writers, that’s why I loved college football and being a sports writer. I miss those days and those friends.
3. 'Did that just happen?'
Watching Tom Osborne win his first national championship. Nebraska had overcome so much that 1994 season that, while most of us thought they could win the national title, nobody was counting on it. It was fun to listen to the voices in the press box, voices who had rooted for Bobby Bowden the year before, and Miami all those years before, now pulling for Tom. When Berringer threw the interception in the end zone in the third quarter, the wolves were sharpening their knives in the press box. But the way NU rebounded, starting with Dwayne Harris’ sack for the safety, had everyone stopped typing.
The fourth quarter was such a blur, happened so fast. I remember going into that game with a plan, here’s my lede if he finally does it, and then I forgot the plan and started over on deadline. I remember trying to pay attention at the end to the celebration, to soak it all in. There wasn’t time to go downstairs. And then I started writing. By the time we got on a bus at 1 a.m. and got back to the media hotel at the airport, we sat around and had one beer. I think I looked at Eric Olson and Lee Barfknecht and asked, “Did that just happen?”
2. Going for two
Osborne going for two points in 1984. Nebraska had fought back admirably, without its Heisman Trophy winner, with Irving Fryar dropping the pass, with Orange Bowl jackets dancing in the end zone to Miami big plays. When the Huskers scored late, somebody in the press box said, “Oh my God, he’s going for two!” It caught some by surprise, because ties were still not uncommon in college football in that era. And who could blame Osborne for walking away with a tie after all they had been put through? But he didn’t, and it’s on the short, short list of greatest moments in sports I’ve ever witnessed. In one singular move, Osborne was going from guy who couldn’t win the big one even with the greatest team of all time, to a legendary figure. It was a transformational moment, for Tom and the program. I’m glad there wasn’t overtime then. I’m glad I was there to see it.
1. A storybook ending
The 1998 Orange Bowl. Or, the One Where I Got Engaged.
I’ll start with a quick story. I had been dating my wife, Jennifer, off and on for five years. It was time. I knew it. But one day I was hanging out with two golf buddies, Steve Hayes and Bill McIntosh, at the 19th hole. The topic of my well-being came around for some reason, married guys like to give advice to single guys, so they started asking about my social life.
We finally got around to them telling me how great marriage is, how they loved it, best thing ever, you’ve got to do this or you’re crazy, yada, etc.
I invited Jen to meet me at the Orange Bowl. I had it all planned out, that I would pop the question on New Year’s Eve. Where? I had no idea. At media day, I asked a friend, Scott (S.L.) Price of Sports Illustrated, where to go (Price lived in Miami). He suggested a place on South Beach called the News Cafe. News? Perfect for me and my girlfriend the KETV producer.
Short story long: She arrives on New Year’s Eve at the Eden Roc Hotel, the media hotel. So we get in a cab and go to the News Cafe. I’m not saying anything, sweating bullets, and she thinks I’m going to break up with her. Anyway, we got to the News Cafe, sat at the bar, and eventually this diamond ring came out and she said yes.
And I passed out. No. Well, maybe.
The next day, my friend Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star was talking to Tom Osborne before his pregame press conference to preview the Tennessee game and, by the way, his last game at Nebraska.
Kerkhoff told Osborne that I had gotten engaged last night, so I have Blair to thank for what happened next.
I asked the final question, something about whether Tom expected the coaches' poll to give him a sentimental vote for a national championship if he won the game. Tom gave a great answer, which I can’t remember, because here’s what he said next:
“By the way, I understand that Tom got engaged last night (he paused here, and the room of writers applauded while I turned red).
“Now there’s an upset!”
I went to my room and wrote Michigan winning the Rose Bowl and how there wasn’t much hope for No. 2 Nebraska now, and somehow I mentioned that I had gotten engaged. I remember radio man Tom Becka commenting that I already was losing hope!
You know the rest: Nebraska won big, 42-7. Scott Frost gave a terrific campaign speech. Would it work? By deadline at 1 a.m., we still didn’t know. The coaches poll wouldn’t come out for another hour or so.
But the World-Herald presses held. Back in our rooms at 2:30 a.m., eating pizza or something, the final USA Today Coaches poll came in: Nebraska and Osborne No. 1.
Lee or Eric wrote a quick three or four graph story and got it in a late edition. The next day, back to the team hotel and interviewing the national champions.
Two days later, when I got back to my house in Omaha, there were two messages on my answering machine. One from Bill McIntosh, the other from Steve Hayes.
To a word, they both said, "Oh, my God! What are you doing? We were just kidding!"