Tom's Time
Photo Credit: Randy Hampton

Tom’s Time: An Orange Bowl Amid Unrest

June 26, 2018

The 1983 Orange Bowl coaches’ luncheon was held at Miami’s Omni International. 

I had to call the Lincoln Journal immediately after to dictate a short story for the city edition from a phone booth near a large window/wall that looked out on the scene.

While I dictated, I watched helicopters hover above the Overtown neighborhood, where police, with the lights on their cars flashing, tried to deal with an ongoing civil disturbance precipitated by the shooting of a black man. Flames from fires highlighted the scene.

And there might have been gunshots . . . 

The problem was such that an interstate highway that ran through the downtown area was shut down for a time because rioters were throwing rocks and bricks at vehicles.

The Overtown riots significantly affected attendance for the Orange Bowl game. No surprise there. Anticipating that, the Orange Bowl Committee changed the annual media cruise into Biscayne Bay or along the Intercoastal Waterway. Instead, the cruise went up the Miami River, which passed near the troubled area.

Reporters could see the situation was under control and pass that along in the stories they filed. A heavy police presence, including armored vehicles, was apparent all along the river.

Despite the committee’s attempts, only 54,407 were on-hand to watch Nebraska come from behind to defeat LSU 21-20. There had been 68,713 tickets sold, meaning more than 14,000 had opted not to attend. The 54,407 were the fewest to attend an Orange Bowl since 1947.

The weather was “perfect” the official play-by-play said, 77 degrees at kickoff

Nebraska’s focus might have been lacking. The third-ranked Huskers had no chance of winning a national title, with No. 2 Penn State playing No. 1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Nebraska was a 10-point favorite against LSU, 8-2-1 and ranked No. 13.

Four minutes in, it appeared 10 points might not have been enough. The Huskers allowed LSU 3 yards on its first possession, then, after a 25-yard punt, drove 51 yards on six plays, with fullback Mark Schellen covering the final 5 yards for a touchdown. Kevin Seibel’s kick made it 7-0.

Nebraska wouldn’t score again until late in the third quarter, after LSU had scored 17.

The Huskers lost four fumbles and quarterback Turner Gill threw two interceptions, while completing 13-of-22 passes for 184 yards, 11 of the yards to I-back Mike Rozier for a touchdown with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter. Gill scored what would be the winning touchdown from 1 yard out with 11:14 remaining in the game, capping a seven-play, 47-yard drive. An LSU fake punt on fourth-and-19 gained only 12 yards to give Nebraska possession in Tiger territory.

LSU settled for a field goal after the teams traded pass interceptions, the Tigers getting a 20-yard return to the Nebraska 37 with 6:53 remaining. They had fourth-and-1 at the Nebraska 28-yard line, but a delay-of-game penalty cost them 5 yards and they opted for the field goal.

LSU never got the ball back. The Huskers picked up four first downs in driving from their own 20 to the LSU 18 when time ran out. Gill passed only once during that drive, teaming with wingback Irving Fryar for 13 yards on a third-and-10 at the LSU 37-yard line. 

Nebraska didn’t drop in the AP rankings, finishing No. 3. Penn State defeated Georgia to finish No. 1, Coach Joe Paterno’s first (of two) national championship.

Paterno was quoted afterward that the Nittany Lions deserved it. Some Husker fans would have disagreed.

As for the story I filed after the coaches’ luncheon, I told whoever was taking the dictation in Lincoln that if the phone suddenly went dead, it was probably because I had dropped to the floor. The disturbance was almost right outside the window. Fortunately, it never came to that.

Tom's Time is a regular feature that will take a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.

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