You want drama? Try this, Oct. 4, 1980: Nebraska was at the Florida State 3-yard line trailing 18-14 with the final seconds ticking off as quarterback Jeff Quinn rolled to his left.
Those in a sellout crowd of 76,152 at Memorial Stadium were on their feet, cheering.
The problem was Seminole linebacker Paul Piurowski, who had been involved in 17 tackles, 11 of them unassisted. Before Quinn could make a decision – an incomplete pass at least would have given Nebraska another attempt at a winning touchdown – Piurowski grabbed Quinn and the ball came free. Florida State’s Gary Futch, who was running to congratulate Piurowski on the sack, recovered the fumble at the 10-yard line instead; 10 seconds remained in the Seminole upset.
Mistakes were the Huskers’ undoing, among them another fumble and two interceptions.
The Blackshirts, led by linebackers Kim Baker (15 tackles) and Brent Williams, end Derrie Nelson and tackle Henry Waechter, allowed only 166 yards, including a net of just 12 on 40 rushes, and one touchdown. Florida State’s Bill Capece accounted for the other points with four field goals. The last, a 41-yarder, came with 2:37 remaining, after which the Huskers had driven 77 yards to the 3.
The drive included Quinn’s 23-yard pass completion to split end John Noonan on a fourth-and-12 from the Florida State 44-yard line. Quinn completed 15-of-30 for 167 yards for the game.
Seminole quarterback Rick Stockstill was sacked four times in the first half, and Nebraska took a 14-3 lead to the locker room at the intermission. But he was sacked only once in the second half.
The Huskers, ranked No. 3, lost more than the game. Jarvis Redwine suffered a cracked rib late in the fourth quarter after rushing for 145 yards to increase his nation-leading total to 666. He would miss the next two games and rush for 495 yards in the remaining six games.
The meeting was Nebraska’s first-ever against Florida State, as well as the first in a four-game series, all at Memorial Stadium. The Seminoles were still working their way into consistent national discussion, with no conference affiliation, under fifth-year Coach Bobby Bowden.
They had been ranked as high as No. 4 with Bowden in charge, going into the 1980 Orange Bowl, where they lost to Oklahoma 24-7 to finish No. 6. Florida State was No. 9 the week before the Nebraska game in 1980 but dropped to No. 16 as a result of a 10-9 upset loss at Miami – also an independent.
Bowden and Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne would develop a friendship over the years. And Bowden earned the respect of Husker fans with his down-home manner.
The week after the game, he wrote an open letter complimenting Nebraska fans. “I actually had the feeling that when we upset the Nebraska team, that instead of hate and spite the Nebraska fans thanked us for coming to Lincoln and putting on a good show,” the letter said. “This is nearly unheard of in todays society. Nebraska you are a great example for Americans to copy.”
During his post-game news conference, Bowden had said: “This was a big win for us, no doubt about it, maybe the biggest . . . They’ll kill us next year.”
And so the Huskers did.
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.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.