Photo by Randy Hampton
Nebraska Football

Tom's Time: Big (Red) in Japan

August 13, 2020

Nebraska won the game. That’s the bottom line. 

The Huskers defeated Kansas State 38-24 in the final game of the 1992 regular season in Tokyo, Japan. Tommie Frazier was the game MVP after running for three touchdowns and passing for another, and Travis Hill was the defensive MVP with 10 tackles, including one of Nebraska’s five sacks.

Calvin Jones rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. Derek Brown, the other “We-back,” didn’t make the trip after suffering a shoulder separation in the Oklahoma game.

Brown could’ve gone anyway but opted not to, a wise decision Tom Osborne told him later.

Nebraska wrapped up the Big Eight title and a trip to the Orange Bowl with the victory, it’s 24th in a row against the Wildcats—who last won in 1968, 12-0 at Memorial Stadium.

Those were the particulars but not the only topics of conversation regarding the trip and the game, of course. An estimated 250 Husker fans were in the crowd of 50,000 at the egg-shaped Tokyo Dome for the 17th annual Coca-Cola Bowl, only the second bowl in Kansas State history.

The Wildcats lost to Wisconsin, 14-3, in the 1982 Independence Bowl.

No other Nebraska fans watched the game, which wasn’t televised in the United States. Kickoff was 10 p.m. Central—1 p.m. Sunday in Tokyo—and Husker fans listened to Ken Pavelka’s account on the Nebraska Football Network, KFAB in Omaha, KLIN in Lincoln.

The Huskers had voted unanimously to make the trip. The game had been scheduled for Oct. 17 in Manhattan. Both schools made money by changing the date and place. 

Nebraska was guaranteed $200,000 above expenses.

The Huskers bussed to Kansas City and joined Kansas State for a 13-hour flight on Japan Air, with a brief stop in Vancouver. They left at 3 p.m. Central on Tuesday Dec. 1 and arrived in Tokyo at 4 a.m. Central on Wednesday, 7 p.m. in Japan.

Because of the Kansas State home game, Wildcat Coach Bill Snyder picked the side of the plane his team would occupy—away from the sun. His need to control every detail included requiring whether butter at meals on the flight would be served in pats or small cups.

He was reportedly upset when his team was positioned on the sideline in front of the Texas Southern University band, which played non-stop during the game. The band was part of the show, as were dance teams from Long Beach State and Florida State. Pompons were placed on seats throughout the stadium, half red for Nebraska, the other half purple for Kansas State.

According to newspaper accounts, fans waved the pompons indiscriminately. For example, when Nebraska scored, they waved purple as well as red. 

Pregame and halftime were longer because of non-football entertainment. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Osborne “admitted he almost snapped before the game when officials asked him to take his team to the other side of the dome to enter through some ‘dadgum balloons.’”

Many stayed to game’s end only because of prize giveaways afterward, including a car and television set. In some ways, the game seemed incidental.

“It was the strangest game, the most bizarre circumstances I’ve coached in,” Osborne was quoted by the Lincoln Journal-Star, noting he wasn’t “sure people here understand all of what went on.”

The day after the game, the Huskers went on a sight-seeing trip in the morning before boarding a flight for the trip home. Counting the sight-seeing, the flight to Kansas City through Vancouver and the bus ride from Kansas City to Lincoln the trip after checking out of the hotel lasted 25 hours.

Senior guard Will Shields, who had just been named the Outland Trophy winner, wasn’t among those on the trip. He and Kansas State punter Sean Snyder had flown to Los Angeles immediately after the game for a Bob Hope television special that included the Kodak All-America team.

Seven assistant coaches left to recruit. And players had 10 days off to study for final exams before beginning preparations to play Florida State in Miami.

Speculation was that had Nebraska lost—which would have meant Colorado would have been the Big Eight champion—the No. 11 Huskers would have been matched against Penn State in the Blockbuster Bowl. With a win, they expected to play Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.

Notre Dame had even contacted Nebraska about game film.

The Bowl Coalition was in its first year of handling the selection process, with the Sugar Bowl getting first choice, the Cotton Bowl second choice and the Orange Bowl third choice. The intention was to facilitate matching teams by Associated Press rankings.

The Rose Bowl didn’t participate because of its Big Ten-Pac-10 pact.

So the Sugar Bowl picked No. 1 Miami for a national-title match-up against host SEC champion and No. 2 Alabama. However, the Cotton Bowl, with host Southwest Conference champ and No. 4 Texas A&M, surprisingly picked No. 5 Notre Dame instead of No. 3 Florida State, not only to avoid a rematch but also because Notre Dame would mean better television ratings.

That left the Orange Bowl to pick Florida State. It would be the sixth time in 10 seasons that Nebraska had been matched against either Florida State or Miami in a bowl game.

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