Keith Jackson, an itinerant NFL tight end now with the Green Bay Packers, played for No. 2 Oklahoma in the 1988 Orange Bowl against No. 1 Miami, a matchup of the two police-blotter programs that dominated the '80s. Miami won the game 20-14, but Jackson retains a single, vivid image. "It was the greatest game I ever saw Brian Bosworth play," says Jackson of the flamboyant Sooner linebacker. "I remember him actually having to be carried off the field. He had 25 unassisted tackles and was dehydrated." Which is very sweet, except that Bosworth didn't play a down in the game. He had been drafted by the Seattle Seahawks a year earlier.
Then there is Jeff Kinney, Nebraska's star running back in the 1972 Orange Bowl, which the Cornhuskers, who had already beaten Oklahoma 35-31 in the so-called Game of the Century on Thanksgiving Day, won, drilling overmatched SEC champion Alabama 38-6 in the most lopsided 1-versus-2 bowl. "Look, everybody tried to make the Orange Bowl another Game of the Century," says Kinney, "but before we played the Sooners, you wouldn't even let anybody put dressing on your salad for you, and there were 30,000 people at the airport when we came home from Oklahoma. The Orange Bowl was fine, but to be honest, I don't remember much about it."
Mouthing off is not a good idea.
In big games the slightest provocation is transformed into an apocalyptic challenge to manhood. Before the 1964 Cotton Bowl, Navy coach Wayne Hardin and Texas coach Darrell Royal were interviewed together on television. Hardin, whose Midshipmen, led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach, were ranked No. 2, glared into the camera and said, "When the challenger meets the champion and the challenger wins, then there's a new champion." Longhorn defensive coordinator Mike Campbell says, "That made Darrell madder than hell." When it was his turn to speak, Royal said only, "We're ready." Texas won 28-6. "I've been around a lot of Longhorn teams, and I don't ever remember one being readier to play than we were," says David McWilliams, Texas's center that day, who also coached the Longhorns from 1987 to '91.
Miami, of course, has retired the trophy for pregame trash talk. There was the notorious steak fry five days before the 1987 Fiesta Bowl game against Penn State, when the late Jerome Brown led fatigue-wearing Hurricanes in a walkout. And at midfield before the start of the game, referee Jimmy Harper called together the two teams' captains and instructed Miami's to call the toss. "No," Harper recalls one of the Hurricane captains telling him. "Just give the ball to those——and let's get started." Harper flipped the coin, caught it and, without looking at it, gave Penn State its option.
"I thought they were a bunch of idiots," says Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan, who went on to play what Paterno calls "one of the great football games ever" in the Nittany Lions' 14—10 victory over top-ranked Miami.
The Hurricanes went one step further before the 1993 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, trashing Alabama players when they ran into them outside Pat O'Brien's bar on Bourbon Street. The lowlight was Miami linebacker Rohan Marley's assessment of 290-pound Alabama offensive tackle Roosevelt Patterson. "You must be an offensive lineman, you fat, sloppy bastard," Marley said. On New Year's Eve, Alabama coach Gene Stallings drawled, "The game'll be won on the field, not at Pat O'Brien's." By game night Alabama was suitably stoked and won going away, 34-13.
Coaches actually make a difference.
Two lessons for Nebraska coach Osborne and Florida coach Steve Spurrier to heed:
1) Chalkboard preparation can break down a good system.