QUESTION: How do you shut up 70,000 scarlet-clad Nebraska fans?
Answer: Start the game.
There wasn't a lot of drama in Thursday's national championship game between Miami and Nebraska at the Rose Bowl, but then, that's what happens when you send a microchip to do a man's job. The Cornhuskers were invited to the national title game despite the fact that their buns still ached from a 62-36 butt-kicking administered at Colorado on Nov. 23. Nebraska didn't exactly vindicate the BCS computers' faith in it. Somehow managing not to laugh at the Huskers' misbegotten attempts to cover their receivers one-on-one, the Hurricanes jumped out to a 34-0, second-quarter lead and cruised from there to a 37-14 victory.
Thus Miami earned its fifth national championship since 1983, its first since '91. In doing so, the Hurricanes restored order to college football, providing a tidy conclusion to a season that might have ended in a contentious mess. A Nebraska victory, as ridiculous as that possibility may seem now, probably would have resulted in a split title, with the Cornhuskers guaranteed the No. 1 spot in the ESPN/ USA Today poll and Oregon, a 38-16 victor over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day, leading the AP Top 25. Ducks coach Mike Bellotti attended the Rose Bowl and conceded Miami's worthiness as No. 1. "Would we have been a better matchup? Possibly," said Bellotti. For the man who'd earlier described the BCS as "a cancer," this was the height of restraint.
The clean finish to the season failed to mollify Rose Bowl purists, who spent the week griping that their beloved game had fallen into the mercenary hands of the BCS. For the first time in 56 years the Rose Bowl didn't match the champions of the Big Ten and Pac-10 (or their predecessor conferences). The game also didn't immediately follow the Tournament of Roses parade on New Year's Day. Instead, it was pushed back two days and then played at night!
If that strikes you as cruel, your heart would have gone out to Princess Rachel, a member of the Royal court. On the night of the 46th annual Beef Bowl at Lawry's The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills, the comely 17-year-old found herself at a table with most of the Miami offensive line. Although the princesses are given lessons in etiquette and elocution, no amount of finishing school could have prepared Rachel for her dinner with the Hurricanes hogs. Backup center Joel Rodriguez introduced her to one of the starters, who shall remain nameless. "He's 305 pounds, 22 years old and a virgin," said Rodriguez. Things went downhill from there.
Starting center Brett Romberg took a run at his understudy, asking Rodriguez if the cut on his right index finger was the result of picking his teeth. "He's always picking his teeth," Romberg explained to Princess Rachel. "It's disgusting. He's got brutal teeth, too. I don't know what it is with the Cuban guys." This doubled as a swipe at starting right tackle and first-team All-America Joaquin Gonzalez, a Cuban-American who is the best student on the squad. He's working on his master's in business administration, but his linemates prefer to focus on his dental shortcomings.
Romberg takes heat for his squat build and short arms. "They're more like flippers," says Rodriguez. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie, the Outland Trophy winner, catches flak for wearing overly tight jeans and for his colossal skull (which, while beach-ball-sized, seems in proportion with his 6'9", 336-pound body). All of them give as good as they get, and all were similarly merciless on the field six nights later. They opened holes that allowed Clinton Portis to rush for 104 yards on 20 carries and provided womblike protection for junior quarterback Ken Dorsey, who completed 22 of his 35 passes for 362 yards and three touchdowns.
Nebraska came at Miami with a defensive scheme similar to the one used unsuccessfully by Florida State against the Hurricanes in October, crowding as many as eight players in the box to take away the run. This left the Cornhuskers' defensive backs in one-on-one coverage with the Miami receivers. The Hurricanes liked that matchup. Said offensive line coach Art Kehoe after the game, "Our guys were licking their lips."
Forty-one days earlier, in the Cornhuskers' only defeat, their vaunted Black-shirts defense yielded 582 yards to Colorado. That loss dropped Nebraska from No. 1 in the BCS standings to No. 4. Only a series of upsets suffered by Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and Tennessee enabled the Huskers to back into this title game. They weren't always made to feel welcome once they arrived on the scene. On Dec. 28 a group of Nebraska players attending a Lakers game was introduced to the crowd and was vigorously booed. "Oh, yeah, we got booed about six times," said middle linebacker Jamie Burrow. "That's O.K. We started cheering for the Raptors—and they won."