LEADING UP to the Orange Bowl, much had been said about the contingencies of this classic match-- Nebraska's big slugger of an offense against the cunning and dash of the smaller, tougher Bear Bryant Alabama team. On a glittering, perfectly splendid New Year's night, they faced off to determine who would be national champion. The Crimson Tide poured into the crannies of Nebraska's pass defense as quarterback Steve Sloan took an exacting toll, spearheading a 17-point rush in the second quarter that left the Cornhuskers forever in a rut, and Alabama beat Nebraska 39-28.
As it turned out, the Cornhuskers scored more points on the Tide than had any other team in Bryant's eight years at the school. But what is the use of scoring 28 points when the other team scores 39? The little giants that operate in the Alabama line move people. It was inconceivable, perhaps, that center Paul Crane at 191 pounds could handle Nebraska's middle guard, 239-pound Wayne Meylan, but Crane did it with regularity. Not with brute force, by any means. 'Bama linemen block at fine angles, aiming for the outside of a knee or a piece of a hip. They seldom trap but double team often.
More important, Alabama linemen use the impetus of a charging opponent to turn him away from the play. The hole, therefore, might change in a flicker, and the Tide's backs--Steve Bowman, Leslie Kelley and Frank Canterbury--are excellent at cutting back to take advantage. They outrushed the Cornhuskers, the rushing team, 222 yards to 145, and then Alabama threw everything at Nebraska, including three tackle-eligible passes to a former fullback, Jerry Duncan. Three times Bryant ordered onside kicks after touchdowns, and twice the Tide successfully recovered.
The magnificence of the Alabama offense is in its passing game, and that means quarterback Sloan and half a dozen excellent receivers. Almost deferentially, Sloan has gone about wiping out Joe Namath's 'Bama passing records: He had 20 completions for 296 yards, despite having to throw in the face of a persistent Cornhuskers rush and despite playing from the second quarter with torn cartilage in his right side. Unable to follow through completely, Sloan tended to loft the ball, but when he did so, his astoundingly quick receivers were almost always there, curling back or stretching out to make the catch.
Most of the stretching and lunging and curling and diving was done by Ray Perkins, who caught 10 passes against Nebraska for 159 yards, including two for touchdowns. Possibly the only thing more spectacular than Perkins's touchdown catches was the chain reaction they set off in the Orange Bowl's east end zone. Touchdowns there were the signals for soaring rockets and Roman candles, lighting up the Miami sky. To have all that and the Alabama offense too was really having all that heaven should allow.