JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Thirty years ago, on a sandlot painted green, under a Miami moon, they played a game for the ages. And the aged memory.
Miami 31, Nebraska 30. Still the best game I ever witnessed, covered or could have imagined.
Thirty years later, I can still see and hear everything about that magical night. The Miami players standing on their bench waving towels to incite the home crowd. The patience and resolve of Nebraska to come back from a 31-17 deficit in a national title game the Huskers were favored by 10 to win.
I can still hear the writers in that Orange Bowl press box enthusiastically cheering for the story or, in this case, Miami.
And the collective gasp in the box when NU got to within one point with 48 seconds left.
“He's going for two. Osborne's going for two!”
The modern rules of college football overtime have dulled the urgency of that moment long ago. But now, Tom Osborne's decision to go for the clear victory is a lesson that remains applicable for every teacher and student of the right way to do things.
There was a major earthquake that night, and the evening sent out ripple effects that reached for decades.
The Miami Hurricanes dynasty was born. So was the concept of talent and speed in Florida. College football took to the air. Option attacks gave way to pro style sets that sent quarterbacks and receivers to the Heisman stand.
The man who changed the most that night hadn't changed at all, but Osborne went from an image of aloof coolness to a larger-than-life legend who won in defeat.
Thirty years later, you wonder what other legacies were made that night, what other people were impacted.
I saw one at Nebraska's Gator Bowl practice Friday.
Michael Rose, Nebraska's promising redshirt freshman linebacker, was born Aug. 30, 1993. But in some ways, he was born that Jan. 2, 1984, night.
His father, Michael, can't forget that Miami-Nebraska game. He was a 7-year-old, living in Kansas City, Mo., but for that game he was down in Louisiana to visit his father's family for the holidays.
(Michael Rose Sr. on Friday said he is actually Michael Rose Jr., and that his father is Michael Sr., making the current Husker linebacker Michael Rose III. Just for reference purposes here.)
“My father was a big Nebraska fan,” said Rose Jr. by phone from Kansas City. “He liked the option and he was a big fan of Osborne and Turner Gill. I really didn't follow football. But I watched the game with him that night.
“I gave him a hard time when Miami went ahead. But he was like, just wait, just wait. He had a patience. He said they're going to come back. And sure enough, they did. My dad was like, 'You watch, they're going to win.'
|BIG RED TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Join the conversation on the Big Red Today Facebook page.|
“When Tom Osborne went for two, it was like nothing I had ever seen. It blew us away. It was a moment I'll never forget, the message he sent, that was so much bigger than the game.
“From that moment, I became a Nebraska fan. And because of that game, I wanted to play football.”
Rose grew into a very good football player. He was an all-metro and all-state defensive tackle (who also played running back and fullback) at Hickman Mills High School, and had his jersey retired.
He had another title during his high school days: Dad.
Rose was 15 years old when Michael III was born in 1993. At that age, being a doting father meant the youngest Rose would be around football.
“I took him to everything,” Michael Jr. said. “It's like he was born into the game. His first word, and I'm not joking, was 'Touchdown.' In fact, if you said the word 'touchdown' he would raise his two arms.”
Michael Jr.'s career did not go much further. He played at Northwest Missouri State as a freshman but left the team because, in his words, he didn't take care of his academic responsibilities.
“What I really wanted to do was walk on at Nebraska,” Michael Jr. said. “But my parents couldn't afford to pay. That's one of my regrets in life. I might have two national championship rings.”
But his love for football, and the legacy of that game, was passed down to his son, who became a star in the KC Suburban and Pop Warner leagues.
“Michael was always better than everyone he played with,” Michael Jr. said. “Michael always had a good concept of football. I remember when he was 7 years old, he told his coach, 'That's not the right play to run, this is what we should run.'
“I wanted to be his dad more than his coach, so I didn't coach him. When he went to high school, I did try to teach him some strength and conditioning things, but it wasn't long before the high school coaches nixed that.”
Michael Rose III became a high school star, too, an all-metro and all-state playmaking linebacker at Rockhurst High. He was a kid with 27 college offers, but one of the first came from Nebraska, before his junior year of high school. Michael accepted.
But then, a few weeks later, the offers from USC, LSU and Oklahoma came in. Urban Meyer called him. Michael had second thoughts. But his father strongly suggested he keep his commitment. Was this the Husker fan or father at work here? Both. But Michael Jr. feels somewhat guilty.
“Michael wanted to open up the recruiting,” Michael Jr. said. “But I told him he made a commitment to Coach Bo and the staff and he needed to think hard about that. This word decommiting, I don't even like to say it. I don't like it.
“But l think I had more influence on his decision than I should have. I think I played more of a role than I wished I would have. I just wanted him to think about it.”
There were no regrets from the Husker in the Rose family.
“I don't think he meant any harm with that,” Michael III said. “My father and mother did a great job raising me. They are both beautiful people. They instilled those things in me. I think he was just reminding me of that. He wanted me to make sure I thought about what I was doing.
“I have no regrets about it. I'm happy here, being a Husker.”
Thirty years later, the kid who was mesmerized by a classic football game on TV now watches his son in that uniform, playing to a standard that was on display for everyone that night.
“I've never seen that game,” Michael III said. “But I know all about it. I've heard about it. I've heard him (his dad) talk about it. The Miami dynasty got going because of that game. And going for two showed a lot of guts. It said, 'We're not going to settle at Nebraska.'
“Even with all the backlash from the fans right now, we don't want to be known as a team that settles, either. We don't want to settle for eight, nine wins. There's a tradition here that we all know about.”
Every generation deserves the chance to make its own ripples.
* * *
Video: NU's first practice in Florida
Video: NU coach Bo Pelini talks after practice
Video: Huskers take a dip in the ocean