Bowling for greatness: MF asks a top pigskin professor about the three best college football bowl games of all time
HARD TO BELIEVE, BUT THERE WAS ONCE A TIME when college bowl games were played purely for exhibition. They didn’t carry the same do-or-die significance that they do now. But that went out of fashion just like leather helmets. Today, bowl games can define a team’s entire season and legacy. Here are my picks for the top three, each of which had the national title at stake and involved legendary personalities on and off the field.
1 ORANGE BOWL 1984, Miami 31 Nebraska 30
Heavy underdog Miami blows out in front, while Nebraska, considered the “team of the century,” rallies back. The momentum shifts back and forth until it all comes down to one decision and one play. Still one of the most talked-about coaching decisions in the sport’s history: Nebraska coach Tom Osborne goes for the two-point conversion and the win, but Miami safety Ken Calhoun deflects the pass. Had Nebraska gained those last three yards, they would have been remembered as one of the greatest teams ever. Instead, it’s Miami that arrives as a major program on that electric night.
2 FIESTA BOWL 2003, Ohie State 31 Miami 24, Bouble OT
The game was over. Fireworks went off. There was a premature … celebration. Ohio State, the heavy underdog, was going down. Then the official calls pass interference on Miami on a fourth-down play at the end of the first overtime and gives the Buckeyes another chance to tie. We’d never had a championship game go into one overtime, let alone two. Ohio State didn’t waste the opportunity: Their defense held the Hurricanes out of the end zone, and they ended Miami’s 34-game winning streak.
3 SUGAR BOWL 1979, Alabama 14 Penn State 7
You don’t need points to have excitement. Every yard was precious; every first down was a crusade. It all came down to a goal-line stand, and Alabama had to defend the last 10 inches of the football field in the Superdome. Being a Penn State fan, I cried over the loss for days.
THE NUMBER GAME
Age of Seattle Mariners pitching sensation Felix Hernandez.
Seat width, in inches, at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Number of days it took Swiss men Brian Jones and Bertrand Piccard to circumnavigate the globe in 1999, nonstop, in the Breitling-Orbiter 3.
Number, in millions, of sports-related injuries occurring each year in England and Wales.
Recommended speed, in mph, at which you should release a ball when bowling.
CHRIS FOWLER OF ESPN’S COLLEGE GAMEDAY
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