GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In the aftermath of pummeling rival Miami 31-7 to end the 1974 regular season, Florida coach Doug Dickey beamed with pride at the thought of the Gators being invited to just the second Sugar Bowl in school history.
“We had some ups and downs during the season, but we had some great victories,” said Dickey, whose team beat LSU, Florida State and Auburn before capping the campaign with a lopsided pounding of the Hurricanes. “We’ve gotten a little obsessed with winning the SEC championship. I’ve been guilty of having been obsessed, and the writers are guilty, too. We need to appreciate an 8-3 season.”
Of course, there were reasons for that so-called “obsession” with the SEC title; namely that the Gators had never won it in the 41-year history of the league.
But with SEC champion Alabama headed to the Orange Bowl to play Notre Dame, the Gators -- despite a 3-3 conference record -- got the New Orleans nod.
The opponent would be Nebraska (8-3), runner-up to in the Big 12 Conference to 11-0 Oklahoma, which was on NCAA probation and ineligible for postseason play.
To the time machine we go.
FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXT (ELSEWHERE ON DEC. 31, 1974)
- US District Judge John J. Sirica instructed the Watergate corruption trial jury to ignore the pardon granted Richard M. Nixon in considering the guilt or innocence of five former Nixon administration and campaign aids. Repeatedly, Sirica explained that the coverup would be a conspiracy to “influence, obstruct and impede and corruptly endeavor to influence, obstruct and impede, the due administration of justice in connection with the trial of original watergate defendants: Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell, ex-White House aides H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, former assistant Atty. Gen. Robert C. Mardian and Kenneth W. Parkinson, one-time lawyer for the Nixon re-election committee.
- An earthquake that hit Pakistan two days earlier killed an estimated 4,700 persons and injured about 15,000 in nine villages, rescue officials said. They said the final casualty toll could be even higher when reports arrive from isolated regions to the north.
- Entertainment notables representing eras from Vaudeville to television said farewell to Jack Benny, the humorist who died four days earlier from complications of pancreatic cancer and whom pal Bob Hope called “a national treasure.” The turnout was one of the largest and most emotional in recent years for a funeral of show business personalities. The list included Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Johnny Carson, Andy Griffith, James Stewart, Milton Berle, Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx.
- The New York Yankees signed pitcher Catfish Hunter to a five-year, $3.75 million contract to make the former Oakland A’s ace the highest-paid player in baseball and the fourth-highest paid player in professional sports, behind only a trio of basketball players: Walt Frazier, of the NBA New York Knicks, and ABA stars Julius Erving (New York Nets) and George McGinnis (Indianapolis Pacers).
Nebraska was a 17-point favorite over Florida in the 41st Sugar Bowl, which perplexed Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne.
“With Doug Dickey sitting here and all the Florida writers here, it would be the smart thing to say I don’t understand how they’re 17-point underdogs,” Osborne said the bowl’s welcoming news conference. “But that’s also the honest thing to say.”
Not only had Osborne watched plenty of film of the Gators, he and a couple assistant coaches made the trip to Gainesville earlier in November and watched UF dismantle the Hurricanes. They left impressed seeing Don Gaffney execute the wishbone in person, but also with the way the Gators mixed in the passing game.
“You usually hope for rain when you play a wishbone team, but I don’t know,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. “I hope it doesn’t rain on us at the Sugar Bowl.”
Dickey, meanwhile, saw the Cornhuskers as the most physical team the Gators had faced all season, with a trio of backs that rushed for more than 500 yards each, plus All-America quarterback David Humm. Nebraska scored 50 points three times and won all eight of its games by at least 30 points.
Florida, though, was confident. So was its coach.
“This is the best team I’ve ever taken to a bowl game,” Dickey said.
A statement-making goal-line stand fired up Nebraska for a fourth-quarter rally that Florida never saw coming, as the Cornhuskers scored all their points in the final period to steal a 13-10 win.
The Gators led 10-0 midway through the third quarter when safety Alvin Cowans intercepted Humm -- UF’s fourth pick of the All-American in the game -- and returned it 30 yards to the Nebraska 34.
Florida marched inside the 10-yard line and appeared to score a touchdown when tailback Tony Green went around right and dove into the end zone.
One official signaled touchdown. Unfortunately for the Gators, another said Green stepped out on the 5-yard line.
Four plays later, Florida was stuffed on the 1 when cornerback Jim Burrow, a transfer from Ole Miss, chased down Green on a sweep and stopped him just short of the end zone.
Nebraska shockingly benched Humm for unsung backup Jim Luck, who proceeded to march the offense 99 yards in 18 plays with fullback Tony Davis scoring with 13:24 to go in the game. After a UF three-and-out, the Cornhuskers tied the game on their ensuing possession when Mike Coyle kicked a 37-yard field with 7:12 to go.
A second straight three-and-out by the Gators gave the ball back to Nebraska. A 40-yard run by Davis set up Coyle’s 39-yard game-winning field goal with 1:46 to play on fourth-and-1, as the Gators dropped to 5-4 all-time in bowl play.
“We just ran out of muscle in the fourth quarter.” -- Dickey.
“It looked to me like he scored. I’m not sure, but I think he did.” -- Gaffney on the TD that wasn’t from Green.
“If he had missed it, I probably would have been lynched in Lincoln tomorrow.” -- Osborne on the decision to kick the field goal, rather than gamble on fourth-and-1 to get closer and give Coyle an easier kick.
“This was the worst game I’ve ever had -- high school or college or anywhere. No excuse for it.” -- Humm.
“I said all week it would be a close game, but nobody wanted to believe me. Florida is a tremendous team that played us like we knew they would.” -- Davis, who rushed 17 times for 126 yards and was voted Sugar Bowl MVP.
“My job is to take the pitch man and not worry about the pass. ... Biggest tackle of my life.” -- Burrow.