New Orleans — The temptation is to say Nebraska lucked out the big one in the Sugar Bowl Tuesday night.
But Terry Luck, the heretofore Luckless quarterback who came off the bench to lead a dramatic 13-10 comeback victory over Florida, was almost lost in the shuffle when it came to Nebraska heroes.
There was Cornhusker fullback Tony Davis, who gained 126 yards on 17 carries, most of them in the late going when they were needed the most, to win the most valuable player award in his second straight bowl game.
Then there was Mike Coyle, the soccer kicking Omahan who rocketed a line drive field goal of 37 yards to tie at 10-10 with 7:12 remaining and came back in the last 1:45 to win it with a 39-yarder that was a much prettier end-over-ender.
But Luck, Davis and Coyle may have never gotten their chances for starring roles in this 1st Sugar Bowl production before 67,890 live spectators and ABC-TV's customers nationwide except for back-to-back defensive gems when the Gators were leading, 10-0 and had the Huskers backed up almost into the Mississippi River in the third quarter.
Nebraska's hopes for a national record-tying sixth consecutive bowl victory were fleeting fast midway through the third quarter when Florida faced third down on the Husker one-yard line.
Fullback Jimmy DuBose tried a smash over left guard.
Add linebacker Bob Nelson to Nebraska's star roster.
He stopped DuBose cold.
Then Florida quarterback Don Gaffney rolled out to his left on fourth down. He pitched out to halfback James Richards.
Take on the name Jimmy Burrow. He smacked Richards down a yard short.
But all that meant at that point was the Huskers had a reprieve. The Gator defense and Husker ineptitude had nullified the normally potent Nebraska offense.
Nebraska is usually as good offensively as Dave Humm's passing, and the Husker senior quarterback had a horrid night passing.
The all-American lefty was benched after completing only two of 12 passes and giving up four interceptions.
He was replaced by junior Luck, who has three knee operations and countless blisters from sitting on the bench.
In front of him lay 99 yards of Sugar Bowl AstroTurf, a good share of virgin territory for the Huskers this night.
Maybe it was just the way Luck handed off. Davis suddenly started running like a berserk bowling ball.
But you don't go 99 yards, all on the ground, without an offensive line dominating the upfront skirmishing.
Add Larry Muchinskie, Mark Doak, Tom Alward, Rik Bonness, Stan Hegener, and Marvin Crenshaw.
1st And 2
That was the one that did it.
Davis carried seven times and picked up 55 yards. Freshman I-back Monte Anthony had five for 16, wingback Donnie Westbrook had 18 on a counter trap, this time hanging onto a bobble after fumbling the ball away on a similar successful play earlier.
And Luck, the guy with the gimpy knees, ran the option keep twice, once for five yards and again for four and a first down on the Gator two-yard line.
Anthony got the touchdown over the left side from the power-I formation, the only time all evening the Husker lined up in that formation.
That 99-yard sortie was a boon to Husker confidence, and the Gators must have felt inevitable.
They had spent their emotion while controlling the game through the first 2-and-a-half quarters, then watched it slip away.
Coyle Hits 2
The Huskers held on downs after their touchdown and started again after a punt from the Gator 49. They stalled at the 20, and Coyle drilled his 37-yarder.
Another Florida punt left the Huskers with 75 yards to ravel and 4:08 to make it.
On the second play, Davis decided to make most of it in one chunk. He burst up the middle and hoofed 40 yards to the Florida 31.
Then it came up decision time for Husker Coach Tom Osborne. It was fourth-and-one on the 22. One minute, 53 seconds left. A scrimmage play or a field goal try by Coyle who was at about his maximum range.
Coyle justified his coach's confidence nicely.
Then, after Mark Heydorff intercepted a Don Gaffney pass as the clock ran out, the 14,000 Nebraska followers headed back to Bourbon Street for more celebrating.
Only the night before, several thousand red coats had created massive traffic jams in the French Quarter with their parading.
They still were creating most of the noise in Tulane-Sugar Bowl Stadium, which had 20,000 empty seats, when the game began.
But their team had nine false starts offensively before starting the big drive.
Florida, playing with jut-jawed grimness in its big chance in the national limelight, silenced the Husker fans with two lightning bolts in the first quarter.
Cornerback Randy Talbot snatched the ball away from Westbrook for the first of Humm's interceptions and returned it 31 yards to the Nebraska 21.
Tony Green, Florida's flying freshman halfback, broke up the middle, but to his right and outlegged Ardell Johnson, the fastest Huskers, to the end zone on the next play.
After David Posey missed on a 48-yard field goal attempt, set up by Gaffney's 32-yard pass to tight end Alvis Darty, the teams played giveaway early in the second quarter. Defensive end Jimmy Kendrick intercepted his first of two passes, returning 20 yards to the Nebraska 33.
Ardell Johnson recovered a Green fumble on the next play, but Westbrook gave it back at the end of a 12-yard gain when he fumbled at the Florida 29.
Florida had to battle the clock near the end of the half when it started from 71 yards away with 1:54 remaining.
A 35-yard Gaffney-to-Lee McGriff pass was a big step, and DuBose charged up the middle for 17 yards to the 11.
After defensive tackle Mike Fultz dropped Gaffney for a 12-yard loss, the Gators lined up in a rush, and Posey kicked a 40-yard field goal with two seconds to spare.
After that, it was all Nebraska, at least after Luck came in with 6:50 left in the third quarter. It was the second bowl game in a row that Nebraska has been rescued by a sub quarterback. Steve Runty spelled Humm a year ago in the Cotton Bowl as the Huskers came from a 3-3 tie to a 19-3 victory over Texas.
NU 2 of 14
When it was all totaled up, Nebraska outrushed Florida's ground-orientated offense, 304-178 yards and held a total offense advantage of 320-275.
But the Gators, which had the poorest pass defense in the Southeast Conference, statistically, held the Huskers to two completions in 14 attempts for 16 yards. The Gators hit five of 10 passes for 97 yards and had one interception.
This Sugar Bowl game had been met with general apathy in the Crescent City. The game was blacked out locally because the stadium was not a sellout.
Too bad. The locals missed a good show.