Still, he knew how close he had come to disaster. Of course, he was right to start and finish with Frazier, but Osborne made two atrocious calls that nearly cost Nebraska the game. The first came in the first quarter, when after 10 plays that established the Cornhusker running attack for the first time, Osborne called for a deep pass route. Frazier forced the pass into double coverage, Carlos Jones intercepted, and five plays later Costa fired the first of his two touchdown passes, to put Miami ahead 10-0. The second came in the first minute of the fourth quarter, when, with Nebraska trailing 17-9, Miami's ineptitude with deep snapping handed the Huskers their best field position of the night: first-and-goal at the four-yard line. But instead of relying on the best rushing attack in the nation, Osborne called for a pass. With all his options covered, Berringer tried to throw out of the end zone; instead, the ball went into the corner, where safety Earl Little made an astonishing, falling interception. "We ran off that field pretty much saying 'Ball game,' " Sapp said.
Why not? This was the precise place and moment—in the fourth quarter, in the Orange Bowl—at which Miami had cemented its place as the supreme program of recent years. But these Hurricanes ran out of gas. Trying to determine which of his quarterbacks could move the ball most effectively, Osborne had replaced Frazier with Berringer in the first half at a time ordained before kickoff. But now he was operating purely by feel. Berringer, 7-0 as a starter, had already thrown one touchdown while Frazier had none. But he's a special athlete. Osborne yanked Berringer, and at that moment it looked like panic: Coach pulls his second quarterback of the night after passes that should never have been thrown.
Instead, Osborne won his championship Nebraska-style. Sapp sacked Frazier on his first snap back at the helm, but in Frazier's second series the offensive line began knocking the Hurricanes back. Frazier walked into the huddle with a first-and-10 on the Miami 40 and calmly told everyone it was time to score. Phillips, whose 96 rushing yards were key to this win, opened with a 25-yard romp. Then Outland Trophy winner Zach Wiegert blasted open a hole large enough to accommodate a steamship, and Schlesinger stepped through for a 15-yard score.
Osborne called for the two-point conversion—no flashback to 1984, he insisted. "Different situation," he said. Different ending, too. Frazier stepped back and nailed Eric Alford with a quick strike. Frazier engineered one more drive, for 58 yards, and Schlesinger rolled in for the final 14-yard score. Ball game, Nebraska.
Now he has it, Osborne does, a national title—what he calls "the whole banana." There was a moment, after Osborne had finally finished with the reporters, after he had finally met up with his wife, Nancy, and their son, Mike, and daughters Ann and Suzi and son-in-law Kevin and grandson Will. He began walking down the tunnel, and outside were hundreds of people wearing Big Red, bellowing. "The pressure coming into this game was how many people were going to be devastated if we didn't win it," Osborne had said earlier. "Everybody was saying, 'It's our turn,' but in athletics you don't take turns." Now he was walking out, but he had gone too far ahead. So when he heard the noise, he turned back, looking for support, but no one was there. For the first time all night Osborne had no idea what to do. He called out, then his family caught up. They walked into the night together.
"Nebraska! Tom! Hey, Tom!" the fans yelled, and Osborne grinned and waved and bore it all, lunch bag in hand. Then, blinking furiously, he stepped onto bus No. 5903, trying to get away from the crush. Wrong bus: no room. He stepped down, went to bus No. 5905, and as he stood in the doorway, a man screamed, "You're Number 1, Tom!" Osborne stared at him as if the man had accused him of a crime. Then he sat down behind the driver. It was 1:15 a.m. He pulled out his sandwich, unwrapped it and took a polite bite. The bus hummed. Frazier stepped aboard. Osborne's eyes flickered, but he didn't speak. Frazier passed by.
And looming there, through the windshield, it sat: The place where he'd been mocked, MIAMI ORANGE BOWL, blared the sign on the stadium, and it was painted green and orange, Hurricane colors. He glanced at it, in between chews, but it wasn't until the driver turned off the inside lights that Osborne could get a clear view. All the ghosts were gone.