The distance: 52 yards
The star: Frosty Anderson
The date: Jan. 1, 1973
The outcome: Huskers 40, Notre Dame 6
The story: They’d plotted the trick for a month. Everyone knew Johnny Rodgers could run like mad. Now the Huskers were about to show everyone around the country the Heisman winner could throw it, too.
There was but one problem with this. Rodgers hadn’t thrown one spiral in all of the practices leading into that 1973 Orange Bowl against Notre Dame, Bob Devaney’s last game as Nebraska’s coach. At least that’s what split end Frosty Anderson said in a joyous Husker locker room after the game.
Despite the issues with the trick play in practices, Nebraska pulled it out of its pocket early in the second quarter, already up 14-0. Rodgers already had one touchdown running. By the end of the night, he’d have his hand in four Husker touchdowns – running, catching … and throwing.
The trick: Quarterback threw a backwards pass across the field to Rodgers. With all Irish eyes on Rodgers, thinking he could burn them with his feet, Anderson slipped away from the Notre Dame secondary, 10 yards behind them.
Rodgers let it go. Some guys just know what to do when the lights come on. A perfect spiral traveling 45 yards in the air. Anderson caught it at the 15 and scored easily.
“I wanted to go for the bomb,” Rodgers said afterward. “I didn’t fool around with those short, dinky passes. We knew it would work so why not go for the big one.”
Despite the issues with the play in practices, Anderson wasn’t surprised when the pass hit him in stride when it counted.
“It’s about all you come to expect from Johnny,” he said. “He’s such a clutch player.”
It wasn’t the only trick Nebraska played on Notre Dame. When the game began, the Irish were surprised to find Rodgers playing I-back instead of wingback. His first carry went for 12 yards.
The steamrolling never stopped. The Huskers outyarded Notre Dame 560-207 in the win. The score was 40-0 halfway through the third quarter.
“They made Notre Dame look like displaced persons masquerading in uniforms of the Fighting Irish, and that is not an easy thing to do,” Sports Illustrated wrote of Nebraska’s dominance.
While not playing for a national championship for the first time in three years, the night carried just as much weight to Husker players wishing to send Devaney out in fashion.
Devaney was filled with emotion as he talked to his assistants after the game.
“I don’t know where I would have been without them,” Devaney said. “And, oh, does it ever feel good to go out a winner.”