77 yards: How to humble a Bear

2012-05-30T23:30:00Z 2012-06-03T23:37:05Z 77 yards: How to humble a BearBy BRIAN CHRISTOPHERSON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

The distance: 77 yards

The star: Johnny Rodgers

The date: Jan. 1, 1972 (Orange Bowl)

The outcome: Huskers 38, Alabama 6

The story: It is the return against Oklahoma that will forever own the cover of the thick book of highlights that belongs to Johnny Rodgers.

But let us not forget about the sequel. It was a doozy, too. It happened in Miami, with a national championship at stake and Alabama’s Bear Bryant gritting his teeth.

Maybe it was the pride of The Bear, but for some reason, Alabama kicked the football right to Rodgers, daring him to take one back just like he'd done against Oklahoma.

Naturally, Rodgers took one back just like he'd done against Oklahoma.

The punt landed about 5 yards in front of him, a tail-dragger that bounced right into his arms at the 23-yard line. There was an Alabama player immediately on top of him. But the best return men seem to enjoy that sort of thing. Rodgers sidestepped the wannabe tackler, then dropped a dance move away from another man dressed in crimson.

He cut upfield briefly. An Alabama player wearing No. 84 was waiting for him, but Rodgers had no plans to meet. He shifted his weight, reversed his ground for about two steps, then swung outside, picking up speed, however fast he needed to be to make him faster than the other guy.

“What a run!” the TV announcer shouted with Rodgers still 70 yards from the end zone. Like everyone else, the guy behind the microphone already knew how this story would end.

The 1972 Orange Bowl was billed as a showdown between No. 1 and No. 2. A monumental mismatch is what it was.

Rodgers’ return on the last play of the first quarter spotted Nebraska a 14-0 lead. It was one of four Husker touchdowns in a span of eight minutes, the groundwork laid to a 38-6 laugher, the most lopsided loss Bryant ever had at Alabama.

“The only game going on for anyone to watch last Saturday night in Miami was between Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers and Rich Glover, to see which one of them could do the most to make it the worst thing that ever happened to Bear Bryant,” wrote legendary Sports Illustrated writer Dan Jenkins.

The truth of it is the heavy lifting for the 1971 Huskers had already been handled on Thanksgiving in Norman, Okla.

As for that Orange Bowl, Rodgers noted that at halftime some Huskers were already talking about the celebration party that would take place back at the hotel.

Sometimes, even a bear will admit he's licked.

“They toyed with us most of the time,” Bryant said. “They were one of the greatest, if not the greatest, teams I have ever seen.”

-- Brian Christopherson

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

Copyright 2015 JournalStar.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.