They had already doused Bill Callahan with water and messed up his hair. The ESPN reporter was there, too, shoving a microphone in his face for the victory interview.
This was to be a fine, little moment for the Husker head football coach.
Then, an Abbott and Costello routine broke out and stole the show.
The mayhem took place with two seconds left in Wednesday night’s Alamo Bowl game between Nebraska and Michigan, a game that will now assume a place in college football lore.
The Huskers won 32-28 only after a final play that lasted 43 seconds in real time, featured a pass, seven laterals, a fumble, 100 players on the field at once and nowhere-to-be seen officials or flags. All that was missing was a Stanford trombone player.
With the Wolverines trailing by four at their 36-yard line, Chad Henne took the game’s last snap. He made a short pass to Jason Avant, who started a lateral lovefest that eventually had Michigan backtracked all the way to its 21.
“I was at the bars, and everyone cheered real loudly right then. We all thought it was over,” said Emily Osberg, who works at Husker Headquarters. “But it was bizarre. (Tyler Ecker kept running) down the field and no one was tackling him. It got real quiet. Even when they showed the highlights, everyone was real quiet.”
Many Nebraska players, like their fans, thought Michigan running back Mike Hart had gone down with the ball, ending the game. The entire Husker team ran onto the field to celebrate. The party was premature.
Hart never touched his knee to the ground while the Wolverines began to advance the ball down the field amid a mass of chaos and unconcerned Huskers.
Daniel Bullocks, as good a Husker as he’s been, walked right past Ecker at midfield as he ran for what would have been a game-winning touchdown.
“I’m thinking, ‘What’s this guy doing running?’” said Husker defensive end Jay Moore. “Thank God, Zack (Bowman) was there to knock him out.”
Indeed, the Huskers were only saved by the alert play of Bowman and Titus Brothers — who finally chased down Ecker 13 yards from the end zone and Husker embarrassment. Brothers, a San Antonio native, stuck to his job of protecting the end zone despite the madness in front of him.
“It was a la Cal-Stanford,” said Callahan, making reference to the famed 1982 game in which California lateraled the football seven times on a last-second kickoff, eventually scoring a game-winning touchdown while traversing the Stanford band. “I didn’t even see the end of the play.”
The truth is, Callahan was wiping the water from his eyes, standing at midfield — and by midfield, we mean the actual midfield where the logo is — ready to do an interview with ESPN sideline reporter Erin Andrews.
“We won, I guess,” Callahan told Andrews.
On Thursday, Callahan joked, “I think ESPN gets a penalty, too.”
Many observers would have thrown a flag at the officials, a Sun Belt Conference crew that took a lot of heat for a shaky performance, mostly from Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr.
The Sun Belt includes Arkansas State and Troy, which will face the Huskers next season.
So what kind of penalties might have been called had Ecker gone in for the score?
Scott Gaines, a college, high school and NFL Europe official from Lincoln, said the officials could have called both teams for interference and given offsetting penalties, allowing Michigan one more offensive play from the MU 36 with no time left.
If Nebraska was the only team penalized for having too many players on the field or for interference, it would be up to the official to determine the penalty.
Gaines said options for the officials would have included:
— Penalize only Nebraska and award Michigan a 15-yard penalty from the end of the play (which would have been the 7, because of the half-the-distance-to-the-goal-line rule).
— Penalize the Wolverines, the Huskers decline the penalty and the game is over.
— Call illegal-participation penalties on both teams and replay the final play from the MU 36.
— Penalize Nebraska and declare a touchdown for Michigan.
— Don’t call anything, run off the field and leave plenty of speculation the next day.
As great as the win was for Nebraska, Misty’s bartender Kelly Morrison knew the final play was the thing the rest of the country would be talking about. For heaven’s sake, CNN is airing it.
“That play is something we’re going to be seeing forever,” she said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to live it down.”
Staff writers Ken Hambleton and Steven M. Sipple contributed to this report.
Reach Brian Christopherson at 473-7438 or email@example.com.
It was 62 yards in 43 seconds
On the final play of the Alamo Bowl, Michigan had the ball and trailed 32-28 with two seconds left. The Wolverines had the ball at their 35-yard line. What followed was a hook-and-lateral play that lasted 43 seconds of real time and featured seven laterals. Here’s how it unfolded:
1. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne (7) takes the snap in the shotgun formation and throws to Jason Avant (8) at the Michigan 45.
2. Avant laterals immediately to Steve Breaston (15), who trailed the play, at the Michigan 46.
3. Breaston runs to the Nebraska 46, where he encounters Husker defenders Lance Brandenburgh (40) and Corey McKeon (13). Breaston jumps and throws backward to Michael Hart (20) at the Nebraska 47.
4. Hart immediately laterals straight backward to Avant at the Nebraska 49.
5. Avant backpedals to the Michigan 47 and throws across his body to Mario Manningham (86) on the left sideline at the Michigan 45.
6. Manningham cuts across the field to his right, faking a pitch in the center of the field at the Michigan 40, circles to the Michigan 36 and laterals to Avant at the Michigan 33.
7. Avant again backpedals, this time with Nebraska’s Brandenburgh and Titus Adams (96) in pursuit. At the Michigan 28, Avant throws across his body, trying to hit Mark Bihl (54) in the center of the field at the Michigan 26.
8. Bihl can’t control the throw when he is hit by NU’s Blake Tiedtke (25), the ball comes loose and is recovered by Hart at the Michigan 21. Hart picks it up, goes upfield to the Michigan 25, then cuts to his right, where he is met by onrushing NU defenders.
9. Hart laterals to Tyler Ecker at the Michigan 23. Ecker sprints to his right at an angle toward the right sideline, with Breaston a yard back and just off Ecker’s right shoulder. Ecker goes down the sideline until he is knocked out of bounds at the Nebraska 13 by Zackary Bowman (1) and Titus Brothers (21).