Heading into the 1971 Orange Bowl, 10-0-1 and third-ranked Nebraska needed a lot of help to lay claim to its first national championship. But the Huskers got just what they needed as No. 1 Texas fell to Notre Dame and second-ranked Ohio State lost to Stanford.

The day was a blur until everybody got on the buses to go from the Fountainebleu to the old Orange Bowl stadium New Years night 1971.

"Everybody knew Texas had lost and we're all trying to follow the Rose Bowl when we get on the buses," said Don Bryant, Nebraska sports information director at the time. "Sure enough, we get stuck in traffic. We're sitting there. Sitting there. And finally Eddie Periard, our middle guard, stands up and screams, 'Let's get this damn bus going.' Everybody laughed, and yet you could tell there was some tension."

The Huskers got taped, sat in pregame meetings and dressed to go on the field.

"We didn't know the final of the Rose Bowl (No. 2 Ohio State and Stanford) but Fox (Bryant) kept checking the score for us because Monte Kiffin wanted to know," said linebacker Jerry Murtaugh, a co-captain.

Kiffin, the defensive coordinator for the Huskers, finally got the final score, Stanford 27, Ohio State 17. He told his defensive players they had the game of their lives coming up.

Head coach Bob Devaney told the entire team the opportunity to win a national title was on the line against Louisiana State.

"We got a 10-0 lead and it was going pretty good," quarterback Jerry Tagge said. "But we had some mistakes and LSU took the lead at the end of the third quarter. On our second possession of the fourth quarter, Coach Devaney told me we had to have something ... now."

With NU down 12-10, Tagge engineered a 67-yard drive, sparked by two big runs by Jeff Kinney. Tagge then dove over center Doug Dumler and reached his arms across the goal line with 8:50 left to give NU the lead.

"The fans were going nuts," Bryant said. "We're No. 1 and all that. We have a great defensive effort to win and the fans got even louder. There was pandemonium in the locker room. The Walter Camp Foundation people wanted to make a presentation of the national championship trophy and Devaney said, 'We're busy right now. Where were you guys the last month?' Then somebody asked if Nebraska was No. 1 and Devaney said, 'Even the pope would have to vote us No. 1,' in reference to a chance Notre Dame might get No. 1 because it beat UPI regular-season champ Texas.

"So they waited. We got the trophy. We got named the national champs by the football writers, too. But it wasn't until Tuesday morning AP writers voted us No. 1."

NU team captain Dan Schneiss said everybody was confident of being No. 1 but nobody was sure.

"We just kind of knew, but we couldn't celebrate yet," he said.

Four days later, The Associated Press made Nebraska No. 1.

"It changed a lot of things because it put Nebraska up a step that it had never been before," Bryant said. "Our mailings increased. Interview requests went way up. People were calling and asking for interviews with our All-American candidates.

"And, unknown to all of us, it was the start of the most remarkable run of success in football anybody could imagine. All those years of winning seasons, bowl games, four more national championships and about four more championship games.

"It was the start of something bigger than any of us could dream of."

Reach Ken Hambleton at 402-473-7313 or khambleton@journalstar.com.