Turner Gill initially didn't want to be interviewed.

The former Nebraska quarterback had rehashed hundreds of times that heart-wrenching Monday night in Miami in January 1984.

Three decades later, Gill hesitated to do it again.

Jon Frankel, dutiful journalist that he is, kept pressing Gill. Frankel received some help from Tom Osborne, and Gill acquiesced.

He recently relived the 31-30 loss to the Miami Hurricanes in the 50th Orange Bowl, and how he misfired on the two-point conversion pass to Jeff Smith.

"Turner takes full responsibility (in the interview)," said Frankel, a New York City-based producer/director who is creating a documentary film for ESPN, set to air sometime in November.

Frankel strikes me as an enthusiastic and thoughtful storyteller.

"Gill said, 'I missed the throw. I just missed the throw,'" Frankel said. "He said, 'That's the moment you want, and I missed it. I didn't execute it. If the throw's 4 inches the other way, we're 13-0 and national champs.'"

ESPN, beginning in November, will air a series of films leading to the first four-team college football playoff. The 1984 Orange Bowl film, which will be 30 minutes in duration, will focus on why Osborne went for two instead of going for the tie.

ESPN essentially wanted "good college football stories," Frankel told me Tuesday. Yeah, this one probably qualifies, buoyed by the fact Nebraska happens to play Miami this coming season, Sept. 20 in Lincoln.

I like that Frankel grasps the big picture. Why indeed did Osborne go for two? The legendary coach said back then, "Football is a game, and you play games to win. It never entered my head (to kick the point-after)." He wanted a clear-cut championship.

It was a bit more than that, though, Frankel said. In his research, he came to understand Nebraskans' strong sense of right and wrong, and the importance they place on integrity in all aspects of life. Yes, including football.

"ESPN said we want to ask the question, 'Why did Tom Osborne make that decision?'" Frankel said. "The short answer is: There never was a decision."

Nebraskans like to see themselves in Osborne, the Hastings native. Of course, they supported the coach's call.

"Nebraska lost the game, but did it with honor," said Frankel, getting to the essence. "Ultimately, that means more than what the scoreboard says."

Frankel, who has produced for HBO Real Sports since 2006, remembers the game well. But he admits he remembered the game's fallout incorrectly. He erroneously thought there was a significant amount of heated second-guessing of Osborne's decision. There in fact wasn't much at all — not even from the national media. Frankel now understands why.

Of course, he found nary a dissenter among the ex-Nebraska players he interviewed for the film.

He interviewed the entire starting offensive line, including the interior linemen — guards Harry Grimminger and Dean Steinkuhler and center Mark Traynowicz — simultaneously. Frankel thought that was the only way he would get Steinkuhler to agree to an interview. Steinkuhler long has been reluctant to talk to media.

The loss hit big Dean hard. He told Frankel he remembers his missed blocks in that game more than anything else.

Mark Behning, an offensive tackle in '83, drove to Lincoln from Texas on his own dime to be interviewed for the film.

Frankel interviewed Osborne in Memorial Stadium on a 10-degree January day. Osborne wore neither gloves nor a scarf, but never once complained during filming.

At one point, Frankel said, "We wanted to move across the field, and the great coach Tom Osborne carried the camera for us. I think I even took a photograph with my cellphone of him doing that because I was just so touched."

Frankel has a scheduled interview with Mike Rozier on Wednesday in New Jersey.

The producer doesn't anticipate getting to interview Irving Fryar, in part because of Fryar's recent legal issues. Frankel left messages for Fryar at his church in New Jersey. Frankel had Gill reach out to Fryar. Osborne reached out as well, as did Rozier. To no avail.

Fryar's hesitancy also might be because he had a rough game, including the inexplicable dropped pass on the final drive, when he burst between defenders into wide-open space … to no avail.

Jeff Smith, of course, followed with a touchdown off a gorgeous option pitch to pull Nebraska to 31-30, setting up a scenario worthy of a documentary 30 years later.

Former Husker offensive line coach Cletus Fischer said something that sticks with Frankel.

"He said you'll never remember the games you won at Nebraska because you're going to win so many of them. He said, 'The only games you'll remember are the ones you lost. And what do you think about? The one we lost.'"

In this case, though, we also acutely remember the honor and sense of right that accompanied defeat.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.​


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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