There are 11,554 alumni of the University of Nebraska now living in the state of California, according to the school's very specific census. Of these, nearly 4,000 make their homes in the Los Angeles area alone, among them the ones who came to a football game Saturday at Pasadena to feast their eyes on a team that was fattening up on opponents at a rate of 63 points a game.
What they saw was a team that scraped together 14 points--one more than UCLA, which has now lost its opening two games for the first time since 1971. Fans of the eighth-ranked Cornhuskers went home disappointed at not winning by more. Fans of the not-ranked Bruins went home discouraged at being beaten twice by a total of three points.
A strong UCLA effort?
Yet even the compliments came out less than flattering.
"You've got to understand something," Nebraska's All-American linebacker, Trev Alberts, who seemed to be in on every tackle, attempted to explain afterward. "This is like a bowl game to them (UCLA). This is their season."
UCLA's treadmill of a football program is now 23-23-1 over the last five seasons, with 10 of these mighty conquests coming over the likes of San Diego State, Oregon, Oregon State and Cal State Fullerton. Nothing in the world could have juiced Bruin morale like an upset of a feared and respected campus bully such as Nebraska, which for a couple of periods Saturday found itself really getting its corn husked.
As red as roses, fans of Nebraska came to the Rose Bowl dressed for success, camping out and cheering hard. From beautiful downtown Lincoln, the football team brought along a mascot the size of a New Year's Day float, a heavyweight championship backfield made up of a quarterback named Frazier and a wingback named Muhammad, a coach three shy of 200 victories and a reputation for landing players right here from UCLA's talent pool.
"To us, this was like another home game," quarterback Tommie Frazier said. "Look how many people we had here. This is like our second back yard."
Sure enough, after the explosive Nebraska offense kept committing turnovers and after Frazier could complete no more than three passes to any of his receivers, including Abdul Muhammad, the capable junior from Compton, to whom did the team eventually turn? To Lawrence Phillips, a third-string freshman from West Covina, who had pretty much expected to simply come along for the ride.
"To carry for over 100 yards, that's pretty unbelievable," Phillips said.
To be exact, 139.
"All I really wanted to do was not fumble," he said.
Instead, what the man from West Covina did in Pasadena was make the day of every red-blooded, red-shirted Cornhusker in the crowd. An alum can get fairly spoiled when the old alma mater has mass-produced running backs of the stature of Roger Craig, Mike Rozier and Tom Rathman, not to forget the gloriously named I.M. Hipp, but this is an I-formation that Phillips can now proudly place himself behind.
Nebraska first had to contain a UCLA rusher before finding one of its own. The game all but began with a 53-yard zigzag by Bruin freshman Skip Hicks, who has stardom written all over him. But a great break came the Big Red's way when a holding call wiped out Hicks' touchdown.
This was one of several booby traps that blew up in the Bruins' faces. There was the nine-yard sack that quarterback Wayne Cook took that pushed a field-goal attempt 53 yards away from the crossbar--fatally, as things turned out. There also was a facemask rap against Marvin Goodwin that gave the visitors a reprieve from punting and resulted minutes later in Nebraska's game-winning touchdown.
For UCLA, taking satisfaction from one-point defeats must be--had better be--distasteful. Not since the lose-tie-lose-lose start of 1983 has any Terry Donahue team begun this badly, and not in 22 years has any UCLA team been 0-2 after two games. A "What's Wrong With UCLA?" national television segment that aired Saturday morning could have been much more easily laughed off had the Bruins gotten the better of Nebraska.
Instead, UCLA now needs to beat San Diego State for the fifth time in five years simply to feel victorious again.
Worst-case scenario, the team won't average 63 points per game.
"Not necessarily," a Nebraska linebacker, Barron Miles, said with a winner's smile. "Maybe we'll score 100 next week."