Published Wednesday, November 16, 2011 AT 10:09 AM / Updated at 5:56 PM
Dirk’s Brunch Bites, Nov. 16
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

Let’s start with “Time Travel,” the weekly feature that highlights an old article (often from the World-Herald archives). This excerpt is not from the World-Herald. This is from the Los Angeles Times, January 1998.

I include it because Nebraska plays Michigan on Saturday. The two are linked by the 1997 season, when they split the national title.

If you don’t remember, the Wolverines had a commanding lead in both polls entering the bowls. But Michigan barely edged Washington State, Nebraska smoked Tennessee and 23 of 62 coaches changed their vote, giving NU enough for a share of the national title (Nebraska finished with 32 votes, Michigan 30).

Had 21 coaches — not 23 — changed their vote, Nebraska would’ve fallen short. Sonny Lubick, then-Colorado State coach, was one of the 23:

“I heard a sportscaster say no way the AP poll was going to change because it was something like 68 first-place votes to one,” Lubick said back then. “As I watched Nebraska play last night and saw their team out there, I felt like I had to vote for Nebraska and hopefully they could get a tie in this thing.”

“Winning the game was going to be good enough … it didn’t matter how bad or by how much. It would have been a crime for either team to go 12-0 or 13-0 and not be (national champs).”

ABC announcer Keith Jackson said Southern coaches miffed by the Heisman snub of Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning may have been a factor in the national championship vote.

“The Southern bloc of voters voted for Tom Osborne because they were still mumbling down in the South about Charles Woodson winning the Heisman Trophy,” Jackson said. “I think it’s a carryover from that — whether that’s right or wrong.”

Personally, I have always valued the AP poll more than the coaches’ poll. It’s not because I’m a journalist, it’s because coaches have very little time to watch other games during the season. Too often, I think their votes are dictated by personal relationships. Having said that, I thought Nebraska was better than Michigan in ’97. (Of course, I was a 16-year-old growing up in Nebraska, so I was a little biased).

Anyway, check out this excerpt from LA Times columnist Chris Dufresne after the coaches’ vote:

Dear coaches: You whistle-blowing, clipboard-toting, poll-caving, sentimentalist saps. Here all these years we thought you were holed up nights watching opponent film when it’s obvious the tapes in those video recorders had to be “Love Story.”

Got a stray puppy?

Send it along to the 32 coaches who voted Nebraska No. 1 in Saturday’s final USA Today-ESPN coaches’ poll. Those mush-hearts couldn’t refuse it. You should see these guys at coaching conventions, sneaking off with their tissue boxes to watch John Tesh replays of great Olympic gymnastic moments.

Can you believe the coaches fell for it, all that CBS-produced, soft-focused campaigning for Nebraska? It was Tom Osborne’s last game, set to orchestral music – “You’ve just got to vote him a share of the national title” blah, blah, blah.

Listen, nothing against Nebraska, which beat up pretty good on gimpy-kneed quarterback Peyton Manning and the Tennessee Volunteers, or perhaps you didn’t notice how fast able-bodied Tennessee backup quarterback Tee Martin drove his team for a score late in the game.

Once again, the coaches got it wrong.

The whole national-title question might have been settled had CBS and coaches’ poll partner ESPN posed this simple question in the great Michigan-Nebraska debate:

How many games did Michigan win this season on a last-second play in which its receiver dropped a ball in his opponent’s end zone but, as he was falling down, miraculously kicked it in the air — illegally, the player acknowledged — only to have a teammate snatch it for a touchdown before it hit the ground?

Fourteen years later, it strikes me how emotional the Michigan-Nebraska debate was, even for those not directly involved. I’m curious. What do you remember about the critical bowl games of 1998 and subsequent votes. Do you think coaches like Lubick made the right call?

* * *

>> With Arkansas moving up in the rankings, it means LSU and the Hogs will likely both be in the top-6 when they meet in Baton Rouge on Nov. 25. If LSU wins, it will have beaten three top-6 opponents in a regular season. (Oregon was 3rd, Alabama was 2nd). If the Tigers win it all, that’s another elite team. I wonder how many teams in college football history have beaten four top-six teams in one year.

>> Case Keenum and Brandon Weeden. Who is having the better season?

Keenum: 3,951 yards, 39 touchdowns, three INT, 193.3 rating
Weeden: 3,635 yards, 31 touchdowns, nine INT, 164.2 rating

Typically, you go with the guy playing in the BCS league. But have you seen Big 12 defenses lately?

>> A long two-part profile on Kirk Herbstreit. He has talked to Urban Meyer about being Meyer’s quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator someday.

>> A column about Coach K, the General, a broken record and a complex relationship.

>> I meant to post some links and thoughts on Penn State this morning, but I’m going to wait another day or so. I do want to link a few stories. Last summer, Joe Paterno transferred ownership of his house to his wife. Lawyers interviewed by the New York Times disagree on Paterno’s potential motives.

>> And one more from State College. Now Mike McQueary says he DID talk to police.

>> Franco Harris was a spokesman for a race track and casino…until he spoke out against Paterno’s firing. The track apparently fired him.

>> Don’t forget “Husker Insider” tonight at 6 p.m. on 1620 The Zone. Matt Schick and I are live at The Loose Moose on 120th and Fort Streets. We give away prizes, talk Nebraska-Michigan and dodge flying pizza from the crowd. You can listen on your radio or come join the fun.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at


  1. Mark Champion says:

    I remember the 97 year very well. Nebraska was ranked no 1 until the Missouri game and Matt Davidson’s catch. Nebraska got jumped in the polls because of that. I will always maintain that Nebraska would have beaten Mich in a head to head every time. You can talk about the coach’s poll being soft but I think the AP pole was soft for Michigan in that they had only one national championship since the polls began and most of their games were close. I was at the Iowa at Mich game that year and saw them live, they were not as good as Neb, this weekend will be my second trip to the big house. Michigan claims a lot of titles all but two are before 1935 the year the AP poll started. Another interesting thing that could of happened that year was that Osborne had an chance to play Ohio State in Columbus but it was a one game only deal and Osborne turned it down. If Neb had gone to Columbus and beaten John Cooper’s team, which they would have, there would never have been a tied national championship just like 95 when Penn State was undefeated.

    Your comment about playing top ten teams was done by Nebraska in 1971. I believe this will never happen again where the top team beat the 2,3, & 4 teams in the same year. Final AP poll in 1971 1) Nebraska, 2) Oklahoma, 3) Colorado, 4) Alabama. This is part of why a lot of people consider the Nebraska 1971 team the greatest of all time.

    1. NUCORNDEVIL says:

      great take

    2. JG says:

      Mark Champion – Totally agree with the “why” is the 71 team the GOAT and why the 95 team to me is second, beating 4 top 10 teams that actually ended up in the top 10.

  2. Brian says:

    I remember thinking I wished we would have played Michigan and killed them. I also remember the argument of We are #1 and we won so therefore we should stay #1, which of course would beg the question, Nebraska was #1 when it beat Mizzou, and Michigan benefited from the same logic and subjective views which vaulted NU back to a share in the end. At the end of the day, a playoff is the only way to end such ridiculous arguments we have every year which is the figure skating style BCS selection.

    1. Michael says:

      Yes. Everybody knows the 2011 NCAA basketball tournament definitively proved UConn was the best team in the country, Butler was second best, and Virginia Commonwealth was tied for third. Nothing to debate there.

  3. Red McGee says:

    The coaches absolutely made the right call in voting the ’97 Huskers national champions. I seem to recall that in the Rose Bowl Washington State had a running back (last name Black???) that was running through them like butter unitl he got injured in the first half. If Michigan couldn’t stop the run against Washington State, there’s no way the could have stopped Nebraska.

  4. Scott says:

    I remember Michigan sneaking by a Washington St. team (21-16, I think) and the ref robbing Wash St. at the end with a controversial call. (Leaf spiked the ball but the ref said time ran out.) So, NU soundly beating a #3 Tennessee team with loads of NFL talent showed NU was a lot stronger than the Wolverines getting a controversial call to end a comeback bid by Wash St..

  5. Johnny Vegas says:

    Nu would have been an 8 pt fav if NU would have played UM….. and i live in vegas!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Skytown J says:

    I vividly recall Scott Frost’s passionate postgame speech. It was entirely logical. And maybe it did inflence some voters. But whether some writer thinks one way, or some coach thinks another way regarding who should be “voted #1″, is pointless. Voting for a champion is absurd. And anyone who has a problem with whoever gets voted #1 should either just shut up, or start making more noise about instituting a playoff. The arguments against are mostly ludicrous when you really think about them.

    1. JP in Omaha says:

      It’s funny how few people didn’t hear at the time – or fail to remember – the LOGIC Scott Frost shared in his speech after the game. Most only remember/reported the “passionate plea” to “give a gift to a retiring man”. I’ve always felt Frost’s logic, reminding coaches Not in Pac10 or Big 10 they HAD to vote for Nebraska because this was THEIR National Championship game.

      If I remember correctly, 1996 was the first “Bowl Alliance” game – where all the confences (except Pac10 & Big10) agreed to break bowl ties to have the best two teams play each other – allowing Nebraska (Tied to Orange) vs. Florida (Tied to Sugar) to play in Fiesta. The Coaches Trophy was awarded to the winner of this game. It just so happened on the previous 2 occassions, both AP & Coaches agreed the 2 teams playing in these games were 1 & 2 in the polls – so winner was #1 in both polls.

      ’97 an effort was made to have Michigan v. Nebraska in bowl game – but Big10 would not break ties with Rose Bowl. Orange Bowl had #2 NU play next highest ranked team not in Pac10 or Big10, #3 Tennessee. The debate was back-and-forth all December MU or NU – Husker fans bought “Washington State Fans for a Day” t-shirts – but no talking head phrased/caught the logic Frost presented.

      Summarizing his comments as I remember them: The Coaches National Championship is to be awarded to the team that won the game pitting the top 2 teams. Your obligation does not change because 2 conferences don’t want to participate in your Bowl Alliance. A vote should be cast for Nebraska for winning this game set up by the Bowl Alliance (SEC winner was tied to Sugar bowl UNLESS playing in Bowl Alliance Championship Game) – and to send a message to the 2 conferences they should have joined BA 3 years ago. A vote for Michigan is a vote against having a Bowl Alliance Championship Game.

      I’ve always felt it was the “obligation” arguement that led to most coaches switching their vote (I was/am shocked more didn’t switch) This same “obligation” pushed AP voters into feeling they had to vote for Michigan to ensure both teams were rewarded and re-iterated the need for the National Champion to be crowned on the field – not opinion polls.

      Personal Opinion – Nebraska would have pounded Michigan. It’s true today, was true then – mobile QB are tough to stop and give NU fits. Coby Jones, T-Martin – mobile. Griese – would have been punished just like Peyton, Wuerffel and all other drop-back passers we played during the mid-to-late 90′s. Michigan’s Defense MAY have held Nebraska to around 30 if they had played, but MU wouldn’t have scored more than 17 – and they only score that many if Woodson scores on special teams.

  7. Look at the stats and power ratings. Nebraska would have demolished Michigan worse than the Vols.

  8. JG says:

    12 games for 97 Michigan scored an avg. 26.83 against an avg. 9.5, 14.33 avg. margin of V.

    13 games for 97 NU scored an avg. 46.69 against an avg. 16.46, 30.23 avg. margin of V.

  9. NUCORNDEVIL says:

    finally…….people are beginning to wake up to these Moonies from Mooney, were getting closer :)

    1. Seriously? says:

      I’m surprised that the Callahan (stop, spit) kool aid hangover has lasted so long.

  10. Jeremy says:

    That year, Michigan had the #1 defense, but only something like the #44 offense in the country. Nebraska was in the top five in both offense and defense. My guess is that Nebraska’s D would have pretty well stuffed Michigan, and their offense would have been able to put up at least enough points to win the game.

  11. Husker23 says:

    “Personally, I have always valued the AP poll more than the coaches’ poll. ”
    Is it just me or is this the most ridiculous statement of the article? I’d take a coaches opinion over a journalist’s opinion 100 times out of 100.
    If coaches could choose the Heisman winners, Suh and Frazier would rightfully both have one today.

  12. Terry Darnall says:

    A good friend was from Michigan, and that Saturday morning when it was annouced that NU had won the Coach’s poll by two points! I saw him later that day and he was was so ticked! How could they put Nebraska ahead of Michigan? The Big Ten is so superior to the Big 8 or 12? I don’t remember when the change came? I will never forget how mad Michigan fans were. And logically NU was a much better team. They beat the no. 3 team Tennessee badly. Michigan barely beat Washington St. who were no. 8 or something. I wish the two could have played, it would not have been close. Tennessee could have beaten Michigan. I just hope NU can do it again?

  13. HuskerDave says:

    People who talk about coaches being sentimental softies during the 1997 season are forgetting that Michigan’s QB was a young man named Brian Griese – who just happened to be the son of Bob Griese, TV commentator for the game (and an AP poll voter)! It’s pretty pathetic to accuse coaches of using their personal relationships to vote for a favorite, when Bob is basically selling his kid’s magazine subscriptions at work.

    1. HuskerDave says:

      I nearly forgot.. after that 1997 season, my parents ran into several Michigan players in Hawai’i who were there for the Pro Bowl. Those players said, in no subtle way, that they had NOT wanted to meet Nebraska on the field. Even they knew the Huskers were the more dominant team.

  14. Bob says:

    About beating 4 top teams – the ’95 Huskers beat 4 teams that ended up with 10 or more victories that year. With only an 11 game schedule plus the bowl game, a 10 win season was pretty elite for that era. It was the only time in history that a team defeated that many 10 win teams.

  15. Matt in MN says:

    OK, the comment I would have to have taken issue with at the time was this ridiculous statement (which discredits this writer a decent amount in my opinion):

    “Listen, nothing against Nebraska, which beat up pretty good on gimpy-kneed quarterback Peyton Manning and the Tennessee Volunteers, or perhaps you didn’t notice how fast able-bodied Tennessee backup quarterback Tee Martin drove his team for a score late in the game.”

    I was at that Orange Bowl and watched Ahman Green and Scott Frost run roughshod over Tennessee while the blackshirts stymied Peyton Manning from the get-go. It was total domination all the way around. I don’t remember anyone ever questioning Manning’s health at the time, and to suggest that a late garbage-time touchdown by Tee Martin against NU’s 3rd stringers (the score was 42-9 at that point mind you) held any significance in that game is laughable. Pretty sure that Peyton Manning is well on his way to being an NFL Hall of Famer, and the guy was pretty healthy going into that game. Not sure where Tee Martin is now.

    As a matter of fact, one could make the same argument for how unimpressive Michigan’s win over Washington State was in the Orange Bowl. Tennessee was the #3 team in the country and I don’t believe WSU was even in the top 10 (and was lead by none other than Ryan Leaf). NU beats the #3 team by 25, while Michigan goes down to the last play against a team ranked outside the top 10. Of course, anyone who argues that UM played better against common opponents (Colorado and Baylor) would be correct, and the last-play finish against Mizzou certainly was a knock against the Huskers.

    One of the more interesting points to me, was that Vegas oddsmakers, when asked after both games what the spread would be in a head-to-head matchup between the two teams, said NU would be favored by 10-14 points. Tough to argue against that one, but of course that would have guaranteed a Nebraska victory either.

    Point being, there were arguments both ways, and I thought things ended up exactly as they should have. Both teams deserved a share of the title, and it’s an absolute crime to this day that they couldn’t have met on the field. Of course, that year was the impetus for changing the “Bowl Alliance” to the BCS that’s used today.

  16. Matt in MN says:

    One more thing–ABC/ESPN had the Rose Bowl that year, while CBS had the Orange Bowl. Some argued at the time that the reason Peyton Manning didn’t win the Heisman, was that ABC/ESPN had started campaigning for Charles Woodson and Michigan back in November of that year in order to have both the Heisman winner and the national champion in the Rose Bowl on their network. Which makes this joker’s argument about CBS playing the sentimental card for T.O. even more laughable. If CBS did do that, it was probably in response to the media blitz put on by ABC/ESPN.

  17. William Harrington says:

    Dirk your argument that coaches only see a few games is laughable. By the end of the season, which is when the UM/NU debate raged, most of these coaches would have seen both teams on film dozens if not hundreds of times.

    To say that the media sees a bunch of games when they’re covering a contest is laughable too. Writers show up several hours before kickoff and leave several hours after. The press has their nose buried in their notebooks and laptops and catches glimpses of other games. You all catch a few highlights just like the coaches. None of you sits thru an entire 14 hours of football on a Saturday, unless you work for ESPN and even then they ignore half of what transpires on the late West Coast games. You rely on the biased coverage from other media outlets around the country to shape your opinion, along with your own bias too. With that said the coaches and their “relationships” with their peers is not dissimilar in that regard.

    While I appreciate the media for attempting to keep these coaches accountable (because they do dole out some bologna), to say that the media is more informed about how good or bad a team is is once again laughable compared to what football coaches see.

  18. Big Shoulders says:

    Both Nebraska and Michigan deserved national championships that year. To me, there is no controversy. There is nothing anybody can say, on either side of the debate, that can definitely prove one team was better than the other in 1997. With no title game, it would have been a shame if either had been denied a share of the championship. Neither team lost a game. Nebraska had a more powerful offense, Michigan a stouter defense. Each team was better than the other at different points during the season. Both played in power conferences. Michigan had a close call against Washington St.; Nebraska had one against Missouri. The Huskers struggled against Colorado, then obliterated Texas A&M in the conference title game. You can slice and dice this argument a hundred different ways, and the Michigan fans will insist the Wolverines deserved it, and Nebraska fans that the Huskers deserved it. Each team can proudly and truthfully state it was 1997 National Champions, and what’s wrong with that?

  19. Laura says:

    Your LA times columnist may not have been “directly involved”, but his beat was the PAC-10. He could hardly claim to be unbiased.

    At that time, everyone else was lined up in pre-BCS agreement that the top two teams should meet…excerpt those arrogant twits from the Big 10 and the PAC 10. They just couldn’t imagine anything being more important than their precious Rose Bowl. As far as I was concerned, unless the #1 & #2 teams were playing in the Rose Bowl, those two teams gave up their right to claim superiority over anyone else. Michigan, by way of the Big 10 took themselves out of consideration. It was poetic justice that we got the really cool trophy.

    In 1997 I was on year 4 of 8 spent in Iowa. Add to that the 8 years before then when I lived in Michigan. After 16 years in Big 10 country, I was so sick of that conference. Boy did I ever have to work on an attitude adjustment when I learned that we were joining it!

    One more thing I remember from that night. I stayed up late to see how the coaches would vote. I was pleased both by the result and to hear the people in the background at ESPN applaud and cheer when Nebraska was announced as #1.

  20. bob jones says:

    I saw after the season that vegas made Nebraska a 7 1/2 pt favorite. One of the things that really irritated me and I thought showed a lack of class, was seeing Lloyd Carr in an interview after they were announced champions in the first poll, lobby hard to win the coaches poll, a completely classless moment, that was rivaled by letting Bob Griese call Michigan’s games all year, he had an awful lot of nice things to say about their QB. Also, coaches are doing one thing during the season, getting ready for their next opponent, I’ve heard, over the years, dozens if not hundreds of times, that they often give the responsibility of filling out their ballot to someone else, I’ve heard that directly from coaches before.With the extremely long hours they put in during the season, it’s not hard to understand that they are not going to spend much time looking at teams whose paths they will not cross that season. Michigan may have had a higher rated defense that year, but I’d still take the Wistrom and Peter lead defense of Nebraska every time, some very serious guys. Anyway, a lot of great memories about some very good teams and players.

  21. John Rino says:

    First off, of course both teams deserved the title in 1997. However, couldn’t believe how much writers and the typical fan were against Nebraska and for Michigan. It’s true that Nebraska was very lucky against Missouri, and I think journalists in Big Ten country were mad about the Lions getting shut out in 1994 (a travesty to be sure). It’s also true that Michigan had several squeakers of their own that year such as Notre Dame, Iowa, and Ohio State, before giving up tons of yards to Washington State. Without the Missouri game, there’s no reason to think Michigan is even Nebraska’ equal. What really bothered me was that the majority of AP voters DIDN’T EVEN WATCH THE ORANGE BOWL. The title was Michigan’s to lose from the NU-Mizzou game forward. Where was this journalistic righteousness in 1990 when a 11-1-1 Colorado team that needed a 5th down and a phantom clip penalty in the orange Bowl got a split with an UNBEATEN Ga Tech team? Or when FSU got the title over Notre Dame in 1993, despite Notre Dame beating the Noles?

    Anyone who doesn’t think that National Titles were once based on whose alumni were most prominent, screeched the loudest, and convinced the most journalists to vote for them is fooling themselves

  22. dave says:

    1997 Nebraska would have destroyed 1997 Michigan. I understand Michigan was upset because they hadn’t won a national championship for like 50 years, or whatever, while Nebraska had won two of the previous three years, with 1997 making three MNCs. I wasn’t a fan either of Bob Griese swooning on his qb son out during the Rose bowl broadcast, nor Lloyd Carr whining about the rankings. At any rate, I got most of the Michigan animosity out of my system in 2005 when we beat them in the Gator Bowl.

    1. NUCORNDEVIL says:

      Nebraska’s 2nd string would have beaten Misery in 1997

  23. Analytical says:

    I also believe that NU would have pounded UM in 1997 had they played. If only Tressel had taken over for John Cooper a bit earlier, Ohio State would have rolled Michigan and we wouldn’t have this debate. If anyone remembers the OSU/UM game that year OSU ran straight at Michigan and probably averaged 5-6 yards/carry against the vaunted UM D. Then inexplicably they would call a pass play, get sacked, and then be in a must pass situation which was doomed for a punt 2 plays later. Tressel would have ran down Michigan’s throat all day long. Plus UM scored 3 touchdowns, 1 on a pick 6 and 1 on a punt return. UM had less than 200 yards of offense. This is also the majority of my argument for NU beating UM. If OSU could run all over Michigan what do you think NU would have done? Plus, Michigan’s offense was mediocre offense. WSU gave up 25 points/game in 1997 but Michigan could only manage 21? I’m not going to argue that Washington State would have scored if they had a chance to run one more play (which they should have had) because they were about 30 yards out, but they should have gotten a chance.

    1. dave says:

      Agreed. UM had Charles Woodson, and he had the game of his life at OSU. Without looking it up, I think it was he who score both that pick-6 and punt return.

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