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Nebraska 31, Tennessee 21, Fiesta Bowl

To appreciate Sunday's decisive victory over the fifth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers, one must look deep, deep inside the numbers. The Almighty Nebraska Cornhuskers, champions of the Big 12 conference, rang up key scores on a colossal punt return by Duke Newcombe (jersey No. 12) and a 12-yard pass to Aaron Golliday. Meanwhile, the heart and soul of the '99 team, the Blackshirts, played like they had 12 men on the field all night. Hey, maybe they actually did... by putting the clamps on the Volunteers, they gave their wise, guiding hand -- Mr. Charlie McBride -- a hard-hitting going-away present: Victory No. 12.

A few final takes:

TAKE TWO: Fearing a Tennessee comeback at halftime right after the Vols scored to cut the Husker lead to 17-7, I decided to pop in a video tape of NU's win over UT in the 1998 Orange Bowl for some positive mojo. For the next 70 minutes or so, my television set showed images of large red-clad men pushing a tiring Volunteer defense around the field. Funny thing is, my VCR isn't Y2K ready and wasn't working Sunday night, and as it turned out those (mirror) images were actually live footage from Tempe. Like an eager clerk at Wal-Mart, the Husker offensive line rolled up its sleeves in the second half and produced more pancakes than a 24-hour Village Inn. The big-play first half popped like champagne, but NU's play in half no. 2 was like vintage wine -- take your choice, red or white.

FREE WILLIE: Rumor has it that before the game, running backs coach Dave Gillespie had a hypnotist convince fullback "Steamboat" Willie Miller that he was actually Mike Rozier. It musta worked -- halfway through the fourth quarter Dahrran Diedrick was spotted offering his No. 30 jersey to the suddenly speedy Husker fullback. Miller Time came none too soon for the Big Red, too: Things were looking a bit shaky in the third quarter -- the Orange Guys had just scored, and their stout defense was flying around the field and forcing Loons everywhere to consider hitting the sauce a little early. But 47 well-timed yards later, Uncle Mo had gone back over to the Husker sideline. And the rest is bone-crushing history.

ADVANCED PHYSICS: During the pre-game blabber sessions leading up to Sunday's game, the defending Fiesta Bowl champion Volunteers insisted they would be just as physical as the Huskers this time around. And UT racked up some serious stats against the Big Red -- like a forced fumble, 21 points, 200-plus passing yards and, of course, about a dozen first-teamers in white and orange being carted off on stretchers. Meanwhile, the vaunted Tennessee ground game had about as much meaning as a series of feminist essays by Jenny McCarthy. 'Tis true, the Vols have beefed up in the last two years. But when it comes to physical football, the Huskers still stand biceps and pectorals above the rest.

IN THE (BOW) DEN: Is there some game being played on Tuesday night? After watching ABC's omnipresent promotional ads for the Seminokia Sugar Bowl, it's simply unclear when, where and what time that end-all, be-all contest is going to be played. Can someone help me out? It was not difficult from ABC's coverage, however, to remember the name of Florida State's coach. For the Bowdens, ABC Sports is more self-serving than Ikea. For the love of God, hurry up and get this so-called National Championship game over with before they start breaking out the Bowden family albums. If I have to hear another gol-dang knee-slappin' anecdote about Momma Bowden and how all the Good Ol' Boys like to talk football over the dinner table, I'm seriously going to throw up all over my Nokia cellular phone.

GET THE PLAYOFF: Typically, I tire quickly of all the incessant playoff prattling from fix-it fans this time o' year. But after watching the Big Red roll Sunday, the Loon is ready to change his traditionalist stripes and hop on the playoff bandwagon. Like Pamela Anderson Lee, this Bowl Championship Series stuff started out with good intentions, but somewhere along the way got really, really scary. I say line up the winners of the four major bowls and let 'em square off in January. That'll make some serious bones for the major conferences and provide us all with a little piece of mind.

THE SOUTH SHALL RISE: Or then again, maybe it won't. Bowl record for the Big XII North this year? Three wins, zero losses. Bowl record for the Big XII South? Let's just say they went oh-for-everything, with only former Big 8-er Oklahoma appearing to lift a finger to try to stop its postseason opponent. Now, you don't have to have the IQ of a Big Ten football player to detect a trend here. Call me a retro-thinker, but howzabout we just give the Texas schools back to George Dubya and resurrect the old Big 8? I take that back: The schools up north won't need any reviving -- they're the only ones who showed any life at all in December and January.

THE BOTTOM LINE: What red-clad year it has been. In September, we watched as Fearless Frankie played musical quarterbacks on the brand-new FieldTurfStuff. Later that month, we learned that there's not always room for 'Gelo. As the year went on, things got more and more obscene, as the "F" word was being dropped all over the place, along with plenty of footballs. After a Rocky Mountain High-and-Low, the Big XII Championship Game beckoned -- and the Big Red won it in a San Antonio River Walk. Now that the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl is in the bag, it's time to kick back, relax and pay homage to the most successful group of Cornhuskers we've seen this whole darned century. Just think, if Jan. 2 is any indicator of how the rest of Y2K is going to go, then we Red Clad Loons are in for a treat in the new millennium, indeed. Nebraska 12, Opponents 1.

Celebrate the New Milloonium. Relive The '99 Husker Season in THE POND, Home of Nebraska's RED CLAD LOON.