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Miami 37, Nebraska 14

Back when Miami was first dominating the college football scene, Bret Michaels (no relation to Al) and his band, Poison, had a hit with the power ballad "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." And whaddaya know, it turns out the guy was right. By the time everything was over Thursday, it was hard to say which California thorn hurt the Nebraska Cornhuskers worse: Was it the dirty air and the clogged-up freeways? Was it those bullies from the LA Times, and all the vitriol-spewers who said Nebraska shouldn't be at the Rose Bowl? Or was it the foe on the field, the brash-n-trash Miami Hurricanes, who took all of 20 minutes to pierce NU to pieces and then dance on their grave? Here's hoping that Bret tuned in to the big game -- after witnessing the nasty treatment that the Cornhuskers got on and off the field in Pasadena, he had enough material to write a sequel -- "Every Thorn Has its Pricks."

A few takes:

THE PERFECT STORM: The pregame press -- other than talk of split titles, forced enthusiasm about NU in the Rose Bowl, and fat Nebraska women -- indicated that this was not your father's Miami. Suddenly, UM was the good guys in this whole scenario. In fact, these guys were so sweet, you wondered if they should be called the Candy Canes. Yeah, right. This team elicited Brady Bunch-style flashbacks to '87, '89, '91 -- they were fast, mean, viscious, immovable. Nebraska had about as much chance with this Miami Pound Machine as Gerry Faust has in coaching a team to the Super Bowl. Oh, and nothing against Oregon, but they wouldn't have fared any better against this group, either. Gang Green, Blackshirts, Orange Crush ... doesn't matter what color your defense rallies around. By the time it's over, they're red-faced and green with envy.

ROSE RED: On a positive note, it was particularly warming to the cockles of my red-clad heart to see three-fourths of Granddad awash in red. Notably, the crowd of 93,600 set all sorts of Nebraska school records, including the largest crowd to ever see the Cornhuskers play, the biggest partisan crowd in a bowl game, and the largest number of people sitting in dumbstruck silence all at the same time. So much for the mystical power of combined vocal chords assisting Nebraska in remembering the lost art of tackling and taking care of the football. Hey, what do you mean that American sticker flag on the Ford Excursion won't help the Marines find Osama?

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK: Back in 1997, Miami had fallen into disarray, and it appeared that the Hurricanes were sliding back into the pack at long last. But UM's return to the nation's elite was as swift as a pair of fourth-quarter Schlesinger TD runs. It was nice to know that Miami's fans are back, too. During much of December, Nebraskans complained ad nauseum about their classless counterparts at Colorado -- but compared to the group from Coral Gables, CU fans look like Ward and June Cleaver. It was a riot (no, not literally, though I was half-expecting it) listening to Husker fans try to strike up a friendly conversation with the green-clad yahoos, who looked at them like they were (and I am quoting here) "cock-a-roaches." Perhaps this should have been mentioned before: Miami is a tiny private school, see. Instead, they're all children of smug Eastern Seaboard privilege who have all grown into overpaid lawyers who look like Andrew Dice Clay and sound like The Rock -- or Harvey Firestein, I can't decide. And they tend to dress like they should be part of Tony Soprano's crew. Sigh -- it's so good to have them back. They're such a hallowed part of college football, just like the dotting of the I at Ohio State or Texas A&M's students in khaki.

RUNNING OUT OF OPTIONS: Conventional wisdom is that Jan. 3, 2002, was The Day The Option Died. The image of our beloved Cornhuskers, plodding along trying to reach the corner while Miami's linebackers await, having time to make a sandwich, watch "Titanic" and go grocery shopping before tackling the NU backs for a loss, is enough to make one think it's time for a change. Well, of course things will change. But don't expect wholesale overhauls to a Big Red Machine that propelled Nebraska to its fifth national title game in eight years. Nebraska's offense was adjusted to emphasize Crouch, and it undoubtedly will be fine-tuned again now that he's gone. NU, however, is not switching to the Fun-N-Gun anytime soon. That would be a lot like hearing Celine Dion singing the National Anthem -- she might do a great job at it, but you know her heart just really isn't in it. Naw, it'll still be Run the Ball, Stop the Run, Win the Game -- Effective Since 1890.

SOUTHERN COMFORT: Last year in This Space, the Loon spent a considerable amount of time bagging on the Big 12 South after their pitiful bowl performances. Well, what's good for the goose, is ... you know the rest. Nebraska's famous crash-and-burn put the c(r)ap on an 0-4 bowl season for the Big 12 North, following losses by CU, ISU and KSU. Thanks go to Oklahoma for saving the pride of the old Big 8, or otherwise we'd have to hear Texas smack all winter long (shudder). Don't worry about it, Loons -- order shall soon be restored: A&M and the Whorns are back on the schedule next year.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Looking for some musical inspiration as he was migrating across the Mojave toward Sin City on Friday, the Loon dug deep in his portable Compact Disc carrier and came across The Boss. Who better to offer postmortem insight into the fortunes of the Almighty Huskers than a guy who has an album named "Nebraska"? So, by the time the neon lights of Vegas bounced off the windshield, this much was clear: NU had the look of a champ for much of the season, but it turns out they were merely wearing a Brilliant Disguise. Now, fans everywhere with a Hungry Heart fret that those Glory Days are gone. But those folks are just Dancing in the Dark. Next season, this whole grand exercise starts over again -- and rest assured, fellow Loons, that we'll see Better Days. 'Cause baby, we were Born to Run. See you next season. Nebraska 11, Opponents 2.

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