HALLOWED BE HIS NAME
In years to come, they will invoke his name in Scottsbluff and
Wahoo, in Omaha and Juniata. In cities and towns across
Nebraska, the mention of Matt Davison will be sure to bring a
If Davison, a freshman from Tecumseh, Neb., never catches
another ball for the Cornhuskers, it won't matter. Last Saturday
his diving retrieval of a deflected pass in the end zone with no
time remaining in regulation allowed the Huskers to tie Missouri
38-38. When Nebraska won in overtime, 45-38, Davison forever won
a place in the hearts of Huskers fans.
"I'm hearing what everybody's saying," Davison said two days
after the catch. "It doesn't seem as big to me as everybody
else. If we go on to win the national championship, then it will
be a bigger thing."
College football has a way of making no-names memorable. At
Auburn, mention David Langner and men will take off their hats
and place them over their hearts. A quarter century ago Langner
returned two blocked punts for touchdowns in the fourth quarter,
leading the Tigers to a 17-16 upset of undefeated, No. 2-ranked
Alabama. Southern Cal fans revere Doyle Nave, the fourth-string
quarterback who led the Trojans to the winning touchdown in the
1939 Rose Bowl. Against a Duke defense that hadn't allowed a
point all season, Nave threw a 19-yard TD pass to Al Krueger,
and the Trojans prevailed 7-3.
Nebraska-Missouri isn't quite the rivalry Alabama-Auburn is. The
Huskers haven't lost to the Tigers since 1978. However, behind
the wondrous running and passing of quarterback Corby Jones,
Mizzou led 38-31 with seven seconds remaining in the fourth
quarter. Nebraska had the ball at the Tigers' 12. The
Cornhuskers had no timeouts.
The 6'1", 170-pound Davison had caught only seven passes for 117
yards and no touchdowns until his memorable reception;
nevertheless he wasn't the unlikeliest of heroes. As a high
school senior he was all-state in football, basketball and
baseball. Two newspapers named him Nebraska's male high school
athlete of the year. He even had made a similar catch as a high
school freshman in the final minute of a district championship
game to give Tecumseh a 21-20 victory over Randolph. "I caught a
pass in the end zone where I had to dive," Davison said. "I was
only 14 years old, and here I am 18, just turned 19, and it
happened again." By the time of the Missouri game he had become
the fourth receiver on a running team and was getting more
playing time than usual for a Huskers freshman.
On the game-tying play, Davison lined up as one of two receivers
on the left side; two others lined up on the right. Quarterback
Scott Frost looked over the middle and threw hard to wingback
Shevin Wiggins, who had the ball momentarily before it slid down
his legs as Missouri free safety Julian Jones tackled him. When
Wiggins hit the ground, his legs popped up, kicking the ball
back into the air.
"I saw the ball get deflected off Shevin," Davison said. "It was
floating like a punt, kind of end over end. It seemed like it
took forever to get there. I dived, and I guess the Lord was
watching over me. I was in the right spot at the right time."
Missouri fans didn't wait for the call, pouring into the end
zone to tear down the goalpost in celebration of an apparent
victory. But then the officials signaled touchdown, and the
field was cleared for the Huskers' extra point attempt. "My
parents were sitting in the opposite end zone, way up in the
stands," Davison said. "They didn't even know it was me who
caught the pass until a half hour after the game."
A buoyant Nebraska scored a touchdown on the first possession in
OT and clinched the victory by stuffing Jones on fourth down of
Missouri's possession. By then Huskers fans were jubilant over
any victory, even one so precarious that it resulted in
Nebraska's falling from No. 1 to No. 3 in the polls. For that
win, the Cornhuskers can thank Matt Davison.
Remember the name.
BACK ON TRACK
A funny thing happened to Peyton Manning on the way to the 1997
Heisman Trophy: He had his worst game in four years. Though
Tennessee defeated South Carolina 22-7 on Nov. 1, Manning
completed just eight of 25 passes for 126 yards with no
touchdowns and one interception. The performance had even
Peyton's father fretting. "I never told him this," Archie said
last Saturday as the Volunteers prepared to play Southern
Mississippi, "but I knew coming back this year was going to set
him up where he couldn't do anything but fail."
But against the Golden Eagles, who had the nation's
seventh-ranked pass defense, Peyton completed 35 of 53 passes
for 399 yards--all season highs--and four touchdowns (he also
rushed for a TD) as the Volunteers pulled away to a 44-20
victory. Manning was neither intercepted nor sacked. Early in
the game, when Southern Mississippi's aggressive, stunting
defense deployed no down linemen, Tennessee one-upped the Golden
Eagles by going to a no-huddle attack. "Everything we can do in
the formation we're in is available to Peyton in the no-huddle,"
Vols offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe says. "He knows
everything I know. You can turn him loose."
Manning's career seems straight out of a Chip Hilton novel, so
why should his senior season with the Volunteers--which he
wanted to play so much that he put off the NFL for a
year--depart from the story line? Fifth-ranked Tennessee is 7-1,
and only three sub-.500 opponents stand between the Vols and the
SEC championship game. An invitation to the Orange Bowl, and
with it a shot at the national title, isn't out of the question.
If that doesn't come, Manning most likely will finish his
college football career playing in the Sugar Bowl, in front of a
hometown crowd in New Orleans.
This season's football possibilities, which out of superstition
Manning refers to obliquely as "what's out there," aren't the
reason he decided in March to return to school. As he put it
over lunch last Friday, "I didn't have enough memories." He's
collecting some this fall. Manning, who already has his
bachelor's degree in speech communications, is doing graduate
work in sports management. As part of an independent study
course under Andy Kozar, an exercise professor who's researching
the career of Tennessee's College Hall of Fame coach, Gen.
Robert Neyland, Manning will interview former Vols All-Americas
George (Bad News) Cafego and Doug Atkins.
Even before he began working under Kozar, Manning had studied
Tennessee football history so closely that, when shown a picture
of a Tennessee All-America from the 1930s, he said, "That's
"I really appreciate a student like him," says Kozar, who was an
All-SEC running back in 1952, Neyland's last season. "I told
him, 'You really ought to consider getting a Ph.D. and being a
professor.' Of course, who the hell am I to say that?"
The rest of Manning's senior year has been dedicated to
creating, rather than collecting, memories. He goes out to
dinner with his line on Tuesdays for 10-cent chicken wings.
After he led Tennessee to a 38-21 win over Alabama on Oct. 18,
he came out of the locker room to conduct the Vols' Pride of the
Southland Band in a rendition of Rocky Top. "A
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. During an open week in
October, Manning and a few teammates drove about 45 miles to
Rockwood, Tenn. (pop. 5,500), because former mayor Mike Miller
invited them for a speaking engagement and a barbecue. Manning
smiled as he recalled the trip: "You know that next year I'm not
going to be in Rockwood, Tenn., talking football with a bunch of
In December, Manning will fly to New York City to appear on The
Late Show with David Letterman and to accept an $18,000
postgraduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation
and Hall of Fame as one of 11 Division I-A scholar-athletes.
There's also the prospect of the Heisman, among other awards,
and a chance at the national championship. A lot of memories
remain to be made.
A SLAM DUNK
Florida State might have ruined North Carolina's perfect season,
but there's still one basketball school undefeated in football.
Villanova is 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in Division I-AA for the first
time. "A lot of people say, 'You're a basketball school,'"
Wildcats coach Andy Talley says. "Well, we've been to the
playoffs four times in eight years, so we're showing we can do
it in football as well."
Villanova, which defeated visiting New Hampshire 23-20 in wet
and windy conditions last Saturday, has already clinched a berth
in the 16-team I-AA playoffs, which begin Nov. 29. Using a West
Coast offense and a slew of West Coast players (19 from
California alone, including 10 starters), the Wildcats are
averaging 39.0 points per game, second in Division I-AA, while
limiting opponents to 16.6 points. Villanova's best player, 6'5"
wide receiver Brian Finneran, a senior from Mission Viejo,
Calif., leads I-AA with 15 touchdown catches.
Football success is not entirely foreign to longtime fans on the
Main Line. Playing the top division, Villanova appeared in the
1961 Sun Bowl and the '62 Liberty Bowl and later produced NFL
standouts Mike Siani and Howie Long. But the school was
unwilling to spend the money to remain in big-time football, and
it eliminated the sport from '81 to '84. In '85 Talley, a
cigar-smoking martinet from nearby Bryn Mawr, Pa., was hired
away from St. Lawrence University to reinstate football, and he
has since built the Wildcats into a I-AA force.
Don't look for the football program to join its basketball
counterpart on the big stage. Last month the school's board of
trustees declined an invitation to join the Big East in
football. "It would have cost us $50 million to $60 million to
build a stadium and do all the other things the Big East
requires," Talley says. "For the time being, it wasn't something
we were willing to do."
Villanova, for now, will have to settle for being the best
undefeated basketball school in football.
Mediocrity, thy name is Pittsburgh. The Panthers are 2-2 in Big
East play, in which they've outscored their opponents 110-104.
They are also 2-2 in nonconference games, in which they've
outscored their opponents 118-116....
Nebraska agreed to home-and-home dates with California in 1998
and '99, filling holes in its schedule created when Houston
pulled out of games slated for those seasons. The bad news for
the Cornhuskers--who are perpetually buffeted by complaints
about their weak competition--is that a deal with Virginia Tech
couldn't be worked out. California had tentatively been
scheduled to play San Jose State in '98....
The rift between Johnny Majors, who was ousted in '92 after 16
years as coach of the Vols, and Tennessee administrators is far
from closed. When Majors, now a special assistant to the
chancellor and to the athletic director at Pittsburgh, returned
to Knoxville last week for the funeral of former Volunteers
assistant coach John (Skeeter) Bailey, the tension in the
church, according to a Tennessee official in attendance, was
palpable. The Volunteers' football offices and practice
facilities are located on Johnny Majors Drive....
One week after two top five matchups in Division I-A, Division
II will have its own showdown when two Lone Star Conference
powers meet. Angelo State (9-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country)
visits Texas A&M-Kingsville (8-1, No. 5) in a preview of a
possible quarterfinal playoff.
Check out more college football news from Ivan Maisel at
WASHINGTON (7-2) AT UCLA (7-2)
If the Huskies are to play a second game in the Rose Bowl this
season, they better hope quarterback Brock Huard's sprained left
ankle heals in time for their first. If the Bruins expect to
play on their home field on Jan. 1, they must beat Washington
and hope the Huskies can recover to defeat Washington State on
Nov. 22. UCLA is healthy, at home and too powerful for Washington.
AUBURN (7-2) AT GEORGIA (7-1)
The oldest rivalry in the SEC has more at stake than it has had
in years. Despite an offense that has purred like a Yugo of
late, the Tigers are still in the SEC West race. A win for the
Bulldogs would keep their SEC title game hopes alive. Georgia
can run and pass. Auburn can't. Next question?
NOTRE DAME (4-5) AT LSU (7-2)
Death Valley no longer is fatal. The Tigers are 1-2 at home
against winning teams. Of course, the Irish don't qualify. Notre
Dame is yielding 188 rushing yards a game, and LSU has had six
of the top nine rushing performances in the SEC in 1997. Kevin
Faulk, get your rest. You'll be busy on Saturday.
PENN STATE (7-1) AT PURDUE (7-2)
The Boilermakers are fresh off a miracle: They scored 12 points
in the last two minutes to beat Michigan State 22-21 last
Saturday. The Nittany Lions are fresh in need of a miracle.
Purdue has what its visitors lack--call it rhythm, confidence,
whatever. But Joe Paterno's teams don't fall apart down the
stretch. A very shaky vote says this one won't crumble, either.
MICHIGAN (9-0) AT WISCONSIN (8-2)
Camp Randall Stadium is the toughest place to win on the road in
the Big Ten. Large, loud, unwelcoming--and those are just the
fans. If tailback Ron Dayne, who sprained his right ankle in
last Saturday's game, is ready, the Badgers have a chance, but
only if they catch the Wolverines basking in last week's glory.
Michigan's players seem too levelheaded for that. --I.M.
1. TIM CURRY The Air Force defensive back scored a touchdown
against a rival service academy for the second time this season,
returning a fumble 35 yards in a 24-0 win over Army.
2. JOE GERMAINE After completing 17 of 21 passes for 211 yards
and three touchdowns against Minnesota, the Ohio State junior is
second in the nation in passing efficiency. Just think how
productive he might be if he were the Buckeyes' starter.
3. BOBBY SHAW The Cal senior became the Golden Bears' reception
leader for a season (67) and a career (172) in a 28-21 loss to
1. SOUTHWESTERN LOUISIANA On consecutive weeks the Ragin' Cajuns
were savaged by Tulane's Shaun King (ninth in total offense,
293.8 yards per game) and Washington State's Ryan Leaf (third,
331.9). This Saturday it's Louisiana Tech's Tim Rattay (first,
2. AMHERST As they did in '96, the Division III Lord Jeffs
entered their showdown with archrival Williams 7-0 and exited
7-1. The Ephs won 48-46 on a 27-yard field goal with two seconds
3. THE INSIGHT.COM BOWL PMFJI, but IMHO, if ever a bowl merited
flaming for its choice of a title sponsor, this is it. :-( --I.M.