So they meet again.
Forty-three years after their only previous game against each other in the Sun Bowl at the end of the 1969 season, Georgia and Nebraska are gearing up to play on New Year’s Day in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
They are football programs with proud traditions and a history of winning. The Cornhuskers rank No. 4 on the NCAA all-time victories list. Georgia is No. 10.
“It isn’t that we haven’t wanted to play Georgia,” said Tom Osborne, the Cornhuskers’ athletic director since 2007 and its football coach from 1973 to 1997. “We played Alabama home and home. We played LSU home and home, and then we also played them in a bowl game two or three times. We’ve had some other Southeastern Conference teams on our schedule but just haven’t played Georgia.”
Osborne said he’s good friends with former Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley.
Dooley was in his sixth season as Bulldogs’ head coach and Osborne was a 32-year old offensive assistant under Bob Devaney when the Bulldogs and Cornhunskers met in El Paso, Texas.
The Cornhuskers forced eight turnovers and won 45-6, dealing Georgia what’s still its most lopsided bowl defeat.
“We played well that day,” Osborne said.
Nebraska won back-to-back national titles in 1970 and 1971 and Osborne became head coach before the 1973 season.
Osborne ranks fifth all-time in FBS winning percentage (.836, 255-49-3), but didn’t win his first national title until the 1994 season, his 22rd as head coach.
There was talk that Osborne couldn’t win the big game.
Then he did in 1994, when the unbeaten Cornhuskers beat Miami 24-17 in the Orange Bowl. He followed that up with another national title and unbeaten season in 1995 routing Florida and Steve Spurrier, 62-24, in the Fiesta Bowl and the Cornhuskers shared the 1997 title with Michigan in his final season.
Georgia’s Mark Richt, finishing his 12th season as head coach, came five yards away this season from his team playing for the national title for the first time as coach. Richt has also faced the knock in some circles that he can’t win the big one.
“I know he’s a fine person and I admire the way he conducts himself, the way he coaches,” Osborne said. “He has good values, and it does seem no matter how much success you have that people tend to focus at some point on what you haven’t done. That’s unfortunate.”
All 25 of Osborne’s teams won at least nine games and went to a bowl.
“I guess my thought was, if we could play well at a level where we were capable of winning a national championship, that had to provide some satisfaction because there are always things you can’t always control,” he said. “You can’t control a bounce of a football, you can’t control an official’s call, an injury. If you’re playing at that level, sooner or later you will knock the door down and win.”
Richt used similar language the day before Georgia played in the Outback Bowl at the end of last season.
“We’re going to be knocking on the door of the greatest success that you can have in college football,” Richt said. “If we keep knocking hard enough, one day we’ll get there.”
Osborne had been there, too.
“In ’82 and ’83, we had very good teams and lost one game and got knocked out of the championship picture,” he said. “In ’93, we ended up 11-1 and came up just short. Those were all very good teams. Mark’s certainly had a great record there and done a great job. I can understand kind of what he goes through, but I hope people appreciate what he has accomplished to be consistently in the upper echelon of college football. That’s pretty remarkable.”
Osborne, who served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Nebraska’s third congressional district from 2000-2006, is retiring as athletic director. He turns 76 in February. His last official day as AD is Jan. 1, the same day as the Capital One Bowl.