The List: Greatest bowl games
Page 2 staff

This week, Page 2 posts its list of the top 10 greatest bowl games ever played.

The 2002 college football regular season has long been put to bed, but with the New Year approaching, millions of fans still have bowl on the brain. Everything from bragging rights, to national titles, to sponsorship spectaculars are on the table. In the spirit of the season, check out our list of favorite bowl games, then be sure to vote in the poll on the right to crown the best bowl battle of them all.

1. 1979 Sugar Bowl (Penn State vs. Alabama)
Keith Jackson
Keith Jackson's could never forget the '79 Sugar Bowl, and we could never forget his call.
Whoa, Nellie! Keith Jackson, who's forgotten far more about college football than we'll ever know, says it's one of the greatest games he's seen. No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 1 Penn State and a crowd of 76,824 at the Superdome. It's a defensive battle. The Tide lead 7-0 at the half, and 14-7 with less than five minutes left in the game. Penn State forces a fumble, and recovers on Alabama's 19. The Nittany Lions move quickly to the eight. Then comes "The Goal Line Stand." Penn State runs three times, and is stopped inches from the end zone.

Jackson's call: "Fourth down and a foot separating top-ranked Penn State from a possible national championship. Fusina hands to Guman. He didn't make it! He didn't make it! What an unbelievable goal line stand by Alabama!" There are still four minutes remaining, and Penn State gets another chance, but Alabama holds on for the 14-7 victory.

2. 1984 Orange Bowl (Miami vs. Nebraska)
The 12-0 Cornhuskers come into the Orange Bowl averaging 52 points a game, and some say they're the best team in college football history. But the 11-1 Hurricanes are playing in the here and now, and take a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter, Miami, led by QB Bernie Kosar, still leads, 31-17.

Nebraska comes back in a stunning fashion. Jeff Smith scores two TDs, including a 24-yarder on fourth-and-eight, to make it 31-30 with 48 seconds remaining. Huskers coach Tom Osbourne calls for a two-point conversion attempt. "We wanted an undefeated season and a clear-cut championship. I don't think we should go for the tie in that case. It never entered my head," he says.

The attempt fails when a Turner Gill pass is knocked down by Ken Calhoun. The Hurricanes, 11 1/2-point underdogs, win the game and the national title.

If Nebraska had played it safe and kicked the PAT, a tie would have likely kept them atop both polls. But they end up ranked No. 2. Says Osbourne, "I guess I'm not very smart."

3. 1979 Cotton Bowl (Notre Dame vs. U. of Houston)
The Chicken Soup Game. The city of Dallas is encased in ice, as players prepare for the game. Notre Dame QB Joe Montana recalled how the glazed metropolis appeared as he awoke that day. "It was beautiful -- beautiful if you were spending the day looking out a window."

Joe Montana
Joe Montana helped Notre Dame rally from 22 points down in the fourth quarter to win the 1979 Cotton Bowl.
But Montana, despite suffering from the flu, could do nothing of the sort, and he boldly took the Irish to a 12-0 first-quarter lead. Houston uses its second-quarter wind advantage (in addition to the cold and ice, there is an 18-30 mph wind) to pile up 20 unanswered points. In the third quarter,

Houston adds another 14, as Montana stays in the locker room, struggling to stay warm. With the score 34-12, there seems no reason for him to go back outside. "We knew for a fact people were clicking off their TVs all over the country," Notre Dame center Dave Huffman recalled. "You could hear the ratings drop every time Houston went up another point."

But Montana did go back outside, and here the Montana legend began. Not much happens until Notre Dame's Steve Cichy grabs a Cougar punt blocked by Tom Belden and scampers 33 yards for a TD. Montana connects with Vagas Ferguson on a two-point conversion to bring the Irish within two TDs with 7:25 left. On their next possession, Notre Dame drives 61 yards with Montana running the last three into the end zone, then throws for another successful two-point conversion with 4:15 remaining. 34-28. There it remains, until the Irish get the ball for a final chance. With the clock reading :00, Montana connects with Kris Haines on an eight-yard TD pass, and walk-on kicker Joe Unis nails the PAT. Notre Dame 35, Houston 34.

What revived the sick and cold Notre Dame QB? Chicken soup. It was a magical combo, wrote Steve Wulf in Time, "an Italian leading the Irish to triumph thanks to a traditional Jewish remedy."

4. 1980 Holiday Bowl (SMU vs. BYU)
With less than three minutes remaining, SMU is in complete control, leading 45-25. The Mustangs own the ground, as Craig James is on his way to a 225-yard, 3-TD game and Eric Dickerson's racking up 110 yards and two TDs.

But BYU has the ball, and with 2:35 left, Jim McMahon tosses a 15-yard TD pass to wide receiver Matt Braga, making the score 45-31 after a failed two-point attempt. BYU then recovers an onsides kick at midfield, and McMahon throws two quick completions to move the Cougars to the one, and tailback Scott Phillips runs in from there. 45-37.

Two-point conversion, McMahon to Phillips. 45-39. 1:58 remaining.

Another onsides kick by BYU is recovered by SMU, but the Cougar defense holds, and the Mustangs are forced to punt. The kick is blocked. With 41 seconds left, BYU has the ball 41 yards from paydirt.

McMahon has three plays left. He throws two incomplete passes. On the last play of the game, he drops back 13 yards, all the way to his own 46, then hurls it. Hail Mary. Clay Brown comes up with it amid a harrass of Mustangs.

Tie game, 45-45, no time remaining. Kurt Gunther kicks the PAT, and BYU wins, 46-45, scoring 21 points in the final three minutes. McMahon completes 32 of 49 for 446 yards and four TDs.

5. 1973 Sugar Bowl (Notre Dame vs. Alabama)
Both Alabama and Notre Dame have storied pasts. Present times ain't so bad, either. Each went undefeated in the 1973 regular season. Alabama is coached by the legendary Bear Bryant. Notre Dame is coached by the legendary Ara Parseghian. Now they're meeting on the Tulane Stadium field in New Orleans, with No. 1 Alabama hoping to seal the national title.

The teams battle into the fourth quarter with Notre Dame leading 21-17. On a trick play, Alabama halfback Mike Stock tosses a 25-yard TD pass to backup QB Richard Todd, putting the Tide ahead 23-21. Kicker Bill Davis misses the PAT. Notre Dame kicks a field goal with 4:26 remaining to pull ahead for good, 24-23. The AP's final poll rewards the Irish by vaulting them ahead of Alabama to the No. 1 ranking.

6. 1963 Rose Bowl (USC vs. Wisconsin)
J.K. McKay
John McKay, second from left, at the 10th annual induction to the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.
The top-ranked Trojans and No. 2 Badgers square off before 98,698 fans to determine the national champion, and it looks like a runaway. Pete Beathard completes his fourth TD pass with 14:54 remaining in the game, giving USC a seemingly insurmountable 42-14 lead. "The kids were congratulating each other on the sidelines," says USC coach John McKay after the dust has settled.

That takes a while. Badger QB Ron VanderKelen throws for two touchdowns as Wisconsin scores 23 points in the last 12 minutes, bringing the score to 42-37. Unfortunately, the clock runs out, but VanderKelen's performance (33 of 48 for 401 yards) is unforgettable, as is the comeback that almost was.

McKay is a bit of a sore winner. "We're still No. 1 and they're still No. 2," he says. "They're a good team, but they'd finish about sixth in our league."

7. 1994 Orange Bowl (Florida State vs. Nebraska)
Wide left. Seminoles 18, Huskers 16.

8. 1980 Rose Bowl (USC vs. Ohio State)
USC: 10-0-1. Ohio State: 11-0. Charles White: 39 carries. 247 yards. With the Trojans trailing 16-10 with 5:31 remaining, the tailback runs for 70 of 83 yards and caps USC's game-winning drive with a one-yard TD dive. USC 17, Ohio State 16.

9. 1965 Orange Bowl (Alabama vs. Texas)
Joe Germaine
Joe Germaine, sophomore backup QB, drove the Buckeyes to victory with less than two minutes left.
In front of a national audience in prime time, Alabama senior QB Joe Namath puts on a show. He starts the game on the bench because of a knee injury, but comes in to complete 18 of 37 passes for 255 yards and two TDs. With Texas up 21-17 midway through the fourth quarter, Alabama recovers a fumble only 34 yards away from paydirt. Namath takes the Tide down to the one, but he's stopped on a sneak. Bama doesn't score, and time runs out as the Longhorns upset Bear Bryant's top-ranked squad. But Namath is named the game's MVP.

10. 1997 Rose Bowl (Ohio State vs. Arizona State)
The Sun Devils enter the game undefeated, and look like national champions. Arizona State QB Jake Plummer is pressured by a great Ohio State defense all day, and his team trails 14-10 until he scrambles for an 11-yard TD with only 1;40 left in the fourth quarter. Sun Devils 17, Buckeyes 14. "I only celebrated for a second," Plummer says. "You do all that 'Yeah! Yeah! Yahoo!' but then things happen like what just happened to us. I was worried the whole time." For good reason. Ohio State QB Joe Germaine, a soph backup, drives the Buckeyes 65 yards, with the final, game-winning score coming on a five-yard TD pass to freshman David Boston with only 19 seconds remaining.

Ohio State 20, Arizona State 17.


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