>> Video Below: Bo Pelini, Taylor Martinez and others after the Penn State game
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LINCOLN — Call it good.
The fumble. The karma. The back-breaking, game-deciding, debate-starting break.
Nebraska and Penn State are all even now, right?
Beaver Stadium had the Crooked Sideline. Memorial Stadium has the Crooked End Zone.
Put it on a T-shirt, Nittany fans. We'll hang it in a frame next to the Crooked Sideline shirts from 1982.
The football gods work in strange ways. They also work in slow ways.
Thirty years ago this season, Penn State tight end Mike McCloskey caught a third-down pass two yards out of bounds that kept alive the winning touchdown drive in No. 8 Penn State's victory over No. 2 Nebraska in State College, Pa.
Thirty years later, as Penn State was preparing to drive the fourth-quarter stake into Husker hearts again, Penn State's Matt Lehman caught a pass near the goal line and fumbled as he was hit at the goal line. Nebraska recovered in the end zone.
Replay, which wasn't available back in the good old days of 1982, showed the ball may have crossed the plane before the fumble.
But the replay official upheld the fumble ruling on the field.
It looked like the call could have gone either way. But, 30 years late, it went Nebraska's way.
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Now maybe Husker fans can finally get over the memory of 1982.
“No. No way,” said Jamie Williams, the associate athletic director for NU who was a senior tight end on the 1982 team.
Williams was hanging out in the back of the NU interview room after the game. He was in a good mood, a thankful mood that NU had survived the Big Ten tightrope one more week.
But, unlike the sentiment from several emails I received from Husker fans after the game, Williams wasn't so easy to say all was forgiven, it's all good now.
That game was the only blemish in a 12-1 season, the kink in a perfect season, the difference between Tom Osborne winning his first national title and Penn State's Joe Paterno nabbing his first.
“Dave Rimington, Roger Craig, Mike Rozier, Turner Gill, that will be a burr in our saddle — forever,” Williams said. “Anytime that play comes up, I still get upset. That cost us a national championship. Even though we feel good today, that (1982) still lingers. You can't change it. It's history.”
It wasn't any solace, but there were some players in blue and white who knew the feeling. Penn State's not going to win the national title. Penn State can't go to a bowl. But in the wake of the NCAA's unprecedented hammer drop on PSU last summer, senior quarterback Matt McGloin was in no mood to shake it off.
“Man, I know we're not going to get that call here,'' he said. “We're not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are, we'll never get that call.''
Oh, Matt. If you only knew.
There are plenty of folks in red who would take issue with McGloin. Like the one fan who sent this email: “It only took 30 years for the bad call karma with PSU to come full circle! Just too bad the stakes weren't quite so high this time.”
It's all relative. In 1982, the Huskers were a national title contender. Here in Tomorrow Land, the Big Red is trying to keep the train on the tracks to win the Legends Division of the Big Ten.
“I was like 4 years old (in 1982),” said NU defensive coordinator John Papuchis. “So I don't remember that.”
If Nebraska goes on to play in its first Rose Bowl as Big Ten champion, Papuchis will never forget Saturday.
It was the best call he never saw.
“I saw the replay on the Jumbotron,” Papuchis said. “I couldn't tell. The coaches in the box thought it was very close from a different angle, but they didn't think there was enough evidence there to overturn it.”
But if the touchdown had been allowed, and PSU had gone up 30-27, who's to say Taylor Martinez and Co. wouldn't have staged another cardiac comeback? There was still 5:02 left on the clock.
What we know is that, like the McCloskey catch 30 years ago, this call may be a similar linchpin to holding together a Nebraska championship season.
Or, it may be just another act in a season of great escapes, near catastrophes and other Husker football follies.
By now, you should know this isn't going to change. Head coach Bo Pelini will say they are trying to clean things up. But what fun would that be?
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The Huskers were at it again, falling behind 20-6. Penn State was dominating both lines of scrimmage, making good, solid football plays. Nebraska could do no right. The halftime mood was not good. Lots of people yelling. And that was just the Nebraska sideline.
But the Huskers had the Lions right where they wanted them.
As Papuchis noted, the players calmly told the coaches in the locker room that they would come back again. Papuchis noted that Pelini told him the same thing before the second-half kickoff.
They did. Like you knew they would, right?
I hope you're not keeping style points this season. Forget 'em. NU had seven penalties again, and there were defensive timeouts in the first half when coaches couldn't get the right personnel on the field. Martinez fumbled away a likely Husker field goal.
But they got their second-half mojo going, they ran the ball, Martinez made some plays. Things went their way again. Like when Denard Robinson went out a few weeks ago, like when Michigan State yelled about the pass interference call at the end.
You know what, though? Yell all you want. Call Jim Delany. These Huskers just know how to win. And nobody is apologizing.
“Things are going our way,” Papuchis said. “But for about the first three years here, they weren't going our way. They seemed to be going against us. If the karma is working for us now, so be it. When we had tough losses before, I wasn't going to blame it on bad luck, just like when we get some things going our way, I'm not going to say it was lucky.
Funny thing, nobody ever did hear Joe Paterno give that one back in 1982. Jamie Williams never heard it, anyway. McCloskey once admitted that he was out during a stop at Boys Town, but he might have been winking, too.
What is it about Nebraska and Penn State, anyway?
“Well, you got us back for '82 today,” wrote one Penn State fan in a postgame email. “But you folks have one coming for '94, cause we would have beat you then, too!”
See you next year, if not in 30.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1025, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH
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>> Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the Penn State game:
>> NU's Taylor Martinez after the Penn State game:
>> NU's Brett Maher after the Penn State game:
>> Rich Kaipust's postgame analysis: