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LINCOLN - Being cooped up in an airplane almost four hours longer than planned makes it easy to get out of touch with the hottest water cooler subjects of the day.
But when what you did the night before is the topic du jour of the American sports scene, you don't mind missing out on the endless pontificating from every corner of the country about the dramatic ending of the Alamo Bowl.
If you're like Nebraska defensive tackle Le Kevin Smith and several of his Husker teammates, you just roll your eyes and smile when you hear that news media outlets nationwide spent the better part of the day dissecting the wildest play to end a college football game in almost a quarter century.
"It was a funny way to end the game," Smith said. "But we got him out of bounds."
Smith's reaction was representative of those Huskers who returned on the team charter flight to Lincoln late Thursday afternoon from San Antonio following their thrilling 32-28, come-from-behind victory over Michigan.
The Huskers and their traveling party were delayed twice in San Antonio by what Athletic Director Steve Pederson said was a problem with one of the plane's brakes. Originally scheduled to be back in Lincoln around 1:30 p.m., the Northwest Airlines charter didn't reach the gate until about 5:15 p.m.
About 150 people greeted the Huskers.
Coach Bill Callahan received some of the loudest cheers from the group, including some who made a couple of trips to the airport only to find out about the delays.
While they waited, those fans joined in the nationwide discussion of that wacky play - the last in an intense 4-hour, 4-minute game that improved NU to 5-0 in games played at the Alamodome over the past nine seasons.
What they didn't know about the play that's becoming known as the "San Antonio Scramble" - a seven-lateral, one-advanced-fumble desperation play by the Wolverines that ended just 13 yards short of being the game-winning touchdown - was something Husker cornerback Cortney Grixby shared as he signed autographs while waiting for his luggage.
Grixby said he started racing down the field trying to get the attention of fellow defensive backs Zack Bowman and Titus Brothers because he knew the play wasn't over.
"No one knew the play was still alive," Grixby said. "So I was running down the field and started pointing at those two who were loafing around by the end zone."
The sly grin Grixby flashed was the clue he was kidding about the loafing part. But the Omaha Central graduate said both Brothers and Bowman - who made sure Michigan tight end Tyler Ecker was knocked out of bounds - told him his pointing was the signal they needed that things weren't quite finished.
That's because so many people had stormed the field after Wolverines lineman Mark Bihl fumbled the sixth lateral. To a pair of defensive backs more than 70 yards away, it would have been easy for them to figure the game was over.
"It was just mayhem," Grixby said. "They said they saw him (Ecker) running but they didn't know what was going on. I just kept pointing at him and they came up to get him out of bounds."
That's the type of teamwork and preparation that Pederson said has him so pleased about the direction of the program Callahan and his staff have instilled the past two seasons.
"The way our coaches prepared for this and our team played made it an exceptional night," Pederson said. "To beat an unbelievably talented Michigan team and come back the way we did is a good sign for the future of our program."
NOTES: The fans gathered at the airport were happy to see Pederson this time return with the team from San Antonio. Two years ago after NU's 17-3 Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan State, Pederson was deep into his search for a coach to replace Frank Solich and wasn't seen in Lincoln until two days later. . . . Pederson said Alamo Bowl officials told him there were between 20,000 and 21,000 Nebraska fans at the game. "It was pretty spectacular," Pederson said. "You couldn't tell it from the TV angle most of the game because so many of our fans were on that side." . . . NU defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove said it didn't matter to him that the bowl victory came over Michigan. A 22-year veteran of coaching in the Big Ten, Cosgrove said "any bowl win is a good win, no matter who we're playing." . . . Sophomore linebacker Bo Ruud said watching the game from the sidelines was one of the toughest things he's ever had to do. The Lincoln Southeast graduate suffered a broken arm in practice Dec. 18 and had to watch the game while wearing his sling. Ruud said he expects to ready for the start of spring practice in March.
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