Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers (20) gets away from two Alabama defenders on his 77-yard punt return for a touchdown in NU’s 38-6 victory against the Crimson Tide in the 1972 Orange Bowl.

Jan. 1, 1973

Bob Devaney really wanted to beat Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide after losing to the legendary coach twice in bowl games.

Johnny Rodgers made sure that happened in the 1972 Orange Bowl. And unlike NU’s previous Nos. 1 vs. 2 matchup (the Game of the Century), there was no doubt this time.

The Husker junior set the tone with a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown on the final play of the first quarter as NU took a 14-0 lead.

“Johnny’s punt return broke their back,” Husker quarterback Jerry Tagge said. “It was a big mental breakdown for Alabama.”

Rodgers’ return gave him the NCAA single-season record with his fourth punt return for a score.

Rodgers said he nearly didn’t return the punt.

“When the ball was rolling I was going to let it go … but I figured I might just as well give it a try,” Rodgers said.

Luckily for NU he did.

— Julie Koch

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