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Mike Downey

Teams Take 'Fiesta' Idea Too Seriously

December 30, 1987|Mike Downey

PHOENIX — Deion Sanders, who might be the best college cornerback in the country, went bowling the other night with Steve Taylor, who might be the best college quarterback in the country. And we do not mean Fiesta Bowling. We mean bowling bowling.

The quarterback had the better arm.

"My first two tries were gutter balls," Sanders said. "And he just kept throwin' strikes at me."

The guys had a pretty happy time together, down here in a neighborhood between Phoenix and Scottsdale known as Paradise Valley. It was nice to see a couple of college football players enjoying each other's company so much.

Particularly since they do not play for the same team.

Sanders is a junior at Florida State. Taylor is a junior at Nebraska. They will be rivals in Friday's Fiesta Bowl, trying to outthink and outdo one another every time Nebraska has the ball.

Offended by fraternization between two opponents? Maybe we shouldn't be. Maybe we should remember the Fiesta Bowl of last Jan. 2, when football players from Penn State and Miami went at it like pit bulls. They did everything but draw blood, turning an innocent steak fry into World War II 1/2.

Who will ever forget Jerome Brown and his band of renown, walking into--then out of--the pregame cookout in their Army camouflage clothes? A great believer that familiarity breeds contempt, Brown said on behalf of his Miami teammates that he thought the whole affair unnecessary, since the Japanese didn't sit down to dinner with the Americans before they bombed Pearl Harbor.

Although the Penn State players stayed and ate, they were no angels in this matter, having jerked the Hurricanes' chains by making fun of Coach Jimmy Johnson's hairdo, which seemed to be held together by a combination of Alberto V0-5 and Krazy Glue.

Those guys didn't like each other.

This time, though, it really is a Fiesta. A party. A chance to mix and mingle, with no rough stuff, no insults, no heckling, and no offers to throw Miami from the train.

Of course, no national championship is at stake this time, either. Not unless Miami and Oklahoma, playing in the Orange Bowl, grant much of America's most sincere wishes by playing to a scoreless tie.

Florida State (10-1) and Nebraska (likewise) very well might be the third- and fourth-best teams in the country. You could make a case for unbeaten Syracuse, surely, but as FSU Coach Bobby Bowden joked here: "We're not trying to slice up Syracuse, but we've got a little pact, that you've got to be from Florida or the Big Eight, or you can't play for the national championship."

There is no getting around the fact that the Seminoles were beaten by Miami by a point, and the Cornhuskers lost to Oklahoma by 10, just as there is no reason to deny that these losses left both squads with what Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne called "a hollow, hollow feeling."

Still, it's tough to be 10-1 and feel too blue.

That is why, by the time the players got to Phoenix, they were smiling. Time had healed some wounds.

"We both feel we're only one game short of the national championship, and that's definitely been in the back of our minds," Nebraska tailback Keith Jones acknowledged. "But, we played Oklahoma almost a month ago. It's in the past. It's history. We can still have a great season without having a championship season."

Florida State's Sanders, who is sort of Lester Hayes East, is a little more outspoken on the matter.

"We should be down in Miami right now, having a good time," the cornerback said. "We're ticked off about not playing for No. 1. We feel we should be in the Orange Bowl, and so does Nebraska. And, you know what? We should be."

Since misery loves company, the Seminoles and Cornhuskers have decided to hang tight. The other day, a bunch of them went shopping at a Paradise Valley mall together. They dropped into some night spots to dance and hear some music.

"We're nipping curfew at the wire, just about every night," said smiling FSU quarterback Danny McManus, a cat who obviously had sampled some canary.

There has been no Pearl Harbor talk. None of Jerome Brown's monkey business. Florida State and Nebraska have met on the football field (always Nebraska's) four times in the last seven years, splitting the victories two apiece, and they have come away friends, not enemies.

Broderick Thomas, the loudmouth Nebraska defensive end whose put-downs of Oklahoma were thrown back in his face after the game, said he has learned his lesson about talking. But even so, he wanted people to know how much he thinks of the dudes from Tallahassee.

"It's nice to have friends on the other team," Thomas said. "We can go out and have some fun, instead of trying to murder each other."

Another thing Thomas admires is FSU's coach, Bowden. "He's one of those guys you worry about when you're playing them," Thomas said. "If I'd gone someplace else to school, I'd want to play for him. I like what he does. He'll sneak up on you. He's just a nice guy."

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