'77 Liberty Bowl: Garcia's Road to Redemption
By Randy York
Thirty-four years ago tonight was Randy Garcia's Road to Redemption. It was a memorable night in Elvis Presley's hometown of Memphis ... a night when Tom Osborne delivered perhaps his most emotional halftime speech ever to spur Nebraska to a 21-17 win over North Carolina, which came into the patriotic Liberty Bowl with the nation's leading defense against scoring. Milt Tenopir, Nebraska's venerable offensive line coach, told me at a Nebraska football practice three years ago that Osborne's halftime speech that night was the most impassioned one he'd ever heard. With tears forming in his eyes and a voice raising with every word, Osborne told that 9-3 Husker team how much he appreciated their unwillingness to let down, even when things had not gone their way that season.
And sure enough, trailing 17-7 in the fourth quarter, Garcia came off the bench to replace starter Tom Sorley at quarterback and promptly threw two touchdown passes - a 10-yarder to Curtis Craig with 10:51 left and a 34-yarder to Tim Smith with 3:16 remaining, giving Nebraska a 21-17 come-from-behind win. Those 14 points in less than 11 minutes matched the most any team had scored in a full game against the Tar Heels all season. "I didn't know that," Garcia told me last year when he returned to Lincoln with his family to watch the Huskers beat Kansas. It was an emotional return to Lincoln for a quarterback that had won the Los Angeles Times "City Player of the Year Award" 27 years before current Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez earned the same honor from the same publication.
A longtime lieutenant for the Los Angeles Police Department following his Nebraska career, Garcia, now 56, looks like he could still throw spirals to Kenny Bell, Brandon Kinnie or Quincy Enunwa. He will never forget how difficult it was to become Nebraska's starting quarterback a year after backing up All-American Vince Ferragmamo in 1976. Garcia suffered the ultimate indignity, getting tackled in the end zone for a fourth-quarter safety in Nebraska's 19-10 season-opening loss in 1977 to Washington State. "You know how Nebraska fans liked to throw oranges on the field in those days?" Garcia asked. "Well, if they would have had any in their hands on that particular day, I'm sure they would have pelted me."
But there's nothing like exorcizing the demons from one game to the next. Yes, Garcia came back a week later as a pivotal player in one of Osborne's most celebrated wins in 25 years as head coach. He completed 7-of-11 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown to Rick Berns. He also hooked up with I.M. Hipp for 53 yards to set up another touchdown. In front of a nationwide television audience, Garcia helped Nebraska execute every trick in the book to hand 'Bama's Bear Bryant a 31-24 loss - his only setback in a second-place finish in both final national polls. Going through the ups and downs of that '77 season, Garcia was glad his final Husker curtain call was triumphant. "I was relieved that we rallied and beat North Carolina," he said, "and I was happy that no one wanted to throw an orange at me."
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