Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ghosts of the Orange Bowl: Tommie Frazier

Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier breaks a tackle by Miami's C.J. Richardson during the 1995 Fed Ex Orange Bowl

As a young kid growing up in Bradenton, Tommie Frazier dreamed of someday playing quarterback in big games at the Orange Bowl. But he figured he would be playing for the Gators, Seminoles or Hurricanes. Everything was going as planned. As a 10th grader at Bradenton's Manatee High School, he led his team to the state championship. By his junior year, he was already considered one of the best high school quarterbacks in the state. As a senior he was named high school All American by Parade Magazine and USA Today. Florida, Florida State and Miami all offered football scholarships. But there was just one problem. None of the Florida schools wanted Frazier to play quarterback. They all recruited Frazier as an "athlete" with the option of playing receiver, defensive back or running back.

Frazier had always been an option quarterback from the time he was in Pop Warner through high school. He was determined to play quarterback in college. As an option quarterback, his strengths were more geared to run the football and pitch to his tailback rather throw the ball downfield from the pocket. Enter Tom Osborne and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Nebraska made Frazier an offer he couldn't refuse-- a chance to play quarterback for a big time program. It turned out to be a perfect marriage.

Less than a month after enrolling at Nebraska in the Fall of 1992, it didn't take long for Frazier to break into the starting lineup. He replaced senior Mike Grant and never looked back. He led the Huskers to the Big 8 title and a trip to the Fed Ex Orange Bowl. It was Frazier's chance to finally play in the game and stadium he had grown up watching on TV. The opponent was Florida State and it was also an opportunity to play against one of the Florida schools who didn't believe in his quarterback abilities. The Seminoles won the game as a nervous Frazier struggled against the speedy FSU defense. But Frazier was just beginning to realize his potential.

The following season in 1993, Frazier led Nebraska to an undefeated regular season and another trip to Miami for the Fed Ex Orange Bowl. Once again the opponent would be Florida State. But this time the national championship was on the line. The heavily favored Noles soon realized the sophomore version of Frazier was much different from the nervous freshman they faced the previous year. Frazier didn't make the same mistakes of turning the ball over. He kept the FSU defense off balance the entire evening, combining clutch passing to go along with his running ability with the option. Late in the fourth quarter, Frazier drove Nebraska to a go-ahead touchdown to take a 16-15 lead. But FSU's Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Charlie Ward answered back and led the Noles to a drive that led to the eventual game winning field goal by Scott Bentley to take an 18-16 lead. With less than a minute left in the game, Frazier miraculously drove Nebraska deep into into FSU territory, completing a 29-yard pass to Tremaine Bell as time almost expired. Bell was ruled down with one second left in the game. But kicker Byron Bennett missed a 45-yard field on the final play and Nebraska lost again. Despite the loss, Frazier was named Nebraska's MVP for the game.

Frazier was now 0-2 in bowl games and Nebraska had a 7-year bowl losing streak. That all changed in 1994. For the second consecutive year, Frazier lead Nebraska to an undefeated regular season and a third straight trip to the Fed Ex Orange Bowl. This time the opponent was the hometown Miami Hurricanes. While Nebraska was considered the favorite, the Huskers had were 0-3 against the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl, including the famous 31-30 loss in 1984. Frazier started the game, but struggled early against Miami's defense led by Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis. He was sent to the bench and replaced by backup quarterback Brook Berringer, who had started several games that season when Frazier was sidelined with blood clots in his leg. Berringer also struggled. Miami led most of the game and had a 17-7 lead late in the third quarter. It looked like another frustrating loss for Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Sensing a shift in momentum, Tom Osborne summoned Frazier from the bench and put him back into the game. Frazier energized Nebraska and led the Huskers to a pair of 4th quarter touchdown drives to win the game 24-17 and the national championship. Frazier was once again named the MVP of the game. He became only the third player in Fed Ex Orange Bowl history to be named MVP twice, joining former Nebraska quarterback Jerry Tagge and Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts.

Frazier would finish his college career with another national championship--this time demolishing Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl. His 75-yard touchdown run late in the game is one of the most memorable runs in college football history. Once again, he was named MVP. Frazier is the only quarterback in college football history to be named MVP in three national championship games.

Undrafted by the NFL, Frazier went on to play briefly in the Canadian Football League. But continous blood clot problems shortened his playing career. He went to coach and served as a graduate assistant at Baylor University and was head coach at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska for two seasons. Married with two children, Frazier is now an account executive for an energy company in Nebraska.

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