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HUSKERS' GREATEST MOMENT TAINTED

Today Coach Tom Osborne - and Nebraska fans - should ponder whether it was worth it.

Today the football world should be celebrating the proclamation of Osborne's Cornhuskers as the greatest team in college football history.That's what the Cornhuskers looked like this season, particularly Tuesday night when they brought the college football season to a close by routing the second-ranked Florida Gators 62-24 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

The Cornhuskers chewed up Coach Steve Spurrier's Gators, amassing a Fiesta Bowl record 524 yards on the ground. Defensively, Nebraska made Florida's All-America quarterback Danny Wuerffel (three interceptions) look like what he is - an overrated benefactor of Spurrier's system.

The Cornhuskers, 12-0, are indeed the No. 1 team in college football. They're probably better than a few NFL squads. Tuesday night they looked better than the Chiefs.

But instead of fully celebrating the option brilliance of quarterback Tommie Frazier (199 rushing yards and two TDs), instead of focusing on the overwhelming dominance of Nebraska's defense (Florida minus-28 rushing yards), instead of reveling in the improbability of Nebraska's back-to-back No. 1 finishes (25 straight victories), Tuesday night I spent a great deal of time wondering why Osborne let one ill-behaved man ruin such a wonderful night for Nebraska football.

Was it worth it, Coach Tom?

Osborne's favorite Cornvict, Lawrence Phillips, the man with the "anger control" problem who pleaded no contest to mercilessly beating his ex-girlfriend, left his mark on Nebraska's finest moment. Phillips, installed in the starting lineup for first time since the second week of the season, danced and juked for 165 yards and two TDs, displaying the talents that will make him a sure-fire No. 1 NFL draft pick.

Too bad his participation was unforgivable and unneeded.

You'll never convince me that Nebraska needed Phillips to beat these Gators. Without Phillips, Nebraska would have won by a mere 30 points.

But Osborne always contended he didn't bring Phillips back to finish No. 1. He brought Phillips back, he said, because that was the right thing to do under Nebraska's team rules and because that's what was best to keep Phillips' anger under control.

You know, had Phillips been on the sideline carrying a clipboard instead of 8 yards behind Frazier on Nebraska's first play, I would believe Osborne. I might even have supported his decision.

But at its core, Phillips' participation was unfair. Unfair to Nebraska fans, his teammates, particularly Tommie Frazier, and Kate McEwen, the young woman Phillips dragged down a flight of stairs during early September.

What was gained by putting Phillips back on the field?

Go ahead and think about it for a second.

Was he the difference in Nebraska beating Iowa State, Kansas or Oklahoma?

I guess you could say it's a positive that Phillips re-established himself in the eyes of NFL scouts. Maybe that will hasten his departure from Lincoln, Neb. I'm sure there are a few NFL teams that would love to have him. And I guess you could say Phillips has reconfirmed in everyone's mind that if you can make enough tacklers miss, there's no crime a championship-seeking coach or fan base won't excuse.

But those gains pale in comparison to what's been lost.

Nebraska's greatest moment will always be tainted. The sad part is that it didn't have to be.