June 3, 2006

Davison still remembered for catch vs. Mizzou

Did you ever wonder what became of your favorite college stars from yesteryear? Did you think about how often they're reminded of their crowning achievements?

Wonder no more.

Rivals.com is spending this summer tracking down some of the college stars who delivered the most memorable careers or moments of the last generation. We began the series last week by talking to a handful of notable quarterbacks of the last 25 years. This week we're focusing on players who helped deliver some of college football's most fantastic finishes.

Their crowning achievements occurred decades ago, yet the events may as well have taken place yesterday. The moments are still that fresh in the minds of each player.

They still are often asked about the plays that made them famous. And they're only too happy to share their memories.

Matt Davison, Nebraska wide receiver
Name: Matt Davison
Age: 27
Residence: Lincoln, Neb.
Claim to fame: Caught a 12-yard touchdown pass as time expired to force overtime in Nebraska's 45-38 victory over Missouri on Nov. 8, 1997. Davison caught the ball after it bounced off the hands, chest and foot of teammate Shevin Wiggins. Nebraska went on to share the national title with Michigan that year.

How often he's reminded about the Missouri game: "I would say at least five or six times a week. It's pretty regular. For quite a few years, it was definitely every day and every time I met somebody. It's still brought up at least every other day in my life. There's no time that I ever go more than a couple of days without talking about it or somebody asking me about it.

"Last year I ran into a situation that was pretty cool. I was out in Boston at Sean McDonough's celebrity golf tournament. Gerard Phelan and Dwight Clark were both there (Phelan caught a Hail Mary pass in Boston College's victory over Miami in 1985. Clark caught the winning touchdown in the San Francisco 49ers' triumph over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC championship). Those two guys both had tremendous plays they were involved in, and so was I. We got a picture taken. It's a picture that's been asked about a lot because it's been sold in auctions and things.

"Anywhere you go, people at least remember it. People in Nebraska recognize me. I won't say that people (outside of Nebraska) recognize me, but if somebody tells them about what happened, they usually remember the play. People who are college football fans remember the play. It's been on ESPN quite a bit with the top 10 finishes and this, that and the other. That keeps it fresh in people's heads. My phone blows up when (the game's) on ESPN Classic."

What do you remember about that game?: "It was a big game because we were No. 1 in the country. Anytime you have a No. 1 team, it's going to be a big game. We were on the road. Nebraska always has a target on (its back), and we'd won a couple of titles the last couple of years. Anytime we went on the road, it was a big game.

"Missouri had a great game plan. It went back and forth. Neither defense could stop the other's offense. We got the ball back (trailing 38-31 with 1:02 remaining) and had a chance to put a drive together. It wasn't something we were used to. Our offense was more about the running game and the option game. Now we had to go to the air with only about a minute to go. We had to go 65-70 yards. We had a senior quarterback in Scott Frost who really held the huddle together and kept everybody focused. We had a group of offensive linemen that included a couple of All-Americans and an Outland Trophy winner (Aaron Taylor). We had a good line that year. Those guys kind of held it together.

"We had one play to get it in the end zone. And we ran a play that we hadn't run all season long. It was kind of a gutsy call by (Nebraska coach) Tom Osborne. We didn't have any timeouts, so when we went to the sideline in between plays just briefly discussing it, it came down to whether we were running an option play or a slant route. We were on the 12-yard line, so it was kind of a tough running play because most likely it was going to be the last play of the game. We called 99 double slant. We were in shotgun formation, and four wide receivers run slant routes.

"Scott threw it to the right side. I was a wide receiver on the left. As I saw the ball go toward (the right), I just ran toward the play. I couldn't see exactly what was going on, but I did see it float in the air. It was kind of floating like a punt. It seemed almost like slow motion, though it happened extremely fast. All I could do was put my hands underneath it. It was just clearly reaction at that point. There was no true planning or skill involved. Just dive and try to grab the thing. I had a pretty good view. It didn't hit the ground. I'm sure of that.

"(The ball) was kicked for sure, no doubt about it. I think our guy was trying to keep it alive. It was up in the air, he was falling to the ground and just trying to keep it alive somehow. It went off his foot, and that's what gave me time to get over there. I don't know if it was intentional.

"I pretty much caught it on the right hash mark if you're facing the end zone. I was split out clear to the left (at the start of the play). The ball was thrown to the right slot guy, and I was in the split-end position to the left. As I ran my slant route, I came across the back of the end zone and just continued across it when I saw (the ball) pop up in the air.

"It was unbelievable. We still had to kick the extra point to tie them. That was still looming. As we celebrated, we knew we had to get off the field and not get a 15-yard penalty for celebration and have to kick a thirtysomething-yard extra point. We had an all-Big 12 kicker in Kris Brown, who's still in the NFL.

"I think when we went to overtime, we felt we had the momentum obviously, even though we were on the road. We had almost let a game slip away and take us out of national-title contention. Once we made that play, it really focused us for the rest of the game and the rest of the season. We couldn't let that happen to us. We were the better team. Even though Missouri had a really good day and a really good game plan, we felt we were the better team. You hate to lose to a team that you're better than or you have more talent than.

"We got the ball (in overtime), drove down their throat into the end zone and never threw the ball once. We just put it in the end zone, got a stop and it was over.

"I think they were just in shock a little bit (after the game). When I caught the ball, the students and everything had rushed the field. They thought they had this game in the bag. They beat the No. 1 team in the nation, and it was like a big party in Columbia. Then they all have to get back in the stands and watch their team lose. I don't think there was anybody who was mad at the call or who thought it hit the ground. People were just in shock. What just happened? They were very cordial, very nice.

"Corby Jones (the Missouri quarterback in 1997) is a friend of mine actually. We joke and laugh about it. He still lives in Kansas City, and I see him once or twice a year. He jabs me about it. He says it hit the ground. I say it didn't. I think he knows it didn't. He says, 'We had you. We had you. You guys were No. 1 and we had you.' No doubt about it. They had us where they wanted us. It came down to one play."

Pro career: Davison signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills in the spring of 2001. He pulled a quadriceps muscle in training camp, failed to make the roster and never played again.

What he's doing now: "I broadcast all the games football and basketball for Nebraska. Then I do some Fox Sports television for basketball also.

"I was a communications major, so I had some training in it. That was one thing. When I caught that ball (against Missouri), I was a freshman. The media was always asking me for interviews and stuff like that. I had a lot of experience being around the media for my entire career. A lot of guys might get it for their senior year and junior year. I had it for four straight years a lot of interviews with television, radio and everything else. I enjoyed it a lot. I had a lot of experience answering questions. I just had to learn to ask them. I know sports. I played basketball at Nebraska, so I know basketball and football. It seemed like a good fit. I'll be entering my fourth year (next year).

"It's a nice place to live. I know a lot of people. The relationships I built through my career at Nebraska introduced me to a lot of people in the community. It's a nice place to raise kids, and I have a daughter. I get to stay around here and be around great people. I travel a lot for my job, and I love to travel for vacations, so I still see a lot of the world. This is just my home base."


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