Carrying the load
Hurricanes ride Portis, Davenport in time of need
Updated: Wednesday January 03, 2001 8:22 AM
By John Giannone, CNNSI.com
NEW ORLEANS -- The adrenaline jolt was long overdue.
For a team that was supposed to have all this pent-up anxiety, anger and bitterness over a perceived BCS snub, for a team that supposedly came here to deliver an emphatic message to the masses, Miami carried a distinct air of apathy early Tuesday night.
All week, we were told that Florida would be the unfortunate recipient of a Hurricane force; that Miami's bravado on Bourbon Street last Wednesday would be a prelude to a punishing lesson that would prove to the voters that Miami -- and not Florida State -- deserved to play Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl for the national championship.
Then came Clinton Portis and Najeh Davenport, Miami's twin bolts of lightning.
With workhorse running back James Jackson out with a foot injury, Santana Moss slowed by back woes and the Hurricanes nursing an even more painful third-quarter deficit, Portis and Davenport were called upon to restore some normalcy to Miami's offense ... and its master plan.
Portis gained 98 yards, including 20 on consecutive carries during a third-quarter drive that culminated in a touchdown to give lead Miami wouldn't relinquish.
Then in the fourth quarter, with Miami in need of a clock-burning drive, Portis took command. He gained 15 yards on four carries, moved the chains and loosened Florida's defense for the kill shot -- a 35-yard dash that set up a field goal and provided Miami with another double-digit lead.
As for Davenport, he muscled his way to a highlight-reel, tip-toe 2-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter that put Miami ahead, 27-17. Davenport then capped a grand evening with a bulldog TD run in the closing minutes.
"That right there shouldn't surprise anyone," Moss said of sharing the spotlight with Davenport and Portis. "That's what makes us a team. We've done that all year. It's what this team is all about."
For the birds
What, exactly, is the Miami mascot's costume? Is it a bird? A duck? A man with a bill? And what, exactly, was the Miami mascot doing on Tuesday night?
At one point in the second quarter, the ornithologically challenged mascot - which is officially an ibis -- was escorted away by Superdome security after he/she/it engaged in a kicking and slapping match with the Gators' mascot.
That, however, was just a prelude. Late in the fourth quarter, after Davenport's short TD run, the "bird" charged onto the field, hugged one of the Miami offensive linemen and waved a pair of pompons.
Miami was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.
(Not so) crowded houseThe signs of disrespect were everywhere, and not just the ones that hung from the Superdome rafters or the ones held aloft by students putting their parents' hard-earned tuition dollars to work. You know, those slogans that cleverly deliver a derisive message while including the bold-faced letters of the network broadcasting the game.
Indeed, disrespect for this edition of the Sugar Bowl was evident everywhere inside the Superdome. There was Miami's long, strong disrespect for a Florida program it believes has dodged the Hurricanes since the Gators dropped them from the schedule 13 years ago.
Mostly, though, there was disrespect for the event itself. Patches of empty seats, hundreds in a row, thousands in a section, dotted the landscape.
Outside, desperate scalpers busily scurried to unload their tickets and cut their losses, some offering prime views for half the face value. In particular, Miami fans were the most apathetic.
Despite playing in a game that carried at least peripheral national title implications, Miami sold fewer than 10,000 tickets. In all, the Superdome was nearly 15,000 fans shy of capacity. The most rabid orange-and-green clad fans occupied only a small six-section corner of the spacious arena and were barely audible all night.
Early in the second quarter, though, Hurricane fans revealed the source of their apathy and disrespect. During a timeout, a commercial aired on the giant replay screens promoting Wednesday's Orange Bowl. Miami fans booed lustily. An obscene chant followed.
With memories of last week's sidewalk tussle as ripe as Florida defensive end Alex Brown's left eye wound, senses were keen to the possibility of on-field repercussions. In fact, Miami tackle Bryant McKinnie said this week there would be "a lot of cheap shots because of it."
Game officials took notice. In the first half, three players were flagged for personal foul or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
The first came midway through the first quarter when Florida receiver Reche Caldwell celebrated incessantly after catching a 47-yard pass. The second came a few minutes later when Miami running back James Jackson got too physical after a 10-yard reception. The final act of insubordination came courtesy of Keiwan Ratliff to largely negate a 32-yard kickoff return.
But the harshest foul came midway through the third quarter when Florida's Gerald Warren body-slammed Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey on second-and-22 and was flagged for roughing the passer. That led to Miami's go-ahead score.
Youth is served
Wonder where the national championship tug-of-war likely will be waged the next few years? Ever heard of Florida?
The Gators started only three seniors last night -- seldom-used fullback Rod Frazier, offensive guard Leon Hires and defensive tackle Derrick Chambers.
On offense, seven of the 11 starters were either freshman or sophomores, including redshirt freshman quarterback Rex Grossman, who finally seems to have gained enough of Steve Spurrier's confidence to remain in the game for more than one series at a time, and wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, who set NCAA freshman records with 14 TD catches and more than 1,100 receiving yards.
As for Miami, 14 of the 22 starters are underclassmen, including Dorsey, who emerged this season as the steady, heady leader as a sophomore.