He came into the place early, sweating and full of a marvelous certainty. Twan Russell knew. This was the Orange Bowl, wasn't it? A Hurricane linebacker, Russell went to the field before the thousands arrived and took it all in: the creaky seats and end zone palms, the antique light stanchions, all that history. He sucked in the thick Miami air and drew power from one of the last sure things in sports. "Oh, yeah," he told himself. "We can't lose."
Eight years, 11 months and two weeks of winning had provided that. Fifty-eight straight home victories—an NCAA record handed down from one Miami football class to another, from Vinny Testaverde to Steve Walsh to Micheal Barrow to today—gave Russell and his teammates a home field edge that no other team in college football has ever had. Notre Dame couldn't stop the streak. Neither could Barry Switzer, Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno. Who would call this day any different?
Washington? Here came the Huskies into the Orange Bowl, ranked 17th and stuck on probation, coached by a virtual unknown and so paranoid about buckling in Miami's humidity that red meat, which is more difficult to digest, was banned on the team plane. Yet by the end of the day last Saturday, it was Miami coach Dennis Erickson grabbing his gut. "I'm sick," he said. "I'm just sick."
The Huskies chewed the streak into tatters, whipping the fifth-ranked Hurricanes 38-20. Then they ran to a corner of the stadium and gathered in front of their fans, chanting, "Whose house? Dog house!" They understood what they had done. "Whammy in Miami," said Washington tackle Bob Sapp.
Whammy, indeed. Russell sat with his head close to his knees, rasping his shame. This was only his second start as a Hurricane. "I wasn't here when the streak started," he said, "and I have no business—we have no business—ending it. It wasn't ours to give away."
Across the room, teammate Chris T. Jones knew what Russell meant. The night before, former Miami receiver Lamar Thomas, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had called Jones to remind him to safeguard the streak. "It's hard to look the coaches and former players in the eye—and know my senior class lost the streak," Jones said. "That mystique's been broken."
Shattered, actually. The loss to Washington was merely the most damaging in a series of blows to a program once accustomed to collecting national titles. After going 9-3 last season and getting trounced 29-0 by Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, the Hurricanes came out of spring practice vowing unity and a return to controlled nastiness. They opened this season 2-0, and in the first half against the Huskies, their first real test of the year, they seemed close to regaining their old persona. Quarterback Frank Costa lofted a 51-yard gem to Yatil Green to give Miami a 14-3 lead, and the defense shut down Washington's Heisman hopeful, Napoleon Kaufman. It also took pains, while harassing quarterback Damon Huard, to insult Huard's mother.
Then, with stunning speed, everything changed. "They didn't say anything about my mom in the second half," Huard said.
They didn't have time. A brutal lapse by Erickson—failing to ensure, before Miami won the coin toss, that his captains would defer the decision on whether to kick or receive until the second half—resulted in the Huskies' receiving kickoffs to open both halves. That would prove disastrous. On its first possession of the third quarter, Washington faced second-and-five on its own 25. Huard flipped a soft pass to fullback Richard Thomas. Russell got a hand on Thomas's foot—but on nothing else. Seventy yards later Thomas breezed into the end zone. Huard, confident for the first time all day, fired another strike for the two-point conversion. Miami's lead was cut to three.
One minute and four seconds later it was gone. On third-and-11 deep in his own territory, Costa—who had been benched last year after a loss to Florida State and has yet to prove he can win a crucial game—threw to receiver Jammi German near the right sideline. Trouble was, German was on the ground, and Washington cornerback Russell Hairston took the gift 34 yards for the go-ahead score. "I knew right then we were going to win," said Huard, who finished with 217 yards throwing, one TD and two interceptions. "You could see it in their eyes."