Dorsey completed 22 of 40 passes for 270 yards and three scores and was named the game's most valuable player, but he also endured a persistent, nightlong pounding. "It was a very physical game," he said, perfectly deadpan. More eloquent was his ashen face, brought on by postgame nausea, and his pronounced limp, the result of a bloody-sirloin rug burn on his left shin suffered on a scramble-slide in the second quarter. " Florida beat the heck out of Ken Dorsey out there," said Davis.
Yet there was a fitting symmetry to Dorsey's work. His nerves and uncertainty at the line of scrimmage had contributed greatly to the Washington loss, but in New Orleans he was a portrait of maturity both before and during the game. While many of his teammates hit Bourbon Street early in their visit, Dorsey hung out at the team hotel with his girlfriend, Lauren Hole, a high school senior in Dorsey's hometown of Orinda, Calif. On the field Dorsey checked off with ease, despite the din caused by the pro-Gators crowd. After the game he was the last player to leave the Miami locker room, dressing slowly and struggling to maneuver the bulky MVP trophy into a small duffel bag.
The Hurricanes' victory was sealed when Morgan intercepted a pass thrown by Florida backup quarterback Jesse Palmer with 1:55 to go. Morgan, who started 43 of 46 games in his Miami career, had pulled out a piece of paper last summer and written out an ambitious list of goals for his final season: Gain 15 pounds, get faster and stronger, jump rope every morning and every night, eat three MET-Rx shakes every day, win the Big East title, make All-America, win the Bednarik, Butkus and Nagurski awards and win the national championship. Only the last goal remained in doubt at the close of the Sugar, though not to Morgan. "No doubt, we're the best team in the country," he said.
That proclamation had been hanging unsaid since the Hurricanes held a players-only meeting on Dec. 4, two days after Oklahoma's victory over Kansas State in the Big 12 title game ensured that Miami would not get to play for the outright national title in the Orange Bowl. ( Florida State, which lost to the Hurricanes 27-24 on Oct. 7, got the chance instead.) Miami players watched in groups—some in the football complex, others at senior cornerback Leonard Myers's house, still others with junior offensive tackle Joaquin Gonzalez's brother—as Oklahoma beat Kansas State. All were deflated by the result. Two days later Davis called a meeting and urged the players to forge ahead. "Don't have any regrets about what you do from here," he told them. "Control what you can control."
When Davis left the room, the players stayed and spoke emotionally about what was left of their season. Despite Miami's win over Florida State, the Bowl Championship Series rankings had put the Seminoles ahead of the Hurricanes. Reed got up and said, "I'm ticked off about this BCS stuff." Others agreed. Yet slowly the tone changed. "We started to talk about what we could still do," recalls Gonzalez. "Some guys said, 'Hey, we can still win part of this, and even if we don't, we can finish a great season.' At the end of the meeting, we left the room with a promise that we wouldn't talk about the BCS anymore and would just concentrate on Florida."
They were together again on Tuesday night, in the belly of the Superdome, crammed into a small dressing room minutes before kickoff. It was another moment rife with emotion: Seventeen seniors were among the players gathered around a coach who hadn't yet signed the contract extension that would keep him at Miami. Davis sensed the pressure in the room and tried to steer his players from it. "Listen," he said. "Don't go out there and play like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. It's not. Play with the heart of a child. Think back to the sandlot games you played, when nobody kept score and you kept playing until your mom or dad called you in because it was dark. That's the way you should play tonight. Just have fun."
Before the night ended, Hurricanes players would slip Mardi Gras beads around their necks and dance in a corner of the stadium, celebrating the rebirth of their program and the defeat of a new, old rival. University president Foote, who will retire in June, would visit his players in the winning locker room and tell them sincerely that he was proud of them all. Davis would hoist his seven-year-old son, Drew, into the air and carry him through subterranean tunnels toward a waiting car and a party that had been six years in the making. Fun doesn't even begin to cover it.