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It Was Worth The Wait
Curry Kirkpatrick
October 13, 1986
Vinny Testaverde had to endure three long years on the bench before lifting Miami to the top
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October 13, 1986

It Was Worth The Wait

Vinny Testaverde had to endure three long years on the bench before lifting Miami to the top

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Even when Vinny wasn't a quarterback, he was. In the final game of his junior year at Sewanhaka High in Elmont, N.Y., the season he got beat out for quarterback by Lou Voltaggio, the year he began this peculiar habit of being in the right place, just too early, Testaverde was sent into the game at wide receiver. Whereupon he took a step back, caught a long lateral from Voltaggio and whipped a pass downfield for the touchdown that won the Nassau County championship.

The next season, after finally winning the starting job at Sewanhaka—Voltaggio did not go to Cleveland but to Rutgers to play soccer—Testaverde had to wallow in a veer offense, but he still passed for nearly 700 yards. Because of his awesome lack of interest in school-work his grade points dwindled to a precious few, and he became a truly endangered species: the high school star who can't get into college.

So, to be a quarterback, Testaverde had to up and leave his parents and all those doting sisters, not to mention his beloved Mama Josie's pasta. To be a quarterback he had to forget his teenage clothes and his Italian shoes, shave his head, polish his belt buckle, wake up at dawn, march in formation with a rifle, shout "Yes, sir" a lot and hit the books the same way he hit the down-and-out. To be a quarterback he had to get through a postgraduate year at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy.

"Army school helped me in a lot of ways," says Testaverde. "I learned how to fold my clothes and make my bed." Again, he is not being funny. He means it. But he also quickly made squad sergeant and learned organization, leadership, discipline and patience—qualities that served him well during his years as an understudy at Miami.

Whether he knew it or not, Testaverde had prepared himself for that bleak day back in '83 when Schnellenberger told him Kosar was more ready, Kosar was better, Kosar would be the starting quarterback. "Most kids would have been devastated, gone off and gotten lost, or transferred," says Hurricane offensive coordinator Gary Stevens. "Vinny was looking at a few years of nothing but bench. But he never complained, never got the 'backup mentality.' He just dug in and worked hard."

And how. Testaverde ran the scout team, paid close attention to everything Kosar did and weight-trained his dripping head off. He can now run a 4.8 40, squatlift 500 pounds, bench-press 325 and make a vertical leap of 30 inches. These are remarkable figures for a classic drop-back passer—one who can wing a ball 70 yards in the air righthanded and 50 yards lefthanded. "Vinny's got the strongest arm I've ever seen," says Earl Morrall, who worked with Kelly, Kosar and Testaverde as the Hurricanes' quarterback coach from 1979 to '82. (Has any other team ever had as much quarter-backing talent as the Hurricanes did in '82, when all three were on the squad?)

In Miami's final regular-season game of '83, Kosar went down against Florida State. The Hurricanes were behind, and they needed the win to get into the Orange Bowl. Testaverde hadn't played a down all year, and playing one now would cost him a year of eligibility. Still, he rushed up to the coaches, silently pleading to go in the game. Could there have been a better indication of his character and resolve?

Smelling salts revived Kosar, who led Miami over the Seminoles and then over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl for the national championship. That game provided another revealing scene. One of Testaverde's housemates, placekicker Mark Seelig, has a snapshot of it. The Hurricanes have just broken up the Corn-huskers' last-ditch two-point attempt to preserve a 31-30 lead. Pandemonium reigns on the field—Kosar is in the middle of it—but 48 seconds are left on the clock. Testaverde is nowhere in the photo. Why? Because he's on the sideline, pulling his teammates off the field so Miami will avoid a penalty. "The calmest guy in the place," says Seelig.

Another year, 1984, another season-long yearning, and Testaverde was not so laid back. By now he really wanted out of Miami. " Florida State, if they'd take me," he says. Johnson was the new Hurricane coach, and he had been so enamored of Testaverde—"a tight end masquerading as a quarterback" was his initial impression—that he planned to share the leadership duties. But Kosar started hot and didn't cool down.

The two rivals, so alike in appearance, couldn't have more divergent personalities. Kosar, the brainy economics/finance double major, is more aloof and a sometime hustler out for the "deal." The joke went that Kosar's reply to all those Miami fans who expressed disappointment that he wasn't Jewish was characteristic: "Hey, I can be Jewish. What's in it?" Testaverde, a more typical jocko, is more sensitive, more team oriented, more genuine. The two simply did not communicate.

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