SI Vault
Rick Telander
October 12, 1987
Trailing Florida State by 16 points, Miami stormed back to win a state—and, maybe, a national—championship 26-25
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October 12, 1987

The 'canes Were Very Able

Trailing Florida State by 16 points, Miami stormed back to win a state—and, maybe, a national—championship 26-25

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But Miami certainly earned its win. These 'Canes have worked overtime putting distance between themselves and last year's so-called Miami Vice squad, the traveling chain gang of college football. There were no wild predictions by players before the game with Florida State, no defenders to bail out of jail and no combat fatigues in sight. Nor did any of the boys take advantage of the new law and pack sidearms in Tallahassee. On the field the Miami players were rough but civilized. They were penalized only four times, for 36 yards, and didn't celebrate seriously until the game was over. Star wide receiver Mike Irvin, who had four receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, a 73-yard masterpiece with 2:22 left, didn't even put his diamond earring in place until he was en route to the team bus for the trip home. Talk about restraint.

Earlier in the week Hurricane coach Jimmy Johnson had considered the image issue. ''The kids wear coats and ties now, but they're the same people as last year," he said with some irritation. "They were good then, and they're good now."

Johnson, who was a pretty lively fellow during his playing days at Arkansas, can't understand why some folks got so bent out of shape last year over the actions of a few high-spirited young men. Take the camouflage fatigues the players wore before playing Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. Please. "It was an act of unity, to show they were on a mission," says Johnson. "I mean, fatigues are in vogue. And it wasn't like they were dirty fatigues. They were clean new ones that the players had just bought."

Nevertheless, before this season began Johnson decided to put the 'Canes on a tighter leash, and the '87 team is keeping a somewhat lower profile. In the days before the confrontation with Florida State, the coach was even afraid that his boys had become refined to the point of passivity. "Last year before this game they were geared up," he said. "You could hear them. But this week they were really quiet. I got Bennie and [wide receiver] Brian Blades and asked them what was up, I was so worried. They said, 'This is a big one, Coach. Don't worry. They know!' "

One reason for the Hurricanes' calm was the presence of Walsh, the 6'3", 195-pound replacement for departed Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 NFL draft pick Vinny Testaverde. A former National Honor Society member from St. Paul, Walsh is a gangly, unflappable, baby-faced sophomore with huge hands, size-12 feet and the ability to lead without yelling. He seldom looks good in practice, but he comes alive in games. In Miami's wins over Florida and Arkansas he completed 37 of 55 passes for 449 yards and two TDs—and threw just one interception. Most important, he seldom made a wrong decision. "He doesn't have Testaverde's arm, but he's got the touch," says Johnson. "He's quiet, but he's smart. And competition brings out the best in him."

"This offense can highlight a quarterback's skills," Walsh says. "It's the same offense Howard Schnellenberger used when he coached here. It's just about the same as the one the Dolphins play. You have total freedom to call anything you want out there."

Against Florida State, Walsh's early passes sailed high and wide, putting his outstretched receivers in danger of getting killed by defenders. But at the end he was masterly, finishing with 13 completions in 29 attempts for 254 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In the fourth quarter he went 4 for 8 for 116 yards, both his TDs and a two-point conversion. His 73-yard game-winner to Irvin was an audible. "I'd called a short out, but I didn't like the play," says Walsh. "The corner was up tight, so I called Mike deep and he beat the jam."

Sounds simple. So does the question that everybody asks Walsh: How do you compare yourself to Testaverde? "I don't," Walsh responds. "I'm only myself."

Florida State's McManus does not compare himself with anyone either. On Friday he sat in his room with his dad in Burt Reynolds Hall, the football dorm, watching Jaws 2 on television and offering his views on the upcoming game. "I think the scores will be in the 20's, and it will all come down to the end of the fourth quarter," he said. "If we can get our running game going, we'll be in good shape. But both defenses are so tough that turnovers will be really important."

He was right on every count. The Seminoles dominated with their running, sending the 6'2", 221-pound Smith off-tackle behind 6'1", 240-pound fullback Marion Butts. Smith displayed every move you could want in a big back, especially on a 64-yard first-quarter jaunt in which he looked like Earl Campbell in his prime. "Arm tackling will not bring Smith down," said Miami middle linebacker George Mira Jr., who led all players with 17 tackles.

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