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After the game Walsh nursed a blackening right eye. Three plays after that gutsy fourth-down conversion, Walsh had thrown the game-winning pass to Irvin, and he had bruised his cheekbone while hugging guard Mike Sullivan in the end zone. "I shouldn't go down there," he said. "I have to remain calm."
Certainly the explosive Irvin won't. A blaze of grace and verbiage from the side of Fort Lauderdale that tourists never see, he's the embodiment of a Miami program that's at once profane and sublime. His touchdown catch was a thing of beauty on which he outran and outclassed All-America safety Rickey Dixon. It was the 27th TD reception of his career, and it got Irvin excited. He snatched the ball from the ref, danced, high-fived everything in sight and saluted the cheering Orange Bowl crowd. On his first reception of the game, a seven-yarder in the first quarter, he had paraded around the field with both forefingers pointing to the sky.
It was a typical Hurricane display, the sort of cocky, stick-it-in-your-face gesture that many onlookers find jarring. It was a statement of self—like the taunting of opponents after big plays—that springs from the ghetto, an unbridled yawp of joy that Johnson says he would never try to repress, and for which he and his team have taken a lot of heat. The 'Canes are trash-talkers supreme. Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown called Miami "a no-class team" after he and his Notre Dame teammates were embarrassed 24-0 by the 'Canes. You don't see Joe Paterno's boys acting like that, goes the standard refrain. Maybe not, responds Johnson, but my players are different from Paterno's.
"Many of them come from broken homes, with no money, no clothes, not much guidance," says Johnson. "People don't understand them. To be honest, a lot of people don't want to know them. They want them to score touchdowns, tackle, win games—but after that they want them to go away."
There's some truth to that. Around the predominantly white Miami campus, the Hurricanes have been regarded as mercenaries, a necessary if somewhat threatening presence. More than half of Miami's players are black, and the 'Canes started nine blacks on defense and six on offense; a black linebacker, Bernard Clark, was named an MVP of the game. (Oklahoma started eight blacks on defense and six on offense—including all the so-called skill positions.)
Certainly some people—on the Miami campus and elsewhere—would have trouble understanding a young man like Irvin, the 15th of 17 children, whose father died before he could see his son perform for the Hurricanes. He wears a diamond earring and a gold necklace the size of a logging chain, and when he preened and waved and danced with pals like defensive end Dan Stubbs and linebacker Randy Shannon, most of the Miami fans at the Orange Bowl seemed to love it. But could the folks watching at home on TV accept this behavior as aggressively good-natured rather than as a reflection of many of the bad things they had read and heard about the Miami football players?
Irvin, who came out of the locker room after the game to throw his sweat-bands and towel into the crowd and hug as many people as possible, seemed puzzled when asked if he felt like a villain. "I don't feel like a bad guy," he said. "I feel like a football player."
If the Hurricane players have offended folks, Johnson apologizes. A little. In preparation for the Orange Bowl, he issued his guys white sweat suits so they wouldn't wear camouflage or black outfits as they had last year before their disastrous loss to Penn State at the Fiesta Bowl, where the Miami image plummeted to an alltime low. Johnson is correct in arguing that the Hurricanes' image problem is caused partly by the way a white public perceives black athletes. Still that doesn't explain the fact that Johnson's much sterner predecessor, Howard Schnellenberger, guided a team of presumably just as misunderstood—and nearly as many black—youths to the 1983 championship without alienating the American public or the Miami student body or adding to the burdens of the Coral Gables Police Department.
So let's not name Johnson Father Figure of the Year just yet. Coach of the Year, perhaps. Or Recruiter of the Year, or Tactician, or Motivator or something we can't quite put our finger on. The Hurricanes use the same offense they did under Schnellenberger, and their defense is an everyday 4-3. Where Johnson differs from Schnellenberger and many other college coaches is that his strategy has been to get the best local athletes he can—43 'Canes hail from a three-county area around Miami—and cut them loose.
Obviously Johnson would have felt better if the NCAA suspension of O'Neill and Mira hadn't arisen. "All year nothing, and then it starts again," he said before the game. "The rehashing." But a patchwork offensive line covered splendidly for the missing O'Neill and injured tackle Matt Patchan. And Clark, who had 14 tackles and a fumble recovery, was brilliant substituting for Mira, the Hurricanes' leading tackier. Clark has lightning bolts shaved on his head—"It's for when I strike people," he explains—and he struck Sooner fullback Lydell Carr again and again, holding Carr to 38 painful yards on 16 carries. Deprived of its most basic option—fullback up the gut—Switzer's wishbone crumbled. Quarterback Charles Thompson, who was harassed all day by Stubbs and fellow defensive end Bill Hawkins, rushed for only 29 yards on 19 carries and completed only four of 12 passes for 56 yards. For the day Oklahoma gained just 179 yards on the ground, less than half its nation-leading average.