Bowden had a premonition about this. On Thursday he said, "I have a feeling Jimmy's defense is as good as last year's. Maybe not individually, but the total package."
He was right. It's that total package, personally choreographed by Johnson, once an undersized Arkansas nose-guard, that never seems to change. Year in and year out it's the defense, not the high-tech Hurricane offense, that wins for Miami. It was the defense that turned Saturday's game into a yawner. Keep in mind, Florida State had averaged 35.8 points per game over the past four years, and Bowden had said this year's squad was his deepest ever at the skill positions. But the Hurricanes ate up the Seminoles' offensive line, shut down their backs and receivers and disheartened their trio of baffled and overmatched quarterbacks.
At some point during the game—maybe toward the end of the second quarter, when State started at its own 20 and in three offensive plays regressed to its own 16—onlookers began to recall that Miami had beaten the preseason No. 1 team five times in the past five years, had won 32 straight regular season games and hadn't lost to the Seminoles since 1984. "Winning is a habit; losing is a habit," said Johnson before the game. "Right now our habit is winning."
That's why Bowden wasn't thrilled with his team's rap video, performed by the entire squad in full uniform, though he had reluctantly consented to it. "We'll have to eat that thing if we lose," he said knowingly. While everyone else was saying that this game would go right down to the wire, Bowden had a contrary feeling about that, too. "If either of us makes a gob of mistakes and the other one doesn't, it might not be so close," he warned.
Well, Florida State made a gob of mistakes. The largest was showing up on a night when the Hurricanes would play almost flawlessly. Deceptively efficient quarterback Steve Walsh—he completed 18 of 37 passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions—missed some receivers, but he never took a sack and he never screwed up. Even with Miami leading 17-0 at the half, Walsh stayed on full battle alert in the locker room. " Coach Johnson was screaming. I was screaming. I wouldn't let anybody let up," he said later.
Walsh even occasionally threw directly into the face of All-America cornerback and All-World hustler Deion (Neon) Sanders. Sanders, who earned $60,000 playing minor league baseball in the New York Yankee organization this summer and ran a 10.53 100 meters last spring for the Florida State track team in his first competitive race at that distance, wears, by his own tally, "five to seven thousand dollars' " worth of gold chains around his neck when he's not on the field. Among his gold pendants are the number 2 (his jersey numeral), an arrowhead (the Seminoles' helmet emblem), the words PRIME TIME (one of his nicknames) and two large dollar signs. So what's happening, Deion?
"Money," he replies. "That's what they called me in baseball: 'Money.' That's what it's all about."
It was all about brute strength on Miami's first touchdown, when fullback Gary carried Sanders from the four-yard line into the end zone early in the second quarter for a 10-0 Miami lead. It wasn't Sanders's fault, really. The Hurricane offensive line, comprising tackles Darrin Bruce and John O'Neill, guards Mike Sullivan and Bobby Garcia, and center Rod Holder, pushed Florida State's front wall around all night, making it necessary for defensive backs like Sanders to come up and stop Miami runners one-on-one.
"He's still a good athlete," said Hurricane cornerback Don Ellis of the flamboyant Sanders. "He, personally, played up to par. But what about that video? Imagine if we'd done that. We've been [portrayed as] the bad guys for so long, imagine what people would've said even if we'd done that after winning the national championship."
It's a fair point. In recent years, the Miami football team has been taken to task for committing a host of moral, legal and educational sins. Stung by charges that the Hurricanes were out of control, the university's administration has slowly begun to address the ills that arose during the school's headlong rush to create a monster football program. Notably, midway through last week, Miami announced that it wouldn't offer a scholarship to star high school wide receiver Leslie Shepherd of Fort Washington, Md., because his academic record wasn't up to snuff. Shepherd had been eager to play for the Hurricanes, but, said Johnson, "Leslie's father indicated there were quite a few other schools waiting in line to take him." A few years ago Miami would probably have allowed Johnson to sign Shepherd. Of course, there is so much schoolboy talent in the Hurricanes' backyard that Miami can afford to pass on Shepherd, but Johnson does seem eager to rid his 'Canes of their outlaw image.