Go ahead, Miami.
Get right up there in college football's face and waggle your index fingers,
talk your trash and do your silly little dances. Laugh and point at Notre Dame
and Colorado and all the others. Poke fun even at Florida State, if you want.
Sure, the Seminoles were the only team to beat you in this, your third national
championship season of the 1980s, but any team that lets Southern Mississippi
knock it out of title contention deserves what it gets—or, to be more precise,
doesn't get. So brag and strut, Hurricanes. You are, most deservedly, No.
At the end of
their 33-25 thrashing of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night, the Miami
players hoisted their first-year coach, Dennis Erickson, onto their shoulders
and carried him to midfield and then moved toward the stands to join the
celebration of Hurricane fans, who were a tiny minority in the Louisiana
Superdome crowd of 77,452. But these festivities were merely a continuation of
others that had begun much earlier. With almost 11 minutes remaining in the
final quarter, the news from the Orange Bowl—that Notre Dame had beaten
previously undefeated Colorado 21-6 (page 16)—reached the Miami bench, touching
off a frenzy of helmet-waving, arm-thrusting and all-around 'Cane-raising.
So why does Miami
deserve to posture, while 12-1 Notre Dame and 11-1 Colorado don't? Well, first,
in that 24-10 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee on Oct. 28, the Hurricanes
were without quarterback Craig Erickson, who was nursing a broken index finger
on his throwing hand. Erickson, who was named the Sugar Bowl MVP for completing
17 of 27 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns, would have made a sizable
difference against the Seminoles.
Second, when the
defending national champion Fighting Irish brought their unbeaten, top-ranked
team to Miami on Nov. 25, the Hurricanes clobbered Notre Dame 27-10. And
finally, Colorado demonstrated in the Orange Bowl that it was lucky to be
playing in a league, the Big Eight, that simply is not what it used to be.
(Check Nebraska's 41-17 loss to Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl for further
proof of that assertion.)
If any team among
the pretenders to the throne has cause for remorse, it is Florida State, which
didn't begin playing up to its potential until after losing its first two
games, to Southern Miss and Clemson. The Seminoles' 34-23 loss to perennial
national power Clemson would have been forgivable, but their 30-26 defeat by
the lowly Golden Eagles was such a blow that not even 10 straight wins were
enough to give them a chance in the polls.
"I think we
are the best," said coach Erickson after the Sugar Bowl. "These last
two football games, against Notre Dame and Alabama, have been our best. Our
coaching staff and players truly deserved to win the game, and they truly
deserve the national championship."
who are not related, are actually only replacement parts in college football's
most dominant program of the past decade. In 1979, Miami was drawing around
12,000 for home games in the Orange Bowl, leading university officials to
consider a drop to Division I-AA, and the Hurricanes had been through six head
coaches during the previous 10 years. But along came Howard Schnellenberger,
who turned Miami around by recruiting in-state talent that used to be grabbed
by Florida and Florida State. By '83 the Hurricanes were good enough to go 10-1
and upset Nebraska 31-30 in the Orange Bowl for their first national title.
Schnellenberger left for the United States Football League, Jimmy Johnson went
to Miami from Oklahoma State and built on the foundation that Schnellenberger
had laid. The Hurricanes lost the 1986 title when Penn State upset them in the
Fiesta Bowl, but the next year they beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to cap a
12-0 season and claim title number two. Last year, only a 31-30 loss to Notre
Dame in South Bend marred an otherwise perfect season for Miami, which finished
second in the polls for the second time in the decade.
When Johnson left
last February to take over as coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Erickson was hired
away from Washington State, and he did little more than tinker with success. He
inserted more short passes into the Hurricane playbook, but the Miami players
remained their cocky, taunting, obnoxious selves during games. The baiting and
bullying, unsavory though it may be, obviously works to buoy the Hurricanes up
and distract opponents.
"I don't think
a lot of people like Miami because of our success in the '80s," said free
safety Charles Pharms before the game. "We are sort of like the Raiders. I
am not going to say we are going to make a runaway of the game, but if we play
like we did against Notre Dame, we should win without too much