But according to Paterno, Penn State's defensive coverages were so well designed and disguised that Testaverde just didn't know what he was seeing. "He was just throwing by the numbers," Paterno said. "He didn't expect anybody to be there." Indeed, of Testaverde's five interceptions, four hit Nittany Lions in the numbers. Strange. This was a guy who went 114 passes without throwing an interception this year, 116 last year.
Still, even playing his worst game of the season, Testaverde was good enough to bring Miami to the brink of the national championship. Facing fourth-and-six at his own 27 with 2:24 to play, Johnson did a crazy, impossible and gutty thing. He went for it. Testaverde fired a quick out to split end Brian Blades, who raced 31 yards after slipping a tackle. Suddenly Testaverde had a bounce in his step and Paterno had a pain in his heart. "I was worried," Paterno said afterward. "In my experience, whenever I've taken a big, big gamble like that and made it, I've usually won. The kids get to thinking. Look out, this must be our night. And everything starts to happen. I was scared."
Testaverde threw to Blades for seven more yards, with 1:51 left; split end Brett Perriman for nine, with 1:42 left; Irvin for four, with 1:09 left; Irvin for 12, with 1:01 left. "I remember thinking, Oh, god, here they come," recalled Isom. "I knew it was going to happen, sooner or later." Testaverde found Irvin for another five yards, and Miami had second-and-goal on the Penn State five with 48 seconds still on the clock. If America's best offense can't score with three chances from the five with the Big Enchilada on the line, Don Johnson shops at K Mart.
Then something strange happened. Everybody expected to see Highsmith take off on three straight sweeps. The Nittany Lions had had a terrible time containing Highsmith throughout the game; he had already rushed for 119 yards on 18 carries. Not only that, but the Hurricanes had two timeouts remaining. "No question we should have run," said Kehoe. "No question." Concurred backup quarterback Geoff Torretta, "From the five-yard line, Alonzo could have flown over."
And Miami wanted to run. Johnson wanted to run. Offensive coordinator Gary Stevens wanted to run. But Testaverde wanted to pass. "We all pretty much agreed that we wanted to run on second-and-five," said Johnson. "We were all very frustrated, but we gave in. He wanted to throw it, and he felt good about it, so we went with it."
It could have worked, too. Testaverde had Irvin open crossing the middle for a TD. But before he could get the ball to Irvin, tackle Tim Johnson sacked Testaverde by the hard skin of his fingertips. Third-and-goal on the 13. Testaverde then rushed a pass, a lob across field to halfback Warren Williams. Fourth-and-13, 18 seconds to go.
Testaverde came to the line. Reading the defense while a stadium-record 73,098 fans screamed, he could not see or hear his coaches busting veins trying to call a timeout. "We wanted to discuss it a little more," said Johnson, in something of an understatement.
Penn State dropped eight men to the goal line, and the Nittany Lions looked at Testaverde's eyes. Said Isom, "We knew in key situations he would stare at the receiver he was going to throw to. On first-and-10, he may be the best quarterback in the country, but on third-and-eight or fourth-and-eight, he maybe needs to work on it."
Indeed, Testaverde sent three men out, but looked only left at Perriman, who was trying to break into a seam. "All that talk about our defensive backs being so small," said Giftopoulos, "and then they don't lob it up when it counts." What happened next seems trapped under glass.
See the spiral. See the spiral coming right at Gifto, all wrapped in a bow. See Testaverde cringe. See three of Gifto's teammates ready to catch it if Gifto doesn't. See two Florida highway patrolmen flank Testaverde on the sideline. See Testaverde throw his helmet in the locker room. See Paterno win another national championship with defense and ugly shoes. See Gifto hand the ball to the official. "Why should I keep it?" said Giftopoulos, a man of simplicity from Hamilton, Ont. "If you keep it, you've got to give the NCAA $50. That's $75 Canadian."