On a Mid-November day that had a first-of-January feel to it, in a national championship game masquerading as a matchup between intrastate rivals, Miami quarterback Gino Torretta spent nearly 53 minutes as a hero in goat's clothing.
He finally changed costumes with just over seven minutes to play in last Saturday's game in Tallahassee between Florida State, which was ranked No. 1, and No. 2 Miami. The Seminoles led 16-10 at the time, and it seemed as if several geological epochs had passed since the Hurricanes had scored their only touchdown, on their first possession of the first quarter. Torretta found the moment ripe for a bit of motivational speaking.
"Dig deep in your hearts," he said in the huddle. By that point Torretta had been intercepted twice, sacked five times and generally forced to spend the afternoon dashing around like a stray dog in rush hour traffic. Torretta's plea was his way of asking Miami's linemen to hold their blocks, for a change.
To begin the drive on which the entire college football season turned, Torretta dropped back, peered downfield...and was sacked a sixth time. There are times you would swear that the Hurricanes' mascot, Sebastian the Ibis, is more elusive than its quarterback. But the sack got Torretta's juices flowing. Thereafter, Torretta, an unheralded junior from Pinole, Calif., did some things worthy of Miami's lofty quarterback tradition: He marched the Hurricanes 58 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Two-and-a-half minutes later, a last-gasp Florida State field goal attempt sailed wide to the right, sealing a 17-16 win for the Hurricanes, probably locking up the national championship for Miami and causing a blessed cessation of the Seminole fans' monotonous, politically incorrect Scalp 'em! cheer.
It was a fittingly dramatic finale to the Brawl That Would Tell All, a match so noteworthy that at midweek Florida State coach Bobby Bowden had said, "This game will be bigger than any bowl we'll get into"; so important that Wayne Hogan, the Seminoles' publicist, had earned the moniker Manute because he had been so busy rejecting more than 200 requests (out of a total of 700) for media credentials, including pleas from MTV and The Wall Street Journal; so huge that it turned New Year's Day 1992 into an anticlimax.
How can the bowls top the Brawl? They can't. The Hurricanes now face a smooth ride to their fourth national title in eight years. Only overmatched Boston College and San Diego State remain on Miami's regular-season schedule, and the Hurricanes' opponent in the Orange Bowl will be either Nebraska or Colorado, neither of which is likely to end the season ranked in the Top 10. Frankly, if it isn't from Florida, Miami isn't afraid of it.
The Seminoles must regroup for their Nov. 30 date in Gainesville against 9-1 Florida, which has clinched the Southeastern Conference title. Florida State must also cope with the letdown of having to settle for the Cotton Bowl, where spanking Texas A&M, the probable Southwest Conference champion, will provide cold comfort for Saturday's loss. For the fourth time in five years, the Hurricanes have cost Florida State a national crown—virtually the only achievement in the college game still eluding Bowden after 26 years of coaching.
Bowden has said that he is not "obsessed" with winning a national title, but neither was he pretending that this latest failure doesn't rankle. Indeed, this was supposed to be a Seminole season. Florida State features nine senior starters and junior All-America cornerback Terrell Buckley, who may enter April's NFL draft. Among the seniors are quarterback Casey Weldon and fullback Edgar Bennett, two thirds of the Seminoles' splendid backfield. "We feel this is our year," said linebacker Kirk Carruthers two days before that notion was disproved. "We want the '90s to be the Decade of the Seminoles." They are off to a poor start.
On the other hand, the word on the Hurricanes earlier this season was: Better get 'em this year. Miami is a hugely talented team made up primarily of sophomores and juniors. Even folks in the athletic department had described the Hurricanes as being "a year away." Either no one told the players, or they refused to listen. Says sophomore defensive end Rusty Medearis, "There's so much talent down here, we'd be fools not to think we can win every game on our schedule."
Late Saturday afternoon it was difficult to argue with a gracious but grimacing Bowden when he said, "We're about as even as two teams could be. They made one more big play than we did. The difference was one play. Take your choice."