- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
All week Miami's quarterback had been tighter than the curls in his hair. Usually self-effacing and dryly funny, he seemed like a man about to take a final in a course he had forgotten he had signed up for. But if Testaverde felt less than playful, it was no wonder. For starters, one morning somebody sent him six o'clock room service, a joke Testaverde didn't find amusing. "I'm trying to get some sleep!" he hollered to nobody in particular.
Since winning the Heisman Trophy, Testaverde has been Public Target No. 1. He has been besieged by agents seeking to represent him. Too, he was expected to be Joe Namath with knees in the Fiesta Bowl, despite not having played since his well-documented motor-scooter accident on Nov. 25, in which he suffered scrapes and bruises. Had the crash affected him? Said his father, Big Al, "I'll say this, it was worse than the public ever knew."
In any case this was definitely not the same Victory Vinny that Big Al had brought up. This Vinny left the pocket too early, seemed reluctant to look off his primary receivers, often threw before the rush was in his face and continually tried to shoehorn the ball downfield against a bevy of Penn State linebackers, who often set up eight yards deeper than usual. "I think Vinny took too much on his shoulders and tried to win it on his own," said Miami assistant Art Kehoe. Said Johnson, "He wasn't as sharp as he normally is. All the distractions on him had some effect. There's no way anyone can imagine what his schedule has been like."
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, to split end Brett Perriman for nine with 1:42 left, to Irvin for four with 1:09 left and to 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 and the Big Enchilada on the line, Don Johnson shops at Kmart.
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 the 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.