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September 08, 2011
Unfazed by the windy Hurricanes, underdog Penn State forced five interceptions by Vinny Testaverde to beat Miami for the national title
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September 08, 2011

Their Defense Never Rested

Unfazed by the windy Hurricanes, underdog Penn State forced five interceptions by Vinny Testaverde to beat Miami for the national title

From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, January 12, 1987

FOR THOSE OF YOU RUNNING LATE, here's what happened, in brief, at the 1986 College Football Game of the Century, known hereafter to Miami fans as the Groana in Arizona. Number 2 Penn State defeated No. 1 Miami 14--10 on Jan. 2 in the sun-kissed, Nielsen-blissed (70 million people watched it) Fiesta Bowl. Awards were bestowed upon Vinny Testaverde for being the world's unluckiest January quarterback (eight interceptions, one measly touchdown, 0 for 2 in national championships) and upon 60-year-old Joe Paterno for being the unlikely coach of the '80s. Paterno has played for the national title three times in this decade. He has won two and apparently wants another one soon. Less than 24 hours after beating what amounted to a future NFL roster, he was back on his hotel room phone chatting up recruits. "You think this makes it easier?" Paterno grumbled. "Now, instead of guys telling recruits we're no good, they're telling 'em we're loaded. You can't win."

You can't win. Penn State heard those three words all week. Yes, both teams had great defenses. But Miami had six all-world athletes at the skill positions: Testaverde, his redoubtable backs Alonzo Highsmith and Melvin Bratton and three stealth-bomber wide receivers. Together they made just about everybody figure that if you didn't go 'Canes, you weren't quite sane. That, of course, was before the Steak Fry. After that event, sanity sort of slipped quietly out of town.

It was supposed to be just an old-fashioned hand-presser for the Fiesta Bowl teams. Nittany Lions punter John Bruno began the talent portion of the evening with a crack about Miami coach Jimmy Johnson keeping the hair-spray industry in good shape. That apparently upset some tender sensibilities. "I think our players were offended by that remark," said Johnson, who told the press that he doesn't use all that much hair spray and that even if he does, "it just so happens I like to be neat. Some people don't like that." Here was Felix Unger addressing a roomful of Oscar Madisons.

But that wasn't what made the Miami players mad. "Jimmy's our coach," said Highsmith. "We're the only ones that get to rag on his hair." You could almost hear the rap video in the making:

Now, we are the 'Canes

And we take no jive,

Even though our coach

Wears Alberto VO5.

Then Bruno did something maybe he shouldn't have. In joking about his own team, he said, "We even let the black guys eat with us at the training table once a week." It was harmless and stupid, mostly stupid. But after the Nittanies and the 'Canes finished their skits, several Miami players stood up and removed their shirts to reveal the combat fatigues that they had worn on the flight to Phoenix. Having safely eaten his steak, the Hurricanes' 285-pound All-America defensive tackle and designated orator, Jerome Brown, said, "Did the Japanese sit down and eat with Pearl Harbor before they bombed them? No. We're out of here." And out he marched with all the 'Canes in tow, leaving the Lions and Fiesta Bowl officials with their molars hanging out.

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