Hunker down, all you little future Florida State gridders, and let's talk some real useful trash. Rule No. 1 of college football: Don't make nasty rap videos proclaiming yourselves the top team in the nation until you've got a good reason to do so—such as winning a game. (Never mind when the writers pick you before the season begins. If we knew anything, we would all be cranking out Harlequin romances and making a bundle.)
Rule No. 2: Don't make rap videos of any kind. As an art form, rap ranks with spray-painted subway cars and is best left to boys named Beastie or Fat.
Now, that said, let's remind the world that this year's Florida State football team did make one of the above-mentioned bits of video garbage, proclaiming itself No. 1 in a noxious dirge entitled The Seminole Rap, which debuted on a Tallahassee TV station last week. While fans in northern Florida were still learning the words so they could rap along with their heroes, the Noles traveled to the Orange Bowl, where the University of Miami thrashed them 31-0.
This game, moved to the top of the schedule after the University of Florida canceled its traditional early-season showdown with the Hurricanes, was a prime-time network stinker, a major hoopla-deflater, a far cry from last year's 26-25 thriller won by Miami in Tallahassee on Oct. 3. That game came down to the final seconds and cost Florida State a shot at the national championship. This one, a blowout from the opening kickoff, a game in which Miami outgained the Seminoles 450 yards to 242, came down to, oh, the final four quarters and may have cost Florida State the right to appear in public for a while.
September 11, 1988
How bad were the Seminoles? So bad that third-string Miami halfback Fred (Not Alonzo, He's My Cousin) High-smith rushed for five times the yardage made by Sammie Smith, Florida State's Heisman hopeful. Make that former hopeful. Smith had six net yards on 10 carries and is still tweezing defenders out of his supporter. So bad that five Miami defenders picked off passes from the three Seminole quarterbacks—two from starter Chip Ferguson, two from replacement Peter Tom Willis and one from a desperate redshirt freshman named Casey Weldon. So bad that Florida State drove past midfield only three times, to the Miami 30, 40 and 38.
You want to hear how each of the Seminoles' drives ended? Check it out: punt, interception, punt, missed field goal, fumble, punt, halftime, interception, punt, punt, punt, interception, interception, interception. Set it to music. It's a rap.
The defeat marked the first time that Florida State had been shut out since 1976—Miami pulled that one off, too, 47-0. The Seminoles were so bad that it's hard to figure whether every one of them, plus coach Bobby Bowden and his staff, had a career off day or whether they're simply not very good. Or is it possible that the Hurricanes of coach Jimmy Johnson, last year's national champs, are that good again?
Seventeen Miami players from last season's 12-0 team were either drafted or signed as free agents by the NFL last spring; eight made their pro teams, and four are starting. It seemed reasonable to assume that the Hurricanes' talent quotient would have to drop way off this season, with seven new starters on offense and six on defense. But the players who stepped in against Florida State performed like cagey vets. Sophomore halfback Leonard Conley, 5'9" and 170 pounds, carried 17 times for 67 mostly up-the-gut yards and could almost make you forget Warren Williams, Miami's leading rusher in '87. And fullback Cleveland Gary (12 carries for 46 yards and a touchdown; four catches for 43 yards) proved to be a fine replacement for the departed Mr. Versatile, Melvin Bratton. Indeed, Gary is a load to stop and may have the best receiving hands among the Hurricanes.
"I've nicknamed him Buffalo," said Miami associate athletic director Larry Wahl during the game. "He runs like one, plus that gives him three rust-belt cities in his name. What do you think?"
On the 'Canes' defense, first-time starters such as strong safety Bobby Harden (five tackles and an interception) and weakside linebacker Maurice Crum (11 tackles—three for losses—and one sack) played brilliantly. Cornerback Kenny Berry, who had six tackles and an interception, started only once last season. "People didn't think we could be as good as last year's players," said linebacker Bernard Clark after the rout. "But we knew we could. We came in to prove a point."
Bowden had a premonition about this. On Thursday he said, "I have a feeling Jimmy's defense is as good as last year's. Maybe not individually, but the total package."
He was right. It's that total package, personally choreographed by Johnson, once an undersized Arkansas nose-guard, that never seems to change. Year in and year out it's the defense, not the high-tech Hurricane offense, that wins for Miami. It was the defense that turned Saturday's game into a yawner. Keep in mind, Florida State had averaged 35.8 points per game over the past four years, and Bowden had said this year's squad was his deepest ever at the skill positions. But the Hurricanes ate up the Seminoles' offensive line, shut down their backs and receivers and disheartened their trio of baffled and overmatched quarterbacks.
At some point during the game—maybe toward the end of the second quarter, when State started at its own 20 and in three offensive plays regressed to its own 16—onlookers began to recall that Miami had beaten the preseason No. 1 team five times in the past five years, had won 32 straight regular season games and hadn't lost to the Seminoles since 1984. "Winning is a habit; losing is a habit," said Johnson before the game. "Right now our habit is winning."
That's why Bowden wasn't thrilled with his team's rap video, performed by the entire squad in full uniform, though he had reluctantly consented to it. "We'll have to eat that thing if we lose," he said knowingly. While everyone else was saying that this game would go right down to the wire, Bowden had a contrary feeling about that, too. "If either of us makes a gob of mistakes and the other one doesn't, it might not be so close," he warned.
Well, Florida State made a gob of mistakes. The largest was showing up on a night when the Hurricanes would play almost flawlessly. Deceptively efficient quarterback Steve Walsh—he completed 18 of 37 passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions—missed some receivers, but he never took a sack and he never screwed up. Even with Miami leading 17-0 at the half, Walsh stayed on full battle alert in the locker room. "Coach Johnson was screaming. I was screaming. I wouldn't let anybody let up," he said later.
Walsh even occasionally threw directly into the face of All-America cornerback and All-World hustler Deion (Neon) Sanders. Sanders, who earned $60,000 playing minor league baseball in the New York Yankee organization this summer and ran a 10.53 100 meters last spring for the Florida State track team in his first competitive race at that distance, wears, by his own tally, "five to seven thousand dollars' " worth of gold chains around his neck when he's not on the field. Among his gold pendants are the number 2 (his jersey numeral), an arrowhead (the Seminoles' helmet emblem), the words PRIME TIME (one of his nicknames) and two large dollar signs. So what's happening, Deion?
"Money," he replies. "That's what they called me in baseball: 'Money.' That's what it's all about."
It was all about brute strength on Miami's first touchdown, when fullback Gary carried Sanders from the four-yard line into the end zone early in the second quarter for a 10-0 Miami lead. It wasn't Sanders's fault, really. The Hurricane offensive line, comprising tackles Darrin Bruce and John O'Neill, guards Mike Sullivan and Bobby Garcia, and center Rod Holder, pushed Florida State's front wall around all night, making it necessary for defensive backs like Sanders to come up and stop Miami runners one-on-one.
"He's still a good athlete," said Hurricane cornerback Don Ellis of the flamboyant Sanders. "He, personally, played up to par. But what about that video? Imagine if we'd done that. We've been [portrayed as] the bad guys for so long, imagine what people would've said even if we'd done that after winning the national championship."
It's a fair point. In recent years, the Miami football team has been taken to task for committing a host of moral, legal and educational sins. Stung by charges that the Hurricanes were out of control, the university's administration has slowly begun to address the ills that arose during the school's headlong rush to create a monster football program. Notably, midway through last week, Miami announced that it wouldn't offer a scholarship to star high school wide receiver Leslie Shepherd of Fort Washington, Md., because his academic record wasn't up to snuff. Shepherd had been eager to play for the Hurricanes, but, said Johnson, "Leslie's father indicated there were quite a few other schools waiting in line to take him." A few years ago Miami would probably have allowed Johnson to sign Shepherd. Of course, there is so much schoolboy talent in the Hurricanes' backyard that Miami can afford to pass on Shepherd, but Johnson does seem eager to rid his 'Canes of their outlaw image.
Still, Miami will never be like other big-time football schools. The city around the private university of 13,500 is too diverse, too cosmopolitan to turn the campus into Happy Valley U. "It's a rough town for support," says senior defensive end Bill Hawkins. "At other places you see all kinds of signs and stuff supporting the college team. Here, there's almost nothing, just one sign at a little bar on U.S. 1. But I think we thrive on that."
Given all that, it may just be time to declare that Johnson, he of the Texas twang and the freeze-dried hair, is one of the best college coaches alive. His four-year record at Miami is now an astonishing 41-8. Who else can you hang the Hurricanes' success on? Johnson and homegrown Florida athletes, of whom Miami has 62 this year, are the consistent threads.
And what are we to make of Florida State? First, the Seminoles had better find a quarterback who can lead and throw deep. (State's next opponent, Southern Mississippi, may help cure this deficiency.) Second, the Seminoles had better do some soul-searching. They're not No. 1 anymore. They're not even the best team in the state.
"They must've had a lot of busted plays," said Hurricane defensive end Willis Peguese after the game. "I mean, they can't be that bad. It was ridiculous. Too ridiculous. I just stopped and said, 'What is this?' "
It's hard to salvage much from such wreckage. But then young men can always bounce back. Or as Miami's Ellis slyly notes, "They still got the rap video. They got that."
But listen. Isn't that the sound of molars meeting videotape?