He came into the place early, sweating and full of a marvelous certainty. Twan Russell knew. This was the Orange Bowl, wasn't it? A Hurricane linebacker, Russell went to the field before the thousands arrived and took it all in: the creaky seats and end zone palms, the antique light stanchions, all that history. He sucked in the thick Miami air and drew power from one of the last sure things in sports. "Oh, yeah," he told himself. "We can't lose."
Eight years, 11 months and two weeks of winning had provided that. Fifty-eight straight home victories—an NCAA record handed down from one Miami football class to another, from Vinny Testaverde to Steve Walsh to Micheal Barrow to today—gave Russell and his teammates a home field edge that no other team in college football has ever had. Notre Dame couldn't stop the streak. Neither could Barry Switzer, Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno. Who would call this day any different?
Washington? Here came the Huskies into the Orange Bowl, ranked 17th and stuck on probation, coached by a virtual unknown and so paranoid about buckling in Miami's humidity that red meat, which is more difficult to digest, was banned on the team plane. Yet by the end of the day last Saturday, it was Miami coach Dennis Erickson grabbing his gut. "I'm sick," he said. "I'm just sick."
The Huskies chewed the streak into tatters, whipping the fifth-ranked Hurricanes 38-20. Then they ran to a corner of the stadium and gathered in front of their fans, chanting, "Whose house? Dog house!" They understood what they had done. "Whammy in Miami," said Washington tackle Bob Sapp.
Whammy, indeed. Russell sat with his head close to his knees, rasping his shame. This was only his second start as a Hurricane. "I wasn't here when the streak started," he said, "and I have no business—we have no business—ending it. It wasn't ours to give away."
Across the room, teammate Chris T. Jones knew what Russell meant. The night before, former Miami receiver Lamar Thomas, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, had called Jones to remind him to safeguard the streak. "It's hard to look the coaches and former players in the eye—and know my senior class lost the streak," Jones said. "That mystique's been broken."
Shattered, actually. The loss to Washington was merely the most damaging in a series of blows to a program once accustomed to collecting national titles. After going 9-3 last season and getting trounced 29-0 by Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl, the Hurricanes came out of spring practice vowing unity and a return to controlled nastiness. They opened this season 2-0, and in the first half against the Huskies, their first real test of the year, they seemed close to regaining their old persona. Quarterback Frank Costa lofted a 51-yard gem to Yatil Green to give Miami a 14-3 lead, and the defense shut down Washington's Heisman hopeful, Napoleon Kaufman. It also took pains, while harassing quarterback Damon Huard, to insult Huard's mother.
Then, with stunning speed, everything changed. "They didn't say anything about my mom in the second half," Huard said.
They didn't have time. A brutal lapse by Erickson—failing to ensure, before Miami won the coin toss, that his captains would defer the decision on whether to kick or receive until the second half—resulted in the Huskies' receiving kickoffs to open both halves. That would prove disastrous. On its first possession of the third quarter, Washington faced second-and-five on its own 25. Huard flipped a soft pass to fullback Richard Thomas. Russell got a hand on Thomas's foot—but on nothing else. Seventy yards later Thomas breezed into the end zone. Huard, confident for the first time all day, fired another strike for the two-point conversion. Miami's lead was cut to three.
One minute and four seconds later it was gone. On third-and-11 deep in his own territory, Costa—who had been benched last year after a loss to Florida State and has yet to prove he can win a crucial game—threw to receiver Jammi German near the right sideline. Trouble was, German was on the ground, and Washington cornerback Russell Hairston took the gift 34 yards for the go-ahead score. "I knew right then we were going to win," said Huard, who finished with 217 yards throwing, one TD and two interceptions. "You could see it in their eyes."
In the game's most unlikely sequence, holder Eric Bjornson picked a bad snap off the ground and whipped it into place just in time for kicker John Wales to send it flying. That is a surefire recipe for awfulness, but the ball fluttered over the bar for a 29-yard field goal. In those 58 games at the Orange Bowl, Miami had never surrendered more than 23 points. The Huskies scored 25 in the third quarter.
Even they couldn't understand what was happening. "John Wales came in here yesterday, and he missed every kick he went for," Bjornson said. "It was unbelievable. And Wednesday in Huskie Stadium, he couldn't hit a damn thing. But then everything was going our way."
If any team was due, it was Washington. Slapped with sanctions 13 months ago by the Pac-10 for improper loans to a player and various other violations, the Huskies easily could have unraveled. Coach Don James resigned in protest two weeks before the '93 season began. That allowed the inspirational Jim Lambright to step into a head job after 24 years as a Husky assistant. The Huskies went 7-4 last fall and came into this season harboring the dangerous ambition of the overlooked. "This is the biggest win I've ever had," Lambright said. "Of course, I've only been head coach for a little while."
As for the Hurricanes, they are now just another Top 20 team. "We have to wait and see what happens with other teams, hope they lose," said Miami defensive tackle Dwayne Johnson. "I hate that feeling."
He wasn't alone. With 2:15 left he and his teammates on defense stood, shoulders slumped. Noise drained out of the Orange Bowl as fans slipped out of every exit. The Miami offense had failed again; tackle Ricky Perry came off the field and hammered his helmet into the turf, then walked away while it spun crazily. Another Miami player came by and nudged the helmet with his toe, like someone prodding a body. No life there. He walked away.
Now Kaufman took the ball four times and chipped away. He brought the Huskies to the Hurricane seven-yard line with a three-yard burst. Huard took the snap and burrowed up the middle, right through the heart of the Hurricanes, churning legs carrying him to the final touchdown. "I could've lain there in the dirt forever," Huard said later. "Dug a grave, whatever. That's the greatest feeling I've had in a football game."
By the end all the booing and cursing from the fans had stopped. The paper tombstones so carefully pasted on the railings, the ones marking every team that had come into the Orange Bowl only to have its pride killed, had been taken down. The clock hit 0:00. Bjornson went out to shake hands with the Hurricanes. "I was looking at that scoreboard...forever," he said. "I just couldn't believe it."
Believe it. After eight years, 11 months and two weeks, it was over. The place had gone to the dogs.