Cane Whuppin' Unbeaten Miami flogged Nebraska early and often to win an undisputed national title

January 07, 2002

Question: How do you shut up 70,000 scarlet-clad Nebraska fans?
Answer: Start the game.

There wasn't a lot of drama in Thursday's national championship
game between Miami and Nebraska at the Rose Bowl, but then,
that's what happens when you send a microchip to do a man's job.
The Cornhuskers were invited to the national title game despite
the fact that their buns still ached from a 62-36 butt-kicking
administered at Colorado on Nov. 23. Nebraska didn't exactly
vindicate the BCS computers' faith in it. Somehow managing not
to laugh at the Huskers' misbegotten attempts to cover their
receivers one-on-one, the Hurricanes jumped out to a 34-0,
second-quarter lead and cruised from there to a 37-14 victory.

Thus Miami earned its fifth national championship since 1983,
its first since '91. In doing so, the Hurricanes restored order
to college football, providing a tidy conclusion to a season
that might have ended in a contentious mess. A Nebraska victory,
as ridiculous as that possibility may seem now, probably would
have resulted in a split title, with the Cornhuskers guaranteed
the No. 1 spot in the ESPN/USA Today poll and Oregon, a 38-16
victor over Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day,
leading the AP Top 25. Ducks coach Mike Bellotti attended the
Rose Bowl and conceded Miami's worthiness as No. 1. "Would we
have been a better matchup? Possibly," said Bellotti. For the
man who'd earlier described the BCS as "a cancer," this was the
height of restraint.

The clean finish to the season failed to mollify Rose Bowl
purists, who spent the week griping that their beloved game had
fallen into the mercenary hands of the BCS. For the first time
in 56 years the Rose Bowl didn't match the champions of the Big
Ten and Pac-10 (or their predecessor conferences). The game also
didn't immediately follow the Tournament of Roses parade on New
Year's Day. Instead, it was pushed back two days and then played
at night!

If that strikes you as cruel, your heart would have gone out to
Princess Rachel, a member of the Royal court. On the night of
the 46th annual Beef Bowl at Lawry's The Prime Rib in Beverly
Hills, the comely 17-year-old found herself at a table with most
of the Miami offensive line. Although the princesses are given
lessons in etiquette and elocution, no amount of finishing
school could have prepared Rachel for her dinner with the
Hurricanes hogs. Backup center Joel Rodriguez introduced her to
one of the starters, who shall remain nameless. "He's 305
pounds, 22 years old and a virgin," said Rodriguez. Things went
downhill from there.

Starting center Brett Romberg took a run at his understudy,
asking Rodriguez if the cut on his right index finger was the
result of picking his teeth. "He's always picking his teeth,"
Romberg explained to Princess Rachel. "It's disgusting. He's got
brutal teeth, too. I don't know what it is with the Cuban guys."
This doubled as a swipe at starting right tackle and first-team
All-America Joaquin Gonzalez, a Cuban-American who is the best
student on the squad. He's working on his master's in business
administration, but his linemates prefer to focus on his dental
shortcomings.

Romberg takes heat for his squat build and short arms. "They're
more like flippers," says Rodriguez. Left tackle Bryant
McKinnie, the Outland Trophy winner, catches flak for wearing
overly tight jeans and for his colossal skull (which, while
beach-ball-sized, seems in proportion with his 6'9", 336-pound
body). All of them give as good as they get, and all were
similarly merciless on the field six nights later. They opened
holes that allowed Clinton Portis to rush for 104 yards on 20
carries and provided womblike protection for junior quarterback
Ken Dorsey, who completed 22 of his 35 passes for 362 yards and
three touchdowns.

Nebraska came at Miami with a defensive scheme similar to the
one used unsuccessfully by Florida State against the Hurricanes
in October, crowding as many as eight players in the box to take
away the run. This left the Cornhuskers' defensive backs in
one-on-one coverage with the Miami receivers. The Hurricanes
liked that matchup. Said offensive line coach Art Kehoe after
the game, "Our guys were licking their lips."

Forty-one days earlier, in the Cornhuskers' only defeat, their
vaunted Blackshirts defense yielded 582 yards to Colorado. That
loss dropped Nebraska from No. 1 in the BCS standings to No. 4.
Only a series of upsets suffered by Oklahoma, Florida, Texas and
Tennessee enabled the Huskers to back into this title game. They
weren't always made to feel welcome once they arrived on the
scene. On Dec. 28 a group of Nebraska players attending a Lakers
game was introduced to the crowd and was vigorously booed. "Oh,
yeah, we got booed about six times," said middle linebacker
Jamie Burrow. "That's O.K. We started cheering for the
Raptors--and they won."

The Blackshirts responded to the Colorado disaster by sweeping
it under the rug, for the most part, preferring to talk about
their stout play in the 11 victories preceding the collapse
against the Buffaloes. "It's not like we got overpowered by
Colorado," said nosetackle Jon Clanton. "We had bad technique."

Their technique hadn't improved much by Jan. 3. The truth is,
this was a good-but-not-great Nebraska defense that included
only one All-Big 12 player. The Blackshirts were exposed by the
Buffaloes and stripped bare by the Hurricanes.

Growing up in Orinda, Calif., eight miles from Berkeley, Dorsey
dreamed of playing in the Rose Bowl for Cal, whose home games he
often attended. While Dorsey was throwing for 52 touchdowns in
his career at Miramonte High, the Golden Bears' coaches had eyes
only for a quarterback named Kyle Boller from Hart High in
Newhall, Calif. (Boller-led Cal went 1-10 this season.) Dorsey's
Gumby-like physique (6'4", 185 pounds as a high school senior)
didn't help his cause. "A lot of teams wouldn't take a risk on
me," he says. "Michigan told me flat out, 'You're too small.'"

Tough to blame Michigan. Even at his current 6'5", 200, Dorsey
is painfully thin, but for a quarterback who looks more like a
member of the cross-country team, he's surprisingly resilient.
"It's not that he can't take a hit. He can," says starting guard
Martin Bibla. "He just hasn't had to--very much." The Miami
offensive line allowed four sacks this season and yielded none
to the Cornhuskers. These guys could get the Bubble Boy through
a game unharmed.

"Miami gave me a chance when a lot of schools weren't willing
to," Dorsey says. From the moment he arrived on campus, the
coaches were struck by his precocity: his cool in the huddle,
his quick release and accuracy. Dorsey started and won three
games as a freshman and then led the Hurricanes to an 11-1
record last season. The sole loss came at Washington, and Miami
insiders say it was the only time in his college career that
Dorsey seemed intimidated. He completed fewer than half his
passes, was sacked four times and tripped twice over the feet of
his teammates.

Dorsey settled down in the second half, leading the Hurricanes
to four touchdowns before they ran out of time in the 34-29
defeat. They haven't lost since. Dorsey is 26-1 as a starter and
has taken his place among the great Miami quarterbacks: Jim
Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh and Gino
Torretta, several of whom he describes as "close friends."

"Gino really helped me get adjusted to the speed of the college
game," says Dorsey. "We worked on my drop getting faster so I
could get the ball to the guys quicker. With Steve, it's been
more X's and O's--identifying what teams are trying to do to me,
learning what to watch on film. Bernie's kind of been a big
brother." It was Kosar who consoled Dorsey after the loss to
Washington, recalling how he'd lost his first start, the opening
game of 1983, and went on to win the national title that season.

In this year's rematch game with Washington, Miami edged the
Huskies 65-7. Some folks in the Washington camp were upset
because they felt the Hurricanes had run up the score. That
false accusation--coach Larry Coker had gone to his second-and
third-stringers in the second half--raises an interesting
question: What's the world coming to when you have no grounds
for accusing Miami of poor sportsmanship? The truth is, as
Division I-A players go, these Hurricanes are downright
gentlemanly, even given their teasing of Princess Rachel.
They're not like the Miami players who arrived at the 1987
Fiesta Bowl in combat fatigues, and they're unlike those who
committed nine personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct
penalties during a 46-3 Cotton Bowl victory over Texas in '91.

Coach Butch Davis may have made a mess of his leave-taking from
Miami--by telling his players he had no intention of bolting to
the NFL even as he negotiated with the Cleveland Browns last
January--but it's tough to find fault with much else he did during
his six-year tenure. Despite inheriting a program that would be
stripped of 31 scholarships as punishment for NCAA rules
violations, he laid the foundation for this year's team and did
it while making over Miami's image.

Like Davis before him, Coker is intent on recruiting better
citizens than some of the thugs waved in by Jimmy Johnson and
Dennis Erickson. He asks that his assistants do a bit of
detective work. "You can find out, in recruiting, who's a bad
character real quick," says Hurricanes defensive coordinator
Randy Shannon. "You just need to ask the right questions."
Shannon likes to pull a recruit's schoolmates aside in a hallway
between classes. "They'll tell you whatever you want to know," he
says.

It's not that Miami isn't yapping on the field; it's just a
different kind of talk. Against Temple, when Owls defensive
lineman Dan Klecko came after Bibla, who he felt had held him on
a play, Gonzalez rode to the rescue. "He was ready to fight,"
says Gonzalez of Klecko. "I went up to him, put my arm around him
and said, 'Dude, you have the most beautiful blue eyes I've ever
seen.' He had no clue what to do."

The prototypical new Hurricane is soft-spoken middle linebacker
Jonathan Vilma, whose eight tackles against Nebraska included
two cartoon-violent collisions that elicited delighted roars
from the crowd. "We have a lot of quiet, easygoing guys like me,
who leave it all on the field," he says. "People talk at us, and
we listen and say, 'That's nice. Now look at the scoreboard.'"

Vilma, a sophomore from Coral Gables, Fla., goes 6'2", 211
pounds. Howard Clark, who started at outside linebacker, is
6'1", 228. The Cornhuskers made no secret of their game plan:
With their huge offensive line they intended to wear down these
relatively light linebackers and eventually overrun them. Said
Nebraska's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Eric Crouch before
the showdown, "Late in the game we're still pounding the ball. I
don't think a lot of teams have shown that to Miami yet."

And they still haven't. "Even if they did get outside on the
option," said linebacker D.J. Williams after Thursday's victory,
"we felt we had the speed to run them down."

Postgame attempts to bait Miami players into crowing, by asking
them if Nebraska was intimidated, if Nebraska was worthy to share
the field with them, failed miserably. "We didn't intimidate them
or defeat their will or anything like that," said safety James
Lewis, whose 47-yard interception return for a touchdown in the
second period provided the winning margin. "They had too much
pride. They played hard to the end."

These are definitely not your older brother's Hurricanes. "The
coaching staff has recruited young men of character as well as
talent," said a short, smiling woman in a green Miami jacket and
black Nikes. This was university president Donna Shalala,
standing outside the locker room, congratulating players and
coaches as they walked by. "You can do that and win the national
title. And Miami never intends to go back."

Moments later, Portis emerged from the locker room, scoffing at
the temerity of any squad that would presume to take away the
Hurricanes' running game. "No one can make us one-dimensional,"
he scoffed. Portis is one of three juniors--the others are tight
end Jeremy Shockey and cornerback Phillip Buchanon--considering
entering this spring's NFL draft. If those guys stick around (and
even if they don't), beware the Hurricanes next season.

And what about what president Shalala said? Isn't it great how
today's Miami players combine character and talent? "It's true we
haven't had anyone arrested in a while," said Portis, a twinkle
in his eye. "But you know what? Going back to last season, we've
had to win 23 games to win this title. It's been a long road. We
may get about 30 guys arrested tonight."

With that, he disappeared into an orange-and-green-clad crowd and
started celebrating.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER (COVER PHOTO) COVER Special Bowl Edition Miami's Romp in the Rose Oregon's Fiesta Surprise SI's All-Bowl Team Plus Much More... Hurricanes running back Clinton Portis COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER LET THE ROUT BEGIN Portis ran for 104 yards, 39 of them on this dash that scored the second touchdown in Miami's sprint to a 34-0 lead. COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON (DORSEY) CO-MVPS Dorsey couldn't go wrong by throwing to Andre Johnson, who burned Nebraska for 199 yards and two touchdowns. COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH SWARMING Miami kept buzzing around Crouch, allowing him 110 yards rushing but holding him scoreless.

For a quarterback who looks more like a member of the
cross-country team, Dorsey is surprisingly resilient.

"People talk at us, and we listen and say, 'That's nice. Now
look at the scoreboard,'" says Miami's Vilma.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)