Although quarterback Vinny Testaverde failed to gain on the Heisman meter in Gainesville, Fla., on Saturday, his Miami Hurricanes earned plenty of respect by beating Florida 23-15. Testaverde completed only 12 of 25 passes for 163 yards and threw 3 interceptions. It was the first time in 14 college starts that the Miami senior failed to throw for 200 yards or connect on at least half his passes.
Such numbers would normally spell doom for Quarterback U of the '80s. But this Miami team, even more than the 1983 national championship unit, boasts balance. While Testaverde was misfiring, a concussive Hurricane defense and, yes, a sustained Hurricane ground attack were laying waste to Florida's 21-game home winning streak.
Miami is as deep in running backs as any team in the nation, flaunting a Five-Back Pack Attack of halfbacks Melvin Bratton, Warren Williams and J.C. Penny, and fullbacks Alonzo Highsmith and Darryl Oliver. Against a stingy Florida defense, it was the flashy Bratton, a 6'1", 217-pound junior minoring in theater, who took center stage.
Bratton made a stunning entrance with an 11-yard burst on the game's first play from scrimmage. He put Miami ahead 7-0 in the first quarter with a 24-yard run that featured a Sayers-like cut to the outside and a Paytonesque dragging of Gator defensive back Adrian White into the end zone. Bratton gave the Hurricanes the lead for good in the third quarter with a masterful 20-yard zigzag down the right sideline. Though Bratton finished with only 65 yards on 15 carries, even his penultimate one-yard plunge in the waning minutes earned a victory-clinching first down.
"Vinny has a lot riding on his shoulders, and it's up to the running backs to relieve some of the pressure," said Bratton of his quarterback. "He can't be normal in a normal world, because he's Vinny Testaverde, Heisman candidate. He can't live a normal life like Melvin Bratton does."
Not that Bratton wouldn't gladly trade places with Testaverde. Bratton has been drawn to the spotlight since he starred in his first school play at age nine. "I played a teenage father who had to moonlight to support his infant son," he says. "They gave me a standing O-V, and I was hooked." Bratton, who grew up in Miami, later developed a fondness for playing the bad guy in such community theater classics as Gangsters Over Harlem. "Humphrey, he's my boy," says Bratton of Bogart, "but Pacino in Scarface, now that man knew how to go to war."
Bratton's most recent role was as Thomas Molineaux, an American slave who earned his freedom as a barefisted boxing champion, in the television docudrama A Hard Road to Glory. "I really want to get on Miami Vice and beat up Don Johnson," he says. "I would ask for a week off from practice for that."
Miami coach Jimmy Johnson would surely quash that request. Bratton is nicknamed Ghost, mainly for his ability to vanish from the grasps of tacklers, although he has also been known to become practically invisible during workouts. In Miami's 34-14 opening week victory over South Carolina, Bratton rushed for 100 yards and 3 touchdowns. On Sept. 27 Oklahoma will visit the Orange Bowl for what could be a battle for No. 1. When that game is over, Melvin Bratton might not consider his life so normal anymore.
Trying to tackle Bratton can be kind of a drag.