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Trailing Florida State by 16 points, Miami stormed back to win a state—and, maybe, a national—championship 26-25

Miami 26, Florida State 25. Seminole coach Bobby Bow-den goes for a two-point conversion with 42 seconds to play in Tallahassee on Saturday and gets zero, and all you can think is: What a pity a game like this had to be decided by a stupid extra point.

Seeing as this game was for the championship of Florida—the Hurricanes had already clobbered the University of Florida, and the Seminoles seem likely to beat the Gators on Nov. 28—the appropriate way to decide the winner would have been to take a notable player from each side—let's say Miami All-America free safety Bennie Blades, who had nine tackles and a fumble recovery, and soon-to-be All-America tailback Sammie Smith of Florida State, who rushed for 189 yards in 30 carries—arm them with their favorite holsters and handguns, stand them on either side of midfield and let them quick-draw at the drop of the ref's flag. Last one breathing, hey, his team wins!

The Florida legislature would love it. Thanks to that august body, a new state law went into effect last Thursday giving citizens the right to wear their handguns in public, a right they hadn't, ahem, enjoyed since 1893. And besides, a shootout at the 50-yard line would have saved Bowden from the anguish of his extra-point decision. He'll be thinking about it only for the rest of his life.

Here's the situation: Second-ranked Miami has come from a third-quarter 19-3 deficit to take a 26-19 lead with less than three minutes to play. Danny McManus, the Seminoles' balding, easygoing quarterback, then takes fourth-ranked Florida State on a 73-yard drive that ends with his gorgeous 18-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Ronald Lewis in the deep left corner of the end zone. FSU (pronounced aif-fay-SHOE here in lovebug country, lovebugs being the insects that decorate every windshield from Jacksonville to Pensacola) trails 26-25, and here comes kicker Derek Schmidt. He has the tee in his hand. He's ready to boot. Granted, he has already missed an extra point and two of four field goal tries, and this is one of the biggest home games in Seminole history, but Bowden is on record as saying he'll go for the tie if confronted with the choice of attempting a one-point kick for a tie or a two-point conversion for a win.

He even called Tennessee coach Johnny Majors during the week to tell him he'd done the right thing in going for a tie the Saturday before against Auburn, a decision that produced a 20-20 draw and got Majors scorched by critics. Bowden says he made up his mind on this matter after the 1980 season, when Florida State lost twice by one point, 10-9 to Miami and 18-17 to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and finished 10-2. Two ties might have given the Seminoles the national championship.

So it's a done deal, right? Kick the point, stay undefeated, beat Auburn and Florida (the only tough games left on the Florida State schedule) and go for it all in a New Year's Day bowl game. But no. Bowden calls timeout. His players are pleading with him to go for two. He wavers. His brain is twitching. Finally, he yanks Schmidt, gives McManus a two-point play, and then watches in horror as a pass to tight end Pat Carter is knocked down in the end zone by Hurricane cornerback Bubba McDowell. Sixty-two thousand people, one of whom is former Seminole halfback (letters in 1955 and '57) and superfan Burt Reynolds, are silent. No national championship this year. Not even a state championship, which just might amount to the same thing.

In the locker room afterward Bowden looks pale. "I started to kick that darn thing," he says in a weak voice, "but I was afraid we were going to miss it. We'd missed those others. The wind was giving Schmidt trouble. I wish I'd gone for one. I'm sorry."

For most of the game Florida State had beaten Miami like a gong. The Hurricanes had rushed for just eight yards in the first half and only 52 in the game. In the first three quarters Miami quarterback Steve Walsh had completed a mere 9 of 21 passes for 138 yards. This was from a team that had been averaging more than 400 yards a game in total offense and had beaten its two previous opponents by the combined score of 82-11.

Indeed, the Seminole defense was so keyed up it seemed the players might implode from restraining their emotions after tackles. All-America cornerback Deion Sanders, a superb cover man, gifted punt returner—he ran back three for 53 yards—and All-World trash-talker, jawboned anything that came near him. And the Florida State front seven, led by noseguard Odell Haggins, tackle Eric Hayes and linebackers Felton Hayes and Paul McGowan, who had a team-leading 10 tackles, moved to the ball like sharks to whale meat. All of which made the loss more difficult to take. "That point's going to haunt us," said Bowden sadly.

A tie would have haunted the Seminoles too. "Everybody wanted to go for two," said McManus afterward. Bowden had even promised to get a Mohawk haircut if Florida State finished the regular season undefeated. Several players already had Mohawks. Not McManus." I don't have enough hair," he lamented. The Seminoles'loss makes one wish for a category beyond win, lose or draw—a gold star for effort, perhaps, just as in kindergarten.

But Miami certainly earned its win. These 'Canes have worked overtime putting distance between themselves and last year's so-called Miami Vice squad, the traveling chain gang of college football. There were no wild predictions by players before the game with Florida State, no defenders to bail out of jail and no combat fatigues in sight. Nor did any of the boys take advantage of the new law and pack sidearms in Tallahassee. On the field the Miami players were rough but civilized. They were penalized only four times, for 36 yards, and didn't celebrate seriously until the game was over. Star wide receiver Mike Irvin, who had four receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, a 73-yard masterpiece with 2:22 left, didn't even put his diamond earring in place until he was en route to the team bus for the trip home. Talk about restraint.

Earlier in the week Hurricane coach Jimmy Johnson had considered the image issue. ''The kids wear coats and ties now, but they're the same people as last year," he said with some irritation. "They were good then, and they're good now."

Johnson, who was a pretty lively fellow during his playing days at Arkansas, can't understand why some folks got so bent out of shape last year over the actions of a few high-spirited young men. Take the camouflage fatigues the players wore before playing Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl. Please. "It was an act of unity, to show they were on a mission," says Johnson. "I mean, fatigues are in vogue. And it wasn't like they were dirty fatigues. They were clean new ones that the players had just bought."

Nevertheless, before this season began Johnson decided to put the 'Canes on a tighter leash, and the '87 team is keeping a somewhat lower profile. In the days before the confrontation with Florida State, the coach was even afraid that his boys had become refined to the point of passivity. "Last year before this game they were geared up," he said. "You could hear them. But this week they were really quiet. I got Bennie and [wide receiver] Brian Blades and asked them what was up, I was so worried. They said, 'This is a big one, Coach. Don't worry. They know!' "

One reason for the Hurricanes' calm was the presence of Walsh, the 6'3", 195-pound replacement for departed Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 NFL draft pick Vinny Testaverde. A former National Honor Society member from St. Paul, Walsh is a gangly, unflappable, baby-faced sophomore with huge hands, size-12 feet and the ability to lead without yelling. He seldom looks good in practice, but he comes alive in games. In Miami's wins over Florida and Arkansas he completed 37 of 55 passes for 449 yards and two TDs—and threw just one interception. Most important, he seldom made a wrong decision. "He doesn't have Testaverde's arm, but he's got the touch," says Johnson. "He's quiet, but he's smart. And competition brings out the best in him."

"This offense can highlight a quarterback's skills," Walsh says. "It's the same offense Howard Schnellenberger used when he coached here. It's just about the same as the one the Dolphins play. You have total freedom to call anything you want out there."

Against Florida State, Walsh's early passes sailed high and wide, putting his outstretched receivers in danger of getting killed by defenders. But at the end he was masterly, finishing with 13 completions in 29 attempts for 254 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In the fourth quarter he went 4 for 8 for 116 yards, both his TDs and a two-point conversion. His 73-yard game-winner to Irvin was an audible. "I'd called a short out, but I didn't like the play," says Walsh. "The corner was up tight, so I called Mike deep and he beat the jam."

Sounds simple. So does the question that everybody asks Walsh: How do you compare yourself to Testaverde? "I don't," Walsh responds. "I'm only myself."

Florida State's McManus does not compare himself with anyone either. On Friday he sat in his room with his dad in Burt Reynolds Hall, the football dorm, watching Jaws 2 on television and offering his views on the upcoming game. "I think the scores will be in the 20's, and it will all come down to the end of the fourth quarter," he said. "If we can get our running game going, we'll be in good shape. But both defenses are so tough that turnovers will be really important."

He was right on every count. The Seminoles dominated with their running, sending the 6'2", 221-pound Smith off-tackle behind 6'1", 240-pound fullback Marion Butts. Smith displayed every move you could want in a big back, especially on a 64-yard first-quarter jaunt in which he looked like Earl Campbell in his prime. "Arm tackling will not bring Smith down," said Miami middle linebacker George Mira Jr., who led all players with 17 tackles.

But turnovers—of which Miami had none—doomed the Seminoles as surely as did Johnson's decisions to go for two-point conversions after Miami cut the lead first to 19-9 and then to 19-17. "We aren't very good at two-point plays," Johnson said after the game. But when you're leading the straight life, well, you just convert those suckers.

Florida State, which outgained Miami in total yards 426 to 306, suffered an early reversal when a bad snap went whizzing by holder McManus's head on a 40-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. Miami took possession on the Seminole 26 and six downs later kicked a field goal for a 3-0 lead. In the fourth quarter McManus was thwarted by defensive end Dan Stubbs, Miami's alltime sack leader. With 13:41 remaining and the ball on the Miami 46-yard line, the 6'4", 250-pound Stubbs fought off a chop block by 305-pound tackle Pat Tomberlin, reached up his incredibly long arms and intercepted a screen pass. Six plays and a two-pointer later, Miami tied the score at 19. "I should have run over and handed him the ball," said a disgusted McManus afterward.

The last turnover, a fumble after a bad exchange between Seminole center Mark Salva and McManus that was recovered by Bennie Blades at the Miami 11, was the cruncher. Four plays later Walsh hit Irvin on the 73-yarder, and the 'Canes had increased their regular-season winning streak to 24 games, and Johnson had improved his road record to 19-1.

Way back at halftime Reynolds had been feeling expansive. Having a school building named after him, he admitted, "is thrilling, and yet at the same time I feel I should be dead." He added that he was amazed by all the football talent born and bred in Florida these days. Indeed, of the starting 44 players on offense and defense for the two teams, only 10 are not Floridians. "It used to be we all thought Ohio was the place for football players," said Reynolds. "Now I'll bet Florida has talent that will match even California's."

Hear that, you out-of-state recruiters? You'd be wise to get yourselves down there and do a little picking. But be careful because it's even hotter than usual in the Sunshine State: A lot of people are packing heat.



Miami's runners never took off, though Melvin Bratton got a key first down on this play.



McManus (14) went unsacked because of blocks like this one by Jason Kuipers (62).



Alphonso Williams (26) latched on to this blocked punt and scored to put FSU up 16-3.



Smith stepped all over Miami—and his teammates—en route to gaining 189 yards.



After Florida State decided to go for two, McDowell (right) was the one for Miami.



With 2:22 to play, Irvin strutted as if he knew for sure that he'd just scored the winning TD.