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Original Issue

Same Old Story

Once again, Miami was just a little bit better than Florida State when it counted

Goat or not, the young man had moxie. Last Saturday, in the chaotic moments after Dan Mowrey had driven his last-second field goal attempt wide to the right, allowing Miami to carjack Florida State's national championship hopes for the fourth time in five years, Mowrey tried to jog off the Orange Bowl field with his dignity intact. This was made difficult by a TV cameraman running alongside him—with the camera lens inches from Mowrey's mug. "Get outta my face," said Mowrey. In the dressing room he gamely met the press. At one point he looked down and mumbled, "Why did it have to be wide right?"

A duck hook, a knuckleball, a Charlie Brown whiff—anything would have been preferable. With only eight seconds on the clock and a chance to tie the game, Mowrey ensured instead that he will be remembered as a copycat killer of Seminole hopes. When Florida State had a chance to beat the Hurricanes in Tallahassee last year, Gerry Thomas saw his last-second kick sail wide right too (page 17). New goat, same result.

Miami's 19-16 victory on Saturday was the Hurricanes' 22nd straight win and their 48th in a row in the Orange Bowl. For Seminole fans there is this discouraging bit of statistical miscellany: In its 10 meetings with Miami since 1983, Florida State has had the lead going into the fourth quarter eight times but has won only two of those games. Exactly what is it that the Hurricanes have over their upstate rivals? Said Miami middle linebacker Micheal Barrow, "Bigger hearts."

And better coaching. After this latest Seminole display of underachieving, that is the unavoidable conclusion. Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is a colorful, likable gentleman who handled a bitter loss with consummate grace. "I'm proud of Dennis," he said of his Miami counterpart, Dennis Erickson. "I hope Miami goes all the way." But dadgummit, as Bowden might say, year in and year out Florida State sends legions of players to the pros—six from last year's squad alone dot NFL rosters—yet the Seminoles consistently fall short in close, tense games.

Last week former Seminole cornerback Terrell Buckley, now a Green Bay Packer rookie, told the Tallahassee Democrat that Bowden had cost Florida State at least one national title. "If [defensive coordinator] Mickey Andrews or [receivers coach] John Eason were head coach, I'd have three rings," said Buckley. "We had the talent to win the national championship." Buckley also told the Democrat that many current and former Seminoles share his sentiments.

The most frequently tendered criticisms of Bowden are that he is too conservative in big games and that he lacks a clearly delineated chain of command. "Democracy at its finest," is how Democrat writer Steve Ellis described Bowden's coaching staff. Indeed, on Florida State's final, unsuccessful drive against Miami last season, the Seminole sideline was bedlam. Bowden called strange plays and managed the clock poorly.

Call it poor preparation or simply a case of nerves, but Saturday's defeat turned on a spectacular mental lapse by a redshirt sophomore. With three minutes to go and Miami protecting a 17-16 lead, Hurricane punter Paul Snyder boomed a rainbow toward Corey Sawyer. Backpedaling from his 14-yard line, Sawyer—under instructions to return the ball unless it was kicked into the end zone—made the catch at the one and continued past the goal line. As Miami's Malcolm Pearson wrapped Sawyer up, he flipped a panicky forward lateral in the direction of a teammate. The illegal toss was recovered in the end zone by the Hurricanes' Dexter Siegler, and the play was ruled a safety.

Sawyer's blunder was typical of the mental vapor lock that seems to afflict visitors to the Orange Bowl. Earlier in the week Bowden had sought to demythologize the place by insisting that it's no louder nor more hostile than the Death Valleys of Louisiana State and Clemson. That's true. But it's also true that the Miami players believe they are invincible on their home field.

And this is a group that can convince itself of anything. Ever since former coach Jimmy Johnson supplied the team in the mid-'80s with a mantra that's still in use—Us Against the World—Miami hasn't won games so much as it has avenged insults, overcome adversity and triumphed over injustice. The Hurricanes regard the anticelebration rule, passed by the NCAA before the '91 season, as an attempt to emasculate them. Although Miami was voted national champion in last season's AP writers' poll, the USA Today/CNN coaches' poll had Washington No. 1, which the Hurricanes saw as a clear lack of respect. Being dropped to No. 2 in both polls this year after an underwhelming 8-7 win over Arizona on Sept. 26? A slap in the face.

"Everyone's doubting us again," said tailback Darryl Spencer last week. Miami players husband adversity; they turn it upside down and use it to their advantage. As All-America defensive end Rusty Medearis said earlier in the season, "We just wait for bad things to happen."

Nonetheless Medearis and Miami have discovered that there can be too much of a bad thing. Even before Medearis tore up his knee in the Arizona game and was lost for the season, this year's Hurricanes had been shaken by the death of two former players—Shane Curry in a shooting and Jerome Brown in a car accident—who had gone on to the NFL; by a scandal involving 40 current and former players who filled out fraudulent financial-aid applications (SI, Aug. 31, 1992); and, finally, by an act of God.

While the Miami campus in Coral Gables is 20 miles north of Homestead, where on Aug. 24 Hurricane Andrew wrought its worst destruction, the storm continues to affect the Hurricanes. The houses of Erickson and four of his assistants were severely damaged. On Aug. 27 Joe Zagacki, who does color commentary on Hurricane radio broadcasts, was ferrying relief supplies to migrant workers when his plane crashed, killing both pilots. Three weeks later Zagacki was back on the radio, with two metal plates in his face and two more in his right leg. "I'm not sure people realize what we've been through," says Erickson.

With water and electricity unavailable on campus after the storm, the Hurricanes bivouacked in Vero Beach, where they practiced at Dodgertown for 10 days. They beat Iowa 24-7 on Sept. 5 in Iowa City and then returned to Coral Gables. After beating Florida A&M, a I-AA team for which Miami prepared listlessly, the Hurricanes prepared for Arizona—sort of. None of the Hurricanes deny looking past the Wildcats. Miami salvaged the win only because Arizona kicker Steve McLaughlin missed a 51-yard field goal attempt wide (guess which direction) on the final play.

That near debacle left no doubt that the Hurricanes' weak link was their offensive line. Miami backs totaled two yards on the ground against the Wildcats, and Hurricane quarterback Gino Torretta—"Precious," to his mother, Connie—was treated as anything but. He was sacked twice and hit after releasing the ball on numerous other plays.

This major offensive crisis began in the summer with the news that starting strong tackle Mario Cristobal, who had knee surgery in March, was not recovering as quickly as had been expected. Then on the first day of full-pads practice, starting strong guard Brad Shirey broke his right leg. Cristobal was replaced by Russian-born Zev Lumelski, whose chief talent may be his ability to shout "Look out!" at his quarterback in four languages.

The hog juggling had only just begun. Shirey's backup, redshirt freshman Alan Symonette, had a rough game against Iowa, so line coach Gregg Smith replaced him with starting weak tackle Kipp Vickers. But who would replace Vickers? Recalling that second-team tight end Carlos Etheredge had played some tackle as a freshman in high school, the coaches pressed him into service against A&M.

During the week after Arizona, Smith was all over them, and he wasn't alone. The linemen got all manner of unsolicited advice from their teammates. Says fullback Stephen McGuire, "Guys were telling them, 'You all better get your——together and get nasty out there.' "

"We were pretty cranky," recalls Cristobal, who made his first start of the season against the Seminoles. "There were a lot of fights in practice."

Though the line looked better than it had against Arizona, the best that can be said of its performance on Saturday is that it didn't lose the game. The pass protection was good—Precious, who threw 11 straight incompletions at one stretch but had time to throw touchdown passes of 29 and 33 yards—was sacked only once. The run blocking, on the other hand, was abominable. Miami backs eked out only 65 rushing yards on 28 carries.

Yet Miami's offense was a model of efficiency compared with Florida State's. After Tamarick Vanover, a dazzling freshman wideout, took the opening kick-off 94 yards without being touched, the Seminoles could muster only three Mowrey field goals. The Hurricanes boast the nation's sternest defense, and on this day that unit was on a mission. Erickson asked Medearis—who had knee surgery six days earlier—to hobble on crutches into the locker room and deliver a pregame speech. It brought tears to the eyes of many of his teammates. Especially moved was Kevin Patrick, who replaced Medearis at right end and accounted for three of Miami's seven sacks of Seminole quarterback Charlie Ward.

The hit of the day belonged to Barrow, who read a look-in pass to Vanover and unloaded as the ball arrived. Thirty minutes after the game, Vanover was still groggy. Barrow and several other Hurricanes took particular delight in tormenting Vanover—and not just because he had staked Florida State to its early lead. A native of Tallahassee, Vanover had been intensively recruited by Miami. He had been offered the opportunity to become a "family member," as the Hurricanes call their own, and had spurned it.

No wonder, then, that in the fourth quarter Barrow and outside linebacker Jessie Armstead could be seen giving Vanover a rough time as he tried to make his way back to the Seminole huddle. "We crowded him a little, shoved him around," says Barrow, grinning wickedly. "I told him, 'It's a good thing you didn't come here—you're soft!' He didn't say anything. He was very quiet."

Also chattering at Vanover was cornerback Ryan McNeil, who had been Vanover's host during Vanover's recruiting visit last winter. Should Miami win another national title, Vanover is likely to remember the phrase McNeil kept repeating to him all afternoon: "You should have come here."



Hurricane defenders like tackle Warren Sapp were on Ward's back all afternoon



Bowden (right) was low after Paul White went high for an interception (far left) and Sawyer bungled a punt return in the end zone.



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The body language of Mowrey spoke volumes about another last-second loss to Miami.