By Jean Claude de la France
January 6, 1984
Miami’s 31-30 victory over Nebraska for College Football’s National Championship was not a matter of life and death. It was something much more important.
Coach Howard Schnellenberger used the golden anniversary of the Orange Bowl Classic to deliver his promise of a National Championship and rob most of the 72,549 fans of their voices.
In exchange, he gave them pride, unity, guts and perseverance. In the process, a new dynasty in college football was born.
Befittingly, the dynasty was born of a baptism of fire under the most severe test possible.
The Hurricanes took the early lead, shaking up the Cornhuskers with the passing of Bernie Kosar. Before the night was over, he would throw for an Orange Bowl Classic record 300 yards.
The catching of wide receivers Eddie Brown and Stanley Shakespeare and tight end Glenn Dennison and the running backs Albert Bentley, Alonzo Highsmith and Keith Griffin gave Miami the balance it needed.
But the real story was on defense, where the most awesome offensive juggernaut in the history of college football went eyeball to eyeball with the Hurricane defense.
There was a little matter to settle. Heisman Trophy-winning running back Mike Rozier had belittled them in the press. All-American wide receiver Irving Fryar had even claimed not to know who UM’s backs were.
Meet Reggie Sutton Irving. He’s only a freshman, but oh my! He’s beautiful. You can call him your shadow. Meet Rodney Bellinger. Unlike his namesake Rodney Dangerfield, he demands and gets respect.
Oh yeah, meet Jack Fernandez too. Jack’s only a reserve. That’s why he made only a game-high 15 tackles and picked off quarterback Turner Gill to kill a drive.
In the end (of course, everyone knew it would) it came down to offense vs. defense.
Your Honor, here is the case for the defense:
There was 1:58 to play and the Hurricanes led the nation’s only unbeaten team 31-24 with the highest possible stakes on the line.
The frenzied Cornhusker fans stood in their Orange Bowl enclave– a sea of red urging Gill and Co. to do their magic. It was past midnight and high time to end Miami’s Cinderella story.
Miami fans took up a chant, calling for the defense to do its job one more time.
On the Miami line of scrimmage, 11 Hurricanes strapped on their helmets, tightened their chinstraps and went to war. The kill zone was everywhere.
It was strength against strength, and the strategy was obvious: “If it’s wearing red and moving, hit it.”
On fourth down and 8 at the Miami 24-yard line, Hurricane fans implored the defense to “please, please stop them.” Gill called a time out. Walking back to the huddle, he showed that cocky walk familiar to Nebraska fans.
Unbelievably, Nebraska scored with 48 seconds left and was one point short of a tie. A two-point conversion would have given them a lead, forcing Miami, still with two time outs left to go the length of the field to win.
As their fans had been shouting all night, Coach Tom Osbourne made the decision: “Go Big Red.”
Safety Kenny Calhoun tipped the pass intended for running back Jeff Smith. Oh-h-h my-y-y! We are national champions.
Again, the defense turned the Nebraska’s “Go Big Red” chant to “Die Big Red.”
Suddenly, the Cornhuskers became the cornflakes and the Big Red Machine was just another clunker.
Your honor, the defense rests.
Jean Claude de la France wrote for The Miami Hurricane in 1984. He wrote for The Miami Herald, The Miami News, The Milwaukee Journal, and The Orlando Sentinel. He passed away in 1990.