Friday, December 13, 2002
1984 - Miami 31, Nebraska 30
By Dan O'Sullivan
ABC Sports Online
In one of the most exciting games in the history of college football, underdog Miami clinched its first national championship with a 31-30 win over Nebraska.
The epic battle featured several memorable moments, including Nebraska guard Dean Steinkuhler's "fumblerooskie" touchdown run and Miami safety Ken Calhoun's game-saving tip of an attempted two-point conversion pass.
"It was a great feeling for me, for my family, for my team and the school, to represent the University of Miami in such a big-time game that no one had expected us to win," Calhoun remembers.
Nebraska (12-0) had steamrolled through its schedule, topping the Associated Press poll the entire season. The boys from Lincoln boasted the Heisman Trophy winner (running back Mike Rozier), the country's most outstanding lineman (Outland Trophy winner Steinkuhler), and an All-American selection (wide receiver Irving Fryar).
Miami (10-1), ranked No. 5 by the AP, represented a formidable challenge. After losing their first game to Florida, the Hurricanes scored 10 straight victories over the likes of West Virginia, East Carolina and cross-state rival Florida State. Nonetheless, Nebraska entered the game as 11-point favorites.
"We were the Cinderella team, and it fired us up," said Calhoun. "Being a Cinderella to such a powerhouse was something everyone on the team got up for."
Two games played earlier in the day helped set the stage for the Orange Bowl contest. Georgia had upset No. 2 Texas in the Cotton Bowl, while UCLA had upended No. 4 Illinois in the Rose Bowl. No. 3 Auburn still had to play Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, but the Hurricanes knew they had a shot at the national title if they could knock off Nebraska.
Miami struck first, reeling off the first 17 points of the game. Nebraska responded in the second quarter, as quarterback Turner Gill marched his team 74 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown. The score came on a trick play known as a "fumblerooskie," which started with Gill taking the snap and slyly placing the ball on the ground. Steinkuhler then picked up the ball and lumbered in for a 19-yard touchdown.
The Hurricanes recovered from the shock to take a 31-17 lead into the fourth quarter. Nebraska stayed alive with a 76-yard drive capped by running back Jeff Smith's seven-yard touchdown run. After Miami kicker Jeff Davis missed a 41-yard field goal, the Cornhuskers took over at their own 26 with 1:47 left.
The Nebraska offense wasted little time, reaching the Miami 24 on five plays. On fourth-and-eight, Smith ran in for his second touchdown, making it a 31-30 game. Rather than go for the tie, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne chose to go for the two-point conversion. Miami linebacker Jack Fernandez, who was later named defensive MVP, recalls lining up for the game's pivotal play.
"At the time, you're not thinking about what's at stake," he said. "You're just thinking about winning the game and preventing what they're trying to do."
As Gill dropped back to pass, Calhoun abandoned Fryar -- his man in the coverage scheme -- and picked up Smith.
Fryar, said Calhoun, "had dropped a touchdown (earlier), and I didn't feel like they would go back to him, so I just let him release. I read Turner Gill's eyes, got in the passing lane, and knocked the pass down."
Calhoun's heroics gave Miami a 31-30 victory and, despite Auburn's 9-7 defeat of Michigan, the national championship. Nebraska placed second in the final AP poll.
"It's history. It was the first championship in Florida, and we're proud of that," said Calhoun.
For his part, Fernandez said defeating Nebraska taught him a valuable lesson: to never underestimate the underdog.
"I feel like we were the Trojan horse," he said. "They let us in, and we just blindsided them."