Friday, September 10, 2004
Berlin, Gore back better than ever
By Bruce Feldman ESPN The Magazine
MIAMI -- We have been here so many times it is now way beyond cliché. It is downright surreal.
The scene: Last minute, Miami is trying to make a desperate rally. The old 'Canes, the ones who built the rowdy UM football legacy, are storming the Miami sidelines, leaning on the newbies to uphold the tradition. The rival team seems to be gagging as the crowd buzzes inside the gritty old Horsehoe in Little Havana. And this is where the latest chapter of the mercurial Miami history actually begins.
Trailing Florida State 10-3 with 1:22 remaining, Miami knew it was about to get the ball back for one last drive. Its defense, which had proven to be every bit as dominant as the one last season that had four first-rounders, had cornered every Seminole maneuver. The entire UM offensive team, reserves and all, gathered in a circle on the sideline. In the center of the swarm, Brock Berlin, Miami's embattled quarterback, the son of a Louisiana preacher, was about to give the sermon of his life.
Miami QB Brock Berlin has emerged as a leader in his senior season.
"It is about to happen boys, it's about to happen," he screamed at his teammates, his head nodding in unison with those words. "This is do or die. Do or die right here. We know what we're gonna do. We're going down the field and boys, we're gonna score. Let's stay focused because it's gonna happen. . .gonna happen right now."
He was, of course, right. The 'Canes always seem to win these kinds of games. The only thing different here is the names on the back of the jerseys. Sure enough, on the fifth play of the drive, Berlin threw a dart to wideout Sinorice Moss, a sprinter on the UM track team, who blazed his way up the left sideline for a 30-yard touchdown to tie the game at 10 and set up overtime.
Meanwhile, FSU quarterback Chris Rix, now 0-5 against Miami, was in the midst of another nightmare. The 'Noles went backwards on the first two plays in OT and eventually turned the ball over when Rix fumbled a snap, and it was recovered by Miami DE Thomas Carroll.
Then Frank Gore, the relentless UM tailback who was trying to battle back from two devastating knee surgeries, seized the spotlight. On first down, he danced his way to seven yards before gashing the 'Noles D for an 18-yard TD sprint to cap another heart-wrenching comeback win. "Actually, I'm getting a little tired of these kinds of wins," UM cornerback Kelly Jennings said half-kiddingly.
Imagine how Florida State must feel then.
Truth be told, the real star of the game was the Miami defense. It held FSU to 165 yards and made Rix look like a Pop Warner QB stranded out in the middle of the Orange Bowl. But the big story here is about the two guys who were the largest question marks coming into the evening: Berlin, the QB who was practically booed all the way back to Louisiana last season, and Gore, the kid with the unreal vision who was once hailed by UM coaches as the best running back prospect they'd ever seen, only to get de-railed by two season-ending injuries. Fittingly, they trained together everyday at 6 a.m., pushing each other through rehab -- Gore to get past his knee problems. Berlin, perhaps, to regain his rep.
The UM coaches had their fingers crossed about both. They kept talking about how comfortable Berlin was in the new offense and how Gore looked to have his burst back. But in reality, who knew? Berlin hadn't faced live bullets and Gore hadn't been tackled in fall camp.
Berlin wasn't flawless Friday night, but his numbers (20-of-36 for 255 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) while pretty good, especially considering the FSU D is one of the nation's fastest and best defenses, are a bit misleading. The UM passing game was hampered by three key drop balls. But when new UM offensive coordinator Dan Werner opened things up letting Berlin work downfield, his QB responded.
"Honestly, I can't say enough about Brock Berlin," says UM O-lineman Chris Myers. "But we expect that from him. We know what he's capable of."
For Gore, who finished with 89 yards on 18 carries, it was truly a perfect end. Or better yet, beginning. "Frank is Brock's hero," says Berlin's dad Ricky. "Tonight was really special. It was even better than the Florida game (another last-minute Berlin-led comeback win.) Brock really believes this is their year, that they are a team of destiny."
Tavares Gooden, the sophomore UM linebacker who proved ready to pick up right where first-rounders D.J. Williams and Jon Vilma left off, said Gore was one of the biggest reasons why Miami had little trouble bottling up the talented FSU running backs. "Frank's got moves on top of moves," Gooden says. "You gotta square up on him, and it'll still hard to get near him. Man, compared to Frank, these guys were easy."
Overall, it was just another routine night in the Orange Bowl.
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His first book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment is out in bookstores. He can be reached at email@example.com.