'Canes still dealing with pain of Fiesta Bowl loss
Miami has high expectations for this season, but the way last season ended has been tough to forget.
By BOB HARIG
Published August 9, 2003
CORAL GABLES - Mo Sikes remembers the momentary euphoria, dancing at midfield of Sun Devil Stadium, soaking up the joy of another undefeated season and national championship.
Then the flag fell.
And the nightmare began.
Sikes and the rest of his Miami teammates who were on the field that Jan. 3 night for the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., wish it was as simple as a bad dream.
"I was in the back of the end zone and I see everybody waving," said Sikes, a senior safety. "That's what you look for first, and everybody was waving incomplete. And in about two seconds I was at the 50-yard line celebrating. Then I see the flag after the fact."
Glenn Sharpe had batted away a pass intended for Ohio State's Chris Gamble in the corner of the end zone, seemingly ending the game in the first overtime. The celebration began before the controversial pass interference call came.
Ohio State tied the score a few moments later and went on to win 31-24 in two overtimes, snapping UM's 34-game winning streak.
The Buckeyes won the national championship while the Hurricanes were left to face a frustrating offseason.
Even now, seven months and a few days later, the loss stings.
A new season beckons, with more great expectations for the Hurricanes. But it remains difficult to shake that defeat.
"We still haven't gotten over it," senior linebacker Jonathan Vilma said Friday at media day. "It just sits there right now. You can't let it get to you, you have to move on. But it's there."
"I don't think you get over games like that," assistant head coach Art Kehoe said. "I'm not over the 1987 Penn State game (a 14-10 Miami loss in the Fiesta Bowl). You don't win 34 games in a row and play for your second straight national title and lose in two overtimes ... I don't see how you get over that. What, do you just forget it? People who tell you you'll forget it ... it's a bunch of nonsense."
Kehoe, 46, is a former Hurricanes player who has been on the coaching staff since 1982. There have been other championship losses, but this one ...
"Some of the things that happened in that game ... you want to punch yourself in the face for the rest of your life," said Kehoe, who coaches the offensive line and thought he did a poor job preparing the unit - UM allowed four sacks. "I've replayed it in my head over and over and over and over and over again. And it's hard to live with."
Said offensive tackle Eric Winston: "I still find myself banging my head against the wall wondering "How did that happen?' I don't know if we're over it or not."
One thing the Hurricanes apparently are over is the call that denied them victory. Almost to a man, they will not point to that one play.
"It was emotionally draining, and that was hard," Sikes said. "We had to regroup and come back and we didn't. But that play did not end the game."
"The game should not have been that close," said cornerback Kelly Jennings, who pointed out that the Hurricanes had five turnovers. "In my mind, nine times out of 10 we would have beat them. That was the one time. We couldn't change the call, and that was just one play in the game."
Larry Coker, who suffered his first loss as a head coach in that game, said he expects no hangover.
There is a new quarterback (Brock Berlin, who transferred from Florida in 2002), tailback (Frank Gore) and big holes to fill at receiver and on the defensive line. Miami replaces 12 starters, and only two starters - Vilma and linebacker D.J. Williams - remain from the 2001 national championship team.
So the Hurricanes, who open Aug. 28 at Louisiana Tech, have no time to feel sorry for themselves.
In fact, Coker said, that is what he was doing until he saw the effort put forth by his players in the offseason.
"That makes you feel better," Coker said. "You see their desire and it's no longer a problem for me. And I liked some of the comments I heard from our players. One of them talked about the five turnovers. You can't do that and win a game like that. So there are no excuses.
"We understand that we can lose, we can be beaten. A lot of these players had never lost a college game. That was a very painful loss."