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As great as you remember

1984 Orange Bowl marking UM's emergence into elite still may be greatest game ever.

By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 27, 2001

[AP file photo]
Glenn Dennison leaps onto S.C. Schnellenberger after a score.
First, let's clear up a misconception: Irving Fryar did not drop the winning two-point conversion attempt.

And one other (occasionally overheard) misconception: It was not a showdown of the No. 1 and 2 ranked teams, a pair of unbeaten, national powerhouses.

That's about it for misconceptions. Virtually everything else is pure, delectable, unvarnished truth. The Jan. 2, 1984 Orange Bowl between Miami and Nebraska was amazing, incredible, inspiring ... you remember, of course. No sports fan over the age of 30 doesn't remember.

Miami's 31-30 victory, sealed when Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill's two-point pass attempt with 48 seconds to go was deflected by 'Canes defensive back Ken Calhoun, has been recognized since as perhaps the greatest game in college football history.

Besides its mesmerizing, back-and-forth, big-play action (including Nebraska's famed fumblerooskie), down-to-the-wire drama, Monday night prime-time TV slot and stunning outcome, the game resonated historically. It launched an era of Hurricanes domination and inspired a sea change in college football, from primarily run-oriented to pass-oriented offenses.

Miami, whose prior football history was nondescript, captured the 1983 national title and added crowns in 1987, '89 and '91. From 1983-94, Miami, accompanied by a resounding swagger, was the nation's preeminent program.

Thursday, Miami and Nebraska meet again, this time in the Rose Bowl, with the national title at stake.

But at the 1984 Orange Bowl, Miami was the new kid on the block. The 'Canes had produced a smattering of great players through the years -- George Mira, Ted Hendricks, Jim Kelly and Ottis Anderson among them -- but they were not a major player on the national scene until Jan. 2, 1984.

It was Miami's first Orange Bowl appearance since 1951 and just its second bowl game since 1967. And the 'Canes, pounded by Florida 28-3 in the season opener (later, a popular bumper sticker in Gainesville read, "Florida 28, National Champions 3"), were fortunate to be there. They were 10-1, ranked No. 4 in the UPI (coaches) poll, No. 5 in the AP (writers) poll. Unbeaten Texas was No. 2 in both polls, one-loss Auburn third.

Nebraska was 12-0 and widely touted as one of the greatest teams ever. The backfield consisted of brilliant all-purpose quarterback Gill; tailback Mike Rozier, the 1983 Heisman Trophy winner; and wingback Fryar, the No. 1 overall selection in the 1984 NFL draft. They ripped off slabs of yardage -- 6.7 per rushing attempt -- behind a line anchored by Outland Trophy winner Dean Steinkuhler.

Miami, under coach Howard Schnellenberger, was led by redshirt freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar, linebacker Jay Brophy and defensive tackle Tony Fitzpatrick of Seminole High. The 'Canes were a double-digit underdog.

Before everyone had settled into their seats, Miami streaked to a 17-0 lead. Kosar, who would throw for an Orange Bowl-record 300 yards, threw two touchdowns to Glenn Dennison, sandwiched around Clearwater graduate Jeff Davis' 45-yard field goal.

Fumblerooskie turned things around in the second quarter. With third and 5 at the Miami 19, Nebraska coach Tom Osborne called the gadget play. Gill took the snap, covertly placed the ball on the ground, rolled out and took everyone with him. Steinkuhler stayed put, picked the ball up and rumbled for the touchdown.

Nebraska tied it at 17 in the third quarter, but Alonzo Highsmith and Albert Bentley answered with scoring runs to make it 31-17.

The Cornhuskers staged a final rally. Jeff Smith, who would play two seasons with the Buccaneers, came off the bench when Rozier (25 carries, 147 yards) went out with an injured ankle, and he ran for 99 yards on nine carries. His 1-yard run made it 31-24 with 6:55 to go. Then, in the final minute, two plays after Fryar dropped a gift-wrapped Gill pass in the end zone, Smith dashed in from 24 yards to make it 31-30.

The extra point and tie likely would have given the Cornhuskers the national title (there was no overtime then). Instead, Osborne elected to go for two.

At about 12:20 a.m. Jan. 3, Gill rolled right and threw for Smith. It was a little behind him, and Calhoun lunged and batted it away. Bentley recovered the onside kick.

Did Osborne consider going for the tie, probably securing the national title but perhaps sullying the outcome?

"We were trying to win the game," he said. "It never entered my head."

Texas lost to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl and Auburn registered a ho-hum 9-7 win over Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. When the polls came out Tuesday evening, Miami easily outdistanced No. 2 Nebraska and No. 3 Auburn.

"A miracle? I'd prefer to say this was a team of destiny," Schnellenberger said. "I wasn't surprised. All along I'd felt it coming."

-- Times researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this story.

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