College football is built on tradition and pageantry that sets it apart from its more stale and cookie cutter professional version. When you hear the marching bands play the fight songs of Michigan or Notre Dame, the hair should stand up on your arms and the back of your neck. You think of the Gipper speech, Ernie Davis slashing through defenses, Ray Lewis and the shaded visor, and the Desmond Howard Heisman pose. If I hear the Star Wars “Imperial March” I think of Warren Sapp before I think of Han Solo.
College football programs go through ebb and flow eras of success and decline. Think of Miami from 1995-1999 and 2004-present, FSU’s hiccup in the last of the Bowden years, USC has had a few epochal declines, as has Texas, Alabama (pre-Saban/post-Stallings ring a bell?) and Notre Dame. Every time a powerhouse program has a decline, we look to a game that defines the crash. Was it the Peach Bowl ass kicking the LSU Tigers gave Miami in 2005 that started that decline? How about that Fiesta Fiasco Bowl against Oregon state in 2001 for Notre Dame? Mike Price’s controversy at Bama? The BYU game for Mack Brown at Texas?
But for every drop there’s a game that marks the rise and the “we’re back” for these programs as well. For Carroll’s USC it was Carson Palmer winning the Heisman and the Trojans’ 44-13 win over #7 Notre Dame and 38-17 Orange Bowl victory over #3 Iowa.
For Miami (as seen in the U part 2) a lot of people say the “we’re back” (for the record- I’m not a fan of we/I) game was the 1998 49-45 victory over then 3rd ranked UCLA. Edgerrin James rushed for 299 yards and 3 TDs for the ‘Canes that finished 9-3 overall with losses to FSU, Virginia Tech and Syracuse. Now, while that was a great game and I remember it fondly, especially after the Syracuse McNabb’fest ruining my Thanksgiving weekend (we always put the tree up that Saturday, I refused to go so I could finish the game because I’m a glutton for torture like that). But was that the “Miami’s back” game? Was it the FSU game in 2000 with Dorsey to Shockey in the endzone? An oft-forgotten game is the kickoff classic in 1999 where Miami went New Jersey to play the Ohio State Buckeyes and emerged victorious in a 23-12 game that was much more decisive of a victory than the score dictates. The Canes out-gained OSU 398-220.
Kenny Kelly had his first start at QB for Miami, a short-lived tenure, as he was replaced by legend Ken Dorsey after an injury and Dorsey never looked back on his way to a 38-2 record as #Canes starting QB. Kelly flashed his talent with quick burst and hard nosed running and a few nice deep bombs to Santana Moss, but also fumbled twice and threw two interceptions. While Moss finished with over 100 receiving yards. James Jackson was the first player on the board with a 44 yard TD run while sharing carries with Najeh Davenport both backs picked up 80 yards rushing. Kelly found Moss, Reggie Wayne, and Bubba Franks throughout the contest. The Canes seemed back in 1999, before losing to Penn State, ECU, FSU, and Virginia Tech.
The defense was full of Canes favorites like Ed Reed, Mike Rumph, Dan Morgan and Nate Webster. They dominated, including a Reed sack in the video below.
In 2016, are the ‘Canes back after the 45-10 road win against App State? Will it take a victory over FSU on 10/8 to say “they’re back?” Is it the Notre Dame game in South Bend on a national broadcast? Only time will tell but there’s one thing we all do know, college football needs the ‘Canes to be good- every movie needs a villain.