This is a game I’ll never forget. One that will go down in the annals of the all-time greatest comebacks in college football history.
I remember the overwhelming number of Gator fans that had invaded the Orange Bowl on a steamy September evening. The East end zone stands were increased, and a huge chunk of them were occupied by orange-and-blue-clad fanatics that were well-oiled and certainly loud. They got quiet very quickly once Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the quickest possible 7-0 lead.
Then, Miami forgot how to play football for two and a half quarters. 100-mile stares from Hurricane fans fell upon a scoreboard that read “Florida 33, Miami 10. 3rd quarter, 6:10”.
Florida fans exulted and chomped their arms like gator mouths to the rhythm of the Florida band. A two-headed quarterback animal – Chris Leak and Ingle Martin – and a freshman running back, DeShawn Wynn, had helped the Gators rip off an inexplicable 33-3 run against Jonathan Vilma, Sean Taylor, and a shell-shocked Miami defense. Wynn scrambled for a 65-yard touchdown to push Florida’s lead to 26-10 early in the third quarter.
And then, Brock Berlin, who left Florida because he wasn’t good enough to start there, buried the Gators in one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of the Orange Bowl.
On the Canes’ next drive, Berlin finally got the offense on the board for the day, drilling Kevin Beard for a 26-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion made the score 33-18. Beard finished with a monster day, catching 7 passes for 164 yards.
Where Miami’s offense was heating up, so was its defense. After forcing a quick punt, Berlin went back to work. He found Beard open near midfield, who raced down to the 1-yard line. Frank Gore bulldozed into the end zone, and suddenly the score was 33-25 with a quarter to play. The Orange Bowl was alive.
10-12 yard passes became a fool-proof staple in the Miami passing game, as Berlin methodically pushed the Miami offense down the field. From the Gator 6-yard line, he hit Ryan Moore across the middle, who trotted into the end zone. 33-32, Florida. As Gator fans chewed fingernails and scratched heads in silence, Miami fans exulted in the incredible turnaround they were witnessing.
There would be no chance Berlin would let the Canes fall short on this day. Dehydrated and cramping, Berlin even scrambled for a potential game-saving first down on Miami’s final touchdown drive, which covered 89 yards. On third and five, Frank Gore took the ball right off tackle and rolled into the end zone for the final points. Miami 38, Florida 33, 1:44 to play.
Florida would keep the thrilling ending in doubt until the final moments. Leak drove the Florida offense down to the Miami 20 yard line with 15 seconds left, but his final pass of the game intended for Dallas Baker was intercepted by Alfonso Marshall.
Berlin took a knee, turned and pointed to the Gator fans, and did the chomp with the arm that threw for 340 yards and completed 18 of his last 21 pass attempts.
Besides the story of Berlin’s redemption that everybody knows by now, this game was memorable for Miami fans for a number of reasons. Beating Florida is always special. Beating Florida when they thought they had it won is even sweeter. Beating Florida in the Orange Bowl was a feeling not had since the teams last played there in 1987.
Those who were there, yours truly included, will never forget just how loud and rocking the Orange Bowl was that evening. It was a special experience, and one of the last great games that the “O.B.” gave us fans.