The 1986 season was a special one for the Hurricane program, even if it ended in painstaking fashion in the Arizona desert. For all the accolades and talent of the 2001 squad, some believe that the 1986 team was at least as talented. With a backfield combo of Alonzo Highsmith and Melvin Bratton flanking Vinny Testaverde, who enjoyed targets including Michael Irvin, Brian Blades, and Brett Perriman, the Miami offense was a point-scoring juggernaut, scoring 34 or more points in 8 of 11 regular season games. Conversely, the defense, led by a defensive line including Jerome Brown, Dan Stubbs, and Dan Sileo ahead of Winston Moss, George Mira Jr., and Thorpe award winner Bennie Blades, was perhaps even more dynamic. Only one opponent scored more than 16 points all season – Florida State (23 pts).
But it was a chance at a bit of indirect revenge that served as the lasting highlight for the 1986 campaign. The 1985 season had ended in frustrating fashion, with the Hurricanes getting their doors blown off 35 -7 by Tennessee in the 1986 Sugar Bowl. At #2, all the Hurricanes needed to do was win, and fate would have aligned them for their then-second national championship, as Oklahoma clubbed then-#1 Penn State 25-10 in the Orange Bowl. Once the smoke cleared after New Year’s Day, Oklahoma leapfrogged Miami and finished #1, with the Canes falling to #9 in the final AP poll. The Sooners’ lone blemish? A 27-14 loss to the Canes in Norman.
So entering Week 5 of the 1986 college football season, Miami knew it could handle the defending champion Sooners, as they had already done the prior year.
Before the Game: In one of the most well-known pre-game hijinks, Highsmith and Bratton gave the Canes the early psychological edge over the visiting Sooners. Oklahoma was staying in the famous Fontainbleau Hotel on Miami Beach, so Highsmith and Bratton called the hotel and reached the room of perennial All-American and bad boy Brian Bosworth. Groggily answering the phone, Bratton and Highsmith greeted the Boz with a wakeup call that SB Nation probably wouldn’t be keen on me repeating here verbatim. As Vinny Testaverde told me once during an interview, “well, I’ll give you the church version here, but [it was about] how we were going to beat them. It was going to be a long afternoon for them.”
And if that wasn’t enough, as the teams took to the Orange Bowl turf to do battle, Highsmith and Brown made it plainly clear that they weren’t intimidated by the defending champs, with Highsmith chirping, “I ain’t scared of you, b*tch. Alright now, baby. Don’t be scared now, baby.”
How it went down: In a nationally-televised game between two of the biggest programs in football – and two of the biggest names in the Boz and Testaverde – it was the latter who shined brightest in what would ultimately prove to be his Heisman-claiming performance. Testaverde completed 21 of 28 passes for 261 yards and 4 TDs, including two scores within a 44-second span that put Miami ahead 21-3 in the third quarter. On the final score, Irvin finished his post pattern by running up to the first row of the closed end of the Miami Orange Bowl and disappearing in the adoring arms of fans and teammates alike.
Earlier, Testaverde had the proverbial Heisman moment, as he escaped from a sack – his shoulder pads flapping in the wind – and showed the speed few knew he had by scrambling from one sideline to the other, turning a loss into a ten-yard gain. It showed anyone in the nation that didn’t know that Testaverde had the toughness and the complete package of skills to complement the golden arm, which completed 14 straight passes on that day.
Defensively, the Canes gave up what Oklahoma takes – rushing yards. But they gave it up in much smaller amounts than Jamelle Holieway and the Sooner offense had been used to taking. They stuffed the inside lanes for the OU fullbacks (who totaled 15 rushing yards) and forced everything outside, where Miami’s superior athleticism helped stymie drive after drive. The 186 rushing yards Miami allowed for the game stunted OU’s game plan and (along with the disparate score) forced Holieway into a passer, which resulted in a paltry 90 passing yards for the game.
The aftermath: Miami had dethroned the defending champs in convincing fashion. Testaverde looked like the greatest player in college football on the game’s biggest stage of the season. 1 versus 2. Miami’s bad boy reputation, celebrated by its fans and loathed by everyone else, was fully cemented as an unmistakeable identity in the era of 1980’s college football…..a legacy that would continue for years and would make the Canes one of the most polarizing and hated teams in all of American sports.
While the season ended in disappointing fashion, the triumph on September 27, 1986 was one of the most enjoyable, dominant, and unforgettable games in Miami program history.