Before the Brand became the Brand, before Jimmy, Ray, and 2001, Howard Schnellenberger took a chance on a tiny college in Miami. The 1983 Miami Hurricanes were the beginning of a dynasty.
Yet as any Dynasty goes, there’s a litmus test and a time of underrated rise. A story of how they rose and the mountains they had to climb to place there flag over all else. 1983 was that test.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers were the resident juggernaut at the time in college football. As was the mold of most successful teams in the 70’s and 80’s, the Cornhuskers were like college They were nearly untouchable, holding a 22 game winning streak that reeked of corn fed dominance. Nebraska featured an offense that lead college football in score two years straight from 82-83’. The defense was as stout as the offense was powerful, holding opponents to just 16 points a game. The team, carrying a point differential of 34 points also carried the Number Poll position from the 1983 Preseason rankings right to the Orange Bowl in Miami. Let’s see what they were working with:
All Time coach? Check. Tom Osborne has the 7th most wins in NCAAF history including 12 bowl wins.
Heisman Winner? Check. That was Mike Rozier, author of the 12th greatest single season rushing performance from this season at 2148 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Stand out quarterback? Check. Turner Gill was an electric player at the QB position. A two sport athlete, Gill also played shortstop for Nebraska. He was so good he was drafted to play Major League Baseball, TWICE.
Maxwell Award - Mike Rozier
Outland Trophy - Dean Steinkuhler
Lombardi Award -Dean Steinkuhler
National Coach of the Year - Tom Osborne
National Player of the Year - Mike Rozier
National Defensive Lineman of the Year - Dean Steinkuhler
Big 8 Player of the Year - Mike Rozier
All-America 1st team - Mike Rozier, Irving Fryar, Dean Steinkuhler
All-America 2nd team - Turner Gill
All-America 3rd team - Scott Raridon
All-America honorable mention - Bret Clark, Mike Knox
All-Big 8 1st team - Irving Fryar, Turner Gill, Scott Raridon, Mike Rozier, Dean Steinkuhler, Mark Traynowicz
All-Big 8 2nd team - Rob Stuckey
This speaks like the resume of a giant. Lets meet the giant killers.
The team that they would meet, the 1983 Miami Hurricanes, were still in the darling stage. Howard Schnellenberger, chased by bigger and more established institutions, saw opportunity in lifting a Miami program that was sinking into college football ethos. In the midst of a rebuild, Schnellenberger and the Canes had gotten some attention in the polls in 1980 and 1981. However in 1982, Year 3 of the Schnellenberger Era, saw the Miami Hurricanes go 7-4, pushing back away from the limelight and into the shadows of college football.
1983 started in a way that could have dictated another difficult season. A 28-3 loss to the Florida Gators had the Canes starting on the ropes to start of the 83’ schedule. Combined with the fact that they were starting a freshman quarterback, one Bernie Kosar, it would have been very easy to write this team off from jump.
In a stark contrast, the aforementioned Cornhuskers, on the same day, easily disposed of 4th ranked Penn State 44-6 in the Kick-Off Classic.
Fast forward two weeks and both teams did what well coached teams do, disposing of the early schedule fodder with ease. But while week 4 showcased Nebraska dismantling a weak UCLA Bruins squad, the Canes finally reentered the national conversation with a much more impressive win against the then 13th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. A 20-0 win catapulted the Canes through the next 6 weeks. The Canes jumped from 15th to 5th, but still were looking up at Nebraska, with their victories coming against a weak schedule that kept there rise in question among pundits.
Two stumbling victories against East Carolina and Florida State in the following weeks let the country see holes in an otherwise balanced and well coached Canes team. Regardless of public opinion, the Hurricanes earned a bid to play in their home stadium in the Orange Bowl, against the number one team in the country.
Despite the opportunity sitting within their foe, the Hurricanes were still on the outside looking in on the National Championship conversation. An 11 point underdog, even in the unlikely event of a victory the Canes would need help from multiple other bowls game to steer them to championship. First, the UCLA team Nebraska had so easily handled crushed 4th ranked Illinois in the Rose Bowl.
First pin down.
Then it was the Georgia Bulldogs knocking off the Texas Longhorns in a defensive match, 10-9, at the Cotton Bowl.
Second pin down.
Earlier that same day, in the Sugar Bowl, Auburn, the number 3 team in the land, barely squeaked by an average Michigan team, 9-7.
All this turned the 1984 Orange Bowl game from a great tilt to end the season to a winner take all, National Championship showdown.
So many stories depicting the Canes as a scrappy rabid team painted the picture of a David and Goliath match with the undefeated Cornhuskers. But it was the upstart, underrated Canes that were higher than senator socks to face College Footballs reigning champ.
Jumping to a 17-0 lead behind Kosar, the no huddle, and a confusing defense, Schnellenberger’s pre game goals to ride a quick pass game and tire out a Nebraska team used to blow outs was working. The confidence of the host team as well as the crowd of 72,549 were rocking the OB, with the champs on the ropes. However, riding Heisman Winner Rozier’s 147 yards, cut the lead to 31-24 in the 4th. But like Rocky, the Canes took every blow Nebraska could throw while dealing their own haymakers, right up to the last play of the game.
Reading like a movie script, Nebraska Coach Osborne couldn’t humble himself to take a tie, but to go for the jugular and a two point conversion. What came next was The State of the U’s Number One Play in Miami Hurricane History.
Gill took the snap, rolled to his right and threw the ball to Smith. But Miami safety Ken Calhoun was ready, just getting a finger on the pass striking the final blow in match up for the ages.
The Miami Hurricanes, the first national title team without a single player making an All-America first team, a team that had previously gone 7-4, facing the team labeled as the next great college dynasty, not only snatched away the 1984 Championship but he role of College Football royalty, starting an age of Green and Orange.