Is the sky falling? Of course not. Miami is a game away from setting a new record in 30 consecutive wins. Ken Dorsey is a Heisman worthy quarterback with a 33-1 record as a starter. Willis McGahee is one of the best runners in the game and will be sitting next to Dorsey as a Heisman finalist come December. The offensive line is not quite as dominant as the 2001 squad but is easily one of the nation’s finest. The receiver position is chock full of skill. Andre Johnson is still one of the best in the country while Kevin Beard and Ethnic Sands are pulling in their fair share of big time receptions. Kellen Winslow Jr. has almost made Cane fans forget about the loss of tight end Jeremy Shockey.
Talent-wise is there are better defense than Miami’s? Jerome McDougle, William Joseph Jamaal Green and Matt Walters are tops. Vince Wilfork, Andrew Williams and Cornelius Green are equally as capable. At linebacker DJ Williams and Jon Vilma are as hard of hitters as the Canes have sported in a while. Rocky McIntosh looks like another future Miami star. The secondary was thought to be the weak link this season but Mo Sikes, Kelly Jennings, Antrel Rolle and Sean Taylor have all held their own at their respective positions.
On paper, Miami may be as loaded as ever. The talent level on this team is frightening. How can 11 Hurricanes depart for the NFL only to be replaced by younger, soon-to-be as effective starters? How does projected starter Frank Gore go down to injury in fall workouts without any drop off in talent? Not only has McGahee kept the team afloat – seven games into the season #2 is hearing his own name mentioned in Heisman circles.
Yeah, the Canes are a force to be reckoned with – but they are not playing like the nation’s elite. Anyone who thinks so needs to take off those orange and green glasses immediately.
I can almost hear a slew of nervous, hot-hotheaded, defensive Miami fans shifting in their seats as they’re reading this. The responses are being prepared. Point out the win-streak. Rattle off statistics and Dorsey’s dominance. Explain that until the Canes lose, there is no reason to panic. Mention all of the above and I will do nothing but agree. Remember whose team I am on here. Hurricane blood has pumped through my veins since I came out of the womb. That said, I will always call it like I see it.
These current Canes lack a hunger this year that the 2001 Canes possessed. Last year’s bunch had something about them that could not be fabricated. There were all the off season stories about defending the title and putting those championship rings away in the nightstand as motivation for another. Unfortunately it just seems like words – a feel good story. Miami is not playing like a team hungry for another title. They merely look like a team that knows they’re better than everyone else.
I recently cracked open the 1997 media guide to have a look at that season’s incoming freshman. Martin Bibla, Najeh Davenport, Markese Fitzgerald, Joaquin Gonzalez, Daryl Jones, James Lewis and Ed Reed all jump off the page. All came to Miami and experienced a 5-6 inaugural season. All returned as hungry, focused, motivated seniors in 2001 after being shut out of their chance at a National Championship in 2000. All six of them left Miami with a championship ring following the 2001 season.
The hunger that the 2001 Canes possessed was as authentic as any I have ever seen. This team had a point to prove. It started on January 3rd, 2001 when Oklahoma took sole possession of the National Championship. The Florida State loss cost Miami a piece of the pie and the Canes would have until September 1st, 2001 to get that bitter taste out of their mouths in the season opener at Penn State. Off-season and summer workouts were fueled by the snub. The senior leaders of the team reminded the underclassmen that they put off millions of dollars to return for a shot at the National Championship. A goal was set and attained – losing was not an option. There would be 12 wins and the season would end with a celebration in Pasadena. The fifth title in Miami history would return to Coral Gables.
There is no way the 2002 crew could be as hungry as 2001's. It is impossible. A stomach isn’t grumbling when it has feasted on steak dinners for nine months. Defending the title brings a completely different mindset than attaining that first one in a decade. NFL dollars proved more appealing than back-to-back titles for stars like Clinton Portis, Philip Buchanon and Jeremy Shockey. All three have already begun building their legacies that the game’s highest level. They were ready for the big leagues and made the right decision in leaving. Still, guys like Reed, Gonzalez and Davenport couldn’t have been dragged to the NFL after their junior seasons. The quest for a ring was still underway. A hunger burned inside.
Every game was a statement game in 2001. The 33-7 win at Penn State showed that the Canes could go into a hostile environment and thoroughly dominate a national power.
Rutgers rolls into the Orange Bowl with former Canes’ defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. They are sent back to the Garden State with tails between their legs on the wrong end of a 61-0 beating.
After a 19-game layoff in the wake of September 11th, a Thursday night game in Pittsburgh game ended 43-21 in Miami’s favor. Many experts had this match up circled as a potential upset. The only one’s upset were the Panthers fans that wasted their hard earned dollars on a ticket to this one-sided matchup.
Troy State? A 38-7 beatdown. Little hype, little team and a goal of no injuries as a road game in Tallahassee loomed. Mission accomplished.
Winless at Florida State since 1991, Miami eyed this game for months. While the main goal was a win, humiliating the Noles in front of their home crowd was an underlying theme. The freshman of 1997 witnessed a 47-0 beating firsthand in Tallahassee and were ready to return the favor. No mystery that it was Reed who blocked a punt and pulled down two interceptions on this memorable October afternoon. Payback is a bitch.
A few weeks later West Virginia would come down to the Orange Bowl for a Thursday night, nationally televised game. They would leave thoroughly dominated 45-3. Temple would experience a similar beating a week later when the Canes would roll 38-0 and the defense recorded its second shutout of the season.
Sitting at 7-0 the Canes traveled to Boston College. One play defined the heart of the team and saved a season. The refusal to lose was imminent and Miami escaped 18-7. Remember, losing was not an option.
An even bigger statement was made the following week following some disrespect from the national media. Were the Canes as good as their #1 ranking and 8-0 record? Was Miami exposed by BC? Could 14th ranked Syracuse roll into town with their 8-game win streak and upset the Canes? Hell no. Miami would answer the challenge and shut the critics up once again – this time to the tune of 59-0. Again, the 2001 seniors vividly remembered getting spanked 66-13 in the Dome by ‘Cuse in 1998. Did I mention that payback remains a bitch?
In one of the biggest revenge games in recent memory, the 12th ranked Washington Huskies dropped by the Orange Bowl on a Saturday evening looking for a win. Sixty minutes later they realized they were luck to have escaped with their lives. The 2000 loss to Washington kept Miami out of the title game. The Huskies were barking a little too loud after that win and their sentiments were heard all the way down in Coral Gables. No team deserved a 65-7 thrashing more the UW and no one was happier to give it to them than the boys in orange and green.
The final regular season test came in Blacksburg against the 14th ranked Hokies of Virginia Tech. It would take a late game defensive stand to preserve the 26-24 win but the Canes were up for the challenge. The Rose Bowl dream became a reality, Nebraska would once again bow to Miami in the form of a 37-14 blowout and the Canes were again National Champions.
Continue to Part 2