I don't know if "undefeated" is a strong enough word for these Canes. How about "immune," "resilient" or "indestructible?" Miami has consistently overcome every challenge both on and off the field. The Canes had to prepare for every team's "A" game the past few seasons. Everyone wants a shot at dethroning the top dog. Miami represented everyone else championship game.
Opponents bringing their best when facing the Canes has left Miami fans with some indelible memories during this current streak. Moments of joy, frustration, fear, relief and euphoria have all been represented the past thirty four games. Condensing these games into a Top 10 list is almost unfair. Every week was a different storyline. Every game was its own little season. While no game can be ignored, there were a handful that had a little something about them that has to be recognized. The best of the best. The Top 10 Defining Moments of the Streak.
10a. Miami 33, Penn State 7 – September 1st, 2001 – Win #11 – OK, there were 11 classics and the first half of the duo that combined for #10 took place in Happy Valley. Miami headed north for the season opener and stormed into newly renovated Beaver Stadium. Forget the B.C.S. snub – these young Canes were still stinging from the unanticipated departure of Head Coach Butch Davis. Enter Larry Coker. The former offensive coordinator took the reins, continued full speed ahead and is yet to look back.
Penn State brought 109,313 to the party but Miami provided the entertainment. The Canes struck fast and early on both offense and defense. There would be no hangover from the Orange Bowl snub and Davis departure. The Canes took the 30-0 halftime lead and put it on cruise control en route to a 33-7. A statement had been made. The Canes stormed into one of college football's most hostile environments and earned Coach Coker victory #1.
10b. Miami 41, Florida 16 – September 7th, 2002 – Win # 24 – A year later the Canes would again be forced to prove themselves in the season opener. True, Miami opened the season with FAMU, but the "real" season kicked off the following week when the Canes paid a visit to The Swamp to take on the No. 6 Gators. It was Miami's first trip to Gainesville since 1986 and the first time in what seemed like forever that the Canes were an underdog. All the talk circled around the 11 NFL Draft picks UM had surrendered. True, Miami is a program that reloads but an early season road meeting with the Gators was thought to be an impossible task.
While both teams spent the first half feeling each other out, the Canes held a 20-10 lead at the half. An early touchdown in the third quarter had Miami up 27-10. A moment later Ken Dorsey gave six back with an errant throw. Florida had momentum and a series later was knocking on the door again. At that moment the 27-16 lead didn't feel so good. A play later, it was all Miami when Maurice Sikes picked off a Rex Grossman pass and took it 99 yards for the touchdown. The Canes avoided disaster and took the 34-16 lead. One more fourth quarter touchdown put the Gators out of their misery. The two point favorites got throttled 41-16. Another early season statement was made and the Canes showed that reloading is a way of life. You can sub a Willis McGahee for a Clinto Portis – a Kellen Winslow for a Jeremy Shockey – and make another run at the title. Miami '02 campaign was officially underway after routing the Florida Gators.
9. Miami 49, Florida State 27 – October 13th, 2001 – Win # 15 – Miami vs. Florida State is a measuring stick for both programs each year. Unfortunately the trend of winning at home was in the Noles' favor. Unbeaten at Doak Campbell Stadium since Miami's 17-16 Wide Right I thriller in 1991, Florida State had history in their favor going into the 2001 match up.
The Canes were 1-5 in their last six meetings with the Noles and had lost four straight in Tallahassee. If the goal of a National Championship would become a reality, No. 1 Miami would have to make another statement against a one loss Florida State team.
The statement was made. The Canes flew around the ball with reckless abandonment. Everyone made a contribution. Ed Reed's blocked punt set the tone for an early Miami score. A monstrous William Joseph hit sent Seminole quarterback Chris Rix to the turf and the ball into the hands of the late Chris Campbell. One play later Ken Dorsey would connect with Andre Johnson and the rout appeared to be on. Florida State made a little noise late in the second quarter to cut the three touchdown lead to 21-13.
Reed would deliver a Patton-esque halftime speech and the Canes regained their fire and composure in the third quarter. After the 28 point third quarter explosion, the beating had been administered. At day's end the Canes walked away 49-27 victors while the Noles were left to regroup, rebuild and count down to another crack at the Canes the following year. After a five year dry spell against Florida State, Miami was now the proud owner of a two-game win streak over the Noles.
8. Miami 41, Virginia Tech 21 – November 4th, 2000 – Win # 6 – A game that many want to dismiss due to a hobbled Michael Vick leading the Hokies, it is no matter. Unless Vick spends some time at defensive back or safety, there was no way to stop the Canes from pasting 41 points on No. 2 Virginia Tech. Miami had already taken down No. 1 Florida State earlier in the 2000 season and were still recovering from the loss to No. 14 Washington.
Butch Davis brought some heavy baggage into this meeting. His Canes were 0-5 against the Hokies and the trend would have to be reversed if Miami had a shot at a title game.
James Jackson churned out 145 yards on the ground and a touchdown. Ken Dorsey would throw for 283 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. The Miami defense shut out the Hokie offense until early in the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech made a little run but it was too little too late. The Canes knocked off the No. 2 team in the country and beat this conference rival for the first time since 1994. By day's end the story was no longer Vick's injury – it was Miami's utter domination of the No. 2 team in the country and second monumental win of the season.
7. Miami 37, Florida 20 – January 2nd, 2001 – Win #10 – The 2001 Sugar Bowl was a consolation prize. At any other time the Canes would've welcomed the opportunity to play the No. 7 Gators in a B.C.S. bowl game. But how could one get excited when the National Championship game was on home turf in the Orange Bowl and No. 2 Florida State stole No. 3 Miami's shot at the title? Credit Coach Butch Davis and his staff for keeping this team hungry and focused in the final challenge of 2000.
There was a split championship in the cards if Florida State knocked off undefeated Oklahoma but there was a sense that Miami was playing for themselves. While co-champions has a nice ring to it, an outright shot at the title was deserved. No matter. The Canes brought a balanced attack to New Orleans and disposed of Florida. Hanging on to a 13-10 halftime lead, the Gators took the lead back on a Ken Dorsey interception followed by an Earnest Graham run.
Florida would jump ahead 17-13 but the Canes would quickly return the favor with a Dorsey to former fullback D.J. Williams touchdown to make it 20-17. The Canes would take over from there and a Philip Buchanon interception late in the fourth quarter would set Miami up for the final score putting the game out of reach. Miami would rock the Gators 37-20 and take home the Sugar Bowl trophy, but it wasn't enough. This was a somewhat hollow win that would create a chip on the shoulder of every Cane that took the field the following season. It fueled the fire for an undefeated run and National Championship in 2001.
6. Miami 65, Washington 7 – November 24th, 2001 – Win # 20 – Moments after Miami pummeled No. 14 Syracuse 59-0 in front of an Orange Bowl crowd, the focus shifted to Washington. Coach Larry Coker reminded his team who was coming to visit the following week – the last team to beat them. Center Brett Romberg went on record saying, "They ruined our season last year – we're going to stomp them for sure. That's guaranteed. No prisoners."
Revenge and payback might be the ultimate motivation. Miami had to listen to Washington chatter for just over a year. After the 65-7 humiliation at the Orange Bowl it is safe to say the Canes might not hear from the Huskies ever again. In a beating suitable for a Rutgers or Temple, Miami overwhelmed Washington in every aspect of the game. Forcing turnovers, strong special teams play and capitalizing on any and every opportunity was the theme. Jon Vilma's interception moments into the game set the tone. A few plays later Portis would ramble in for his first of three scores on the night. Ken Dorsey would be on top of his game with 192 yards and three touchdowns. The defense was stellar, Washington was terrified and their athletic director cried "poor sportsmanship" while vowing to never play Miami again. Full revenge was exacted and Miami was one game away from Pasadena.
Born and raised in Miami, FL and a Grassy.com guest columnist since 1995, Chris Bello now resides in San Diego, CA. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at firstname.lastname@example.org