Miami Hurricanes’ pursuit of perfection in 2001: an oral history
It happens every year.
A college football team jumps to a 7-0 or 8-0 start, and the whispers begin. That same team makes it through the regular season with an unblemished record, and those whispers grow louder. A few weeks later it goes on to win a championship, and regardless of who they are, the college football world unites:
"Fill-in-the-blank school is the greatest college football team since the 2001 Miami Hurricanes."
No, they’re not. Sorry, it’s not even close.
The 2001 Miami Hurricanes were the most unique of teams: Born under NCAA sanctions, and hardened by a BCS controversy, which kept them out of the title game a year before. By the time the ‘Canes took the field in 2001, no one was going to stop them, and ultimately no one did: Miami averaged almost 43 points a game that season, at a time when it wasn’t vogue for college football teams to routinely score 40.
The Hurricanes gave up 9.75 points per game on defense, against a schedule that featured five Top 15 teams. Not to mention, they also set an FBS record by beating back-to-back ranked opponents by a combined score of 124-7, and their 26-point victory at Penn State, tied for the worst home loss of Joe Paterno’s 46-year career at the school. Their 37-14 victory over Nebraska was more one-sided than it appears on paper; Miami was up 34-0 at halftime, before pulling its starters.
Yet the true legacy of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes aren’t numbers on a stat sheet … instead, the names on the roster. Simply put, it’s the greatest collection of talent assembled on a college football roster. Guys like Ed Reed, Andre Johnson, Clinton Portis, Jonathan Vilma and Jeremy Shockey were the stars, backed up by future legends like Frank Gore, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle and Kellen Winslow Jr.
Overall, 38 players were drafted off the 2001 Hurricanes, including a staggering 17 first rounders (this, after Miami lost four first rounders following the 2000 season). What might be more impressive isn’t the number of guys who ended up in the NFL, but what they did once they got there; to date, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes have tallied 43 Pro Bowl appearances (and counting) as a group.
Overall, 38 players were drafted off the 2001 Hurricanes, including a staggering 17 first rounders (this, after Miami lost four first rounders following the 2000 season).
The point is, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes weren’t just historically good, but transcendentally great. Yet as college football’s fans and media constantly compare them to the best teams in the sport today, no one has actually tracked down members of the 2001 team, to ask them how they remember the season, or more importantly, how they believe they stack up.
That is until now. Over the last several months, we tracked down as many former Hurricanes players and coaches from the 2000 and 2001 seasons, to ask them their take on the team’s incredible run.
We’ll get to 2001 eventually, but to truly understand that 2001 title team, we must first go to 2000. The Hurricanes entered that year confident, with the belief that after rebuilding from sanctions handed down in 1995, going through a losing season in 1997, and with plenty of ups and downs in 1998 and 1999, that 2000 was finally the year they’d reclaim their crown as the best team in college football.
Only it wasn’t meant to happen that way.
Instead, one bad half of football put the Hurricanes in the thick of the first BCS controversy, and would keep them out of the title game.
Santana Moss (senior, wide receiver): When we won the Micron PC Bowl (in 1998) we went to 9-3, and anywhere else in the country that’s considered a great year. But we looked at it like ‘We didn’t do s**t.’ We looked at it as ‘We had a letdown.’ We went 9-3 (in 1998), 9-4 (in 1999), anytime you got to those numbers, we felt like we had to push to be even better. And I think that’s what made us (in 2000).
Maurice Sikes (freshman, safety): The 2000 year, we kind of felt like we had turned the corner. That 2000 year, we should beat everybody’s a**, and we’re gonna go take the National Championship.
Bryant McKinnie (junior, offensive tackle): Everybody’s mindset was ‘We’re going to the National Championship.’ That year, the National Championship was at the Orange Bowl. (Strength and conditioning) Coach (Andreu) Swasey said ‘The National Championship is in your backyard, what more could you ask for?’
(Butch Davis, head coach 1995-2000): There were two major things (to building the program). It was getting enough talent and enough depth, and also getting experience. So having gone through 1998 and 1999 we had the talent and now we have the depth too. We’ve got all the pieces in place. We’ve got a good coaching staff. Health isn’t an issue. We were behind all those kinds of dramas. Now we’ve got to worry about now is Saturday’s and making sure the players were prepared, and that we’d done our job as coaches.
We didn’t think we were going to lose. We didn’t think there was a team out there that could beat us.
Najeh Davenport (junior, fullback): We didn’t think we were going to lose. We didn’t think there was a team out there that could beat us.
Don Soldinger (running backs coach): There was a stretch where I never walked in the stadium and thought we were going to lose. It’s not cockiness, but I knew the way our guys practiced, I knew how hard they played.
Ed Reed (junior, safety): That junior year was the team. We had National Championship talent.
Moss: By that time, we didn’t think anybody could beat us. We knew that the only way we would lose is if we beat ourselves.
Two weeks into the season, that’s exactly what happened: Miami beat itself.
It happened following a cross-country trip, to face a team that was better than anyone expected. That would be Washington, a club that entered the game ranked No. 15 in the country, but would use a win over Miami to springboard itself to an eventual Pac-10 championship, and Rose Bowl winning season.
Coming off a long flight, the No. 4-ranked Hurricanes weren’t prepared for what they got when they arrived at Husky Stadium.
And what they got, was the craziest road venue anyone had played in.
Moss: You look at the conditions that day, it was cloudy, it was cool. And the stadium was loud. Even back then Seattle had a 12th man.
Mike Rumph (junior, cornerback): They have the same type of stadium in Seattle (that the Seahawks do) where they have those little cuffs at the top of the stadium and then sound bounces back down.
Rick Neuheisel (Washington head coach): It’s one of my favorite games to go back and watch copy of the tape, because the Husky Stadium has those big roof overtops. Well the press box hung over one of those roofs, with like a little catwalk to get to it. The crowd was so loud, it was literally shaking the roof. So when you watch the film, the film bounces.
Joaquin Gonzalez (junior, offensive tackle): The loudest place that I’ve ever played at. That includes my NFL career. That is the one thing that resonates in my mind.
Davis: The toughest thing was that we were going to start Ken Dorsey. He was young, he had very little experience. He had played some, but it was mostly in relief of Kenny Kelly the year before. We had a tremendous amount of faith in him, but it was an unbelievable environment.
Neuheisel: I don’t know that Ken Dorsey was ready for the noise.
Ken Dorsey (sophomore, quarterback): It was an extremely, extremely loud environment. That stadium, when they get going, they get going.
Davis: I think (Dorsey) put so much pressure on himself in the first quarter to be perfect. He made some mistakes, he turned the ball over, and we obviously had a big hole to climb out of.
Davenport: It wasn’t Kenny’s fault, everybody is in their own little world.
Damione Lewis (senior, defensive tackle): I had doubts about the defense in 2000, because (linebacker) Nate Webster left (early for the draft). That f****d our defense up. If you want to know why we lost to Washington, that’s the answer right there. We didn’t have the right people, playing the right positions.
Davis: They ran some of the no-huddle, hurry-up. It was one of those things that had us unnerved.
Neuheisel: The equalizer, as is always the case was that our quarterback was a runner. Marques Tuiasasopo was not only a gifted player, but a gifted competitor.
Art Kehoe (offensive line coach): We were having trouble stopping Marques Tuiasasopo.
Lewis: We were running a different defense. So when Tuiasasopo was running down the line we hit him, and he’d pitch it. Well when he pitched it, the linebackers had to be where they were supposed to be. If he wasn’t there, there’d be a problem.
Jonathan Vilma (freshman, linebacker): What I think they were doing was have their offensive tackle chip. So he’d come up for a quick one-count, and then get out to the linebacker. So it was hard for the defensive lineman to get down for the chip, then the linebacker had a tackle coming at him.
Rumph: It was a combination of us having to adjust to the triple-option, we got taken advantage of at linebacker, and the crowd noise that day.
Not to take anything away from them, it was more about what we were doing to ourselves. We just weren’t playing disciplined football.
Dan Morgan (senior, linebacker): Not to take anything away from them, it was more about what we were doing to ourselves. We just weren’t playing disciplined football.
Lewis: We got all that straightened out at halftime.
It took two quarters, but Miami made the adjustments necessary to slow Washington both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
Down 21-3, the question became whether the Hurricanes would have enough time to dig themselves out of the hole they’d gotten into.
Davis: We rallied in the second half. We’re scoring just about every time we get the football.
Davis: Kenny (Dorsey) grew up in that game. I think he realized he had the supporting cast behind him. The players learned to trust and believe in him, and he learned ‘Hey, I’ve got some of the best wide receivers, tight ends and running backs.’ Let’s just make sure I get the ball to them.
Clinton Portis (sophomore, running back): I remember being on the sideline waiting my turn. I finally went to Coach Soldinger and said ‘Give me the ball. We are not losing this game.’
Soldinger: Portis is probably right. If we had gotten him the ball earlier, we might’ve won.
Neuheisel: When Clinton Portis went in the game and took a screen pass 70 yards, I said ‘This is like getting hit by tidal wave, after tidal wave, after tidal wave’ in terms of the skill players they had.
Delvin Brown (senior, cornerback): Unfortunately, we just never were able to catch back up.
Gonzalez: If we have 30 more seconds in that game, we win it.
Neuheisel: We held on for dear life (but we got the win).
Gonzalez: I remember that feeling of walking back to the locker room. That game is just one of those games I still can’t even think about.
One game kept us up from being National Champions. We were sick about it. I look back at it now, and realize how one game can ruin a season.
Moss: One game kept us up from being National Champions. We were sick about it. I look back at it now, and realize how one game can ruin a season.
The final score was 34-29, but what no one knew at the time, is that it was also a battle of schools that would each finish the season 11-1 (Washington later lost on the road at Oregon), and go on to win the Rose and Sugar Bowls, respectively.
Still, Davis gave his team one simple message: If we win the rest of our games, we can still get back into the championship discussion.
Davis: I took a lot of the responsibility for the Washington game. I told them ‘We could’ve had you better prepared from a coaching stand-point, you played your heart out, and it’s going to be a long season.’
Davenport: After we lost to them, everything became more serious.
Maurice Sikes (freshman, safety): That game was what set the tone for our team for the next three or four years.
Portis: So many guys were so fed up and so tired of coming so close; that was the moment that we began to play as a team. We began to focus on one and other, and stop worrying about the media or what anybody said about us, and realized that was all we’ve got and we’ve got to play for each other and with each other.
Davis: I told them, ‘We’re going to get a chance to play No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Virginia Tech, and we’re going to have plenty of opportunities against the opponents left on the schedule to climb back up, just as long as we don’t lose sight of the goal or the dream.’
Vilma : You could afford a loss, if you rip off a bunch of strong victories, convincing victories, you could make your way back into the title hunt.
Davis: If that loss to Washington happens in Game 6 or Game 7 of the season, maybe you don’t take that approach. But it was way too early to lose hope.
Moss: An upperclassmen said something, it was Damione Lewis I think, about how bad we played and we knew we could play better, and let’s get on our s***. He said it exactly like that ‘Let’s get on our s***, let’s put it behind us and let’s play.’
Lewis: Once we made those adjustments, it was a done deal. It was cake after that, for the whole season.
Moss: After that it was no question, we were coming after people.
Portis: That was the change in our reign because we never lost again (while I was there).
If we don’t lose that game to Washington in 2000 we play for three straight National Championships.
Andre Johnson (freshman, wide receiver): If we don’t lose that game to Washington in 2000 we play for three straight National Championships.
Soldinger (running backs coach): That loss to Washington started the 34-game winning streak. How about that?
That win streak started with a 47-10 victory over West Virginia two weeks after the Washington loss.
The Hurricanes beat the defending BCS National Champion, and No. 1 ranked Florida State — the first time anyone on that Miami club had beaten its hated rival — in a game in which a little-known junior college transfer named Jeremy Shockey scored the game-winning touchdown. The game eventually took on mythic lore due to the temperatures on the field; according to the parents of one Miami player, the concession stands at the Orange Bowl actually ran out of bottles of water.
Four weeks later, Miami went on to beat the No. 2-ranked team in the country and defending BCS runners-up, Virginia Tech. The Hokies were led by the eventual top pick in the next NFL Draft, Michael Vick, and like FSU, no Hurricane had beaten Virginia Tech to that point in their career, either.
After the Hurricanes settled into the No. 2 spot in the AP poll, a funny thing happened: Florida State — a team that Miami had beaten — jumped it in the BCS standings.
It led to the first, but definitely not last, controversy of the BCS era.
Davis: The kids had done exactly what we had asked them to do and not get caught up in what everyone else is doing. You see it every year; teams get so caught up in what everyone else is doing, they end up getting upset.
Gonzalez: I remember Butch telling us week-in and week-out that we controlled our own destiny. Even with one loss, we had so many games ahead. If we won out, and just took it one game at a time we’d be ok.
Davis: When we beat Florida State that was No. 1, and then a few weeks later we beat Virginia Tech which was No. 2 in the country with Michael Vick, I thought to myself, ‘Shoot, all we’ve got to do is keep winning out.’ You thought maybe even Oklahoma might get upset.
Lewis : We had beaten Syracuse (in the second to last game of the season) and we were all just hanging out, watching (TV) and some guy is talking about Florida State jumping us in the polls and we’re like ‘What the f*** you talkin’ about? We just beat they a**!’ Monday the polls came out and they jumped us. It was as simple as that.
Vilma: In our heads we were like ‘We beat Florida State.’ Back then it was point-differential of who beat who, but it’s just crap. If you’re telling me we’ve got to somehow worry about the Clemson-South Carolina game that we have no affiliation with, or Virginia Tech versus Virginia to figure out who has more points, we were like, ‘Just stop it.’ It’s about what was done on the field.
Moss: We went into the (final game of the regular season against) Boston College not knowing what was going to happen. As seniors this is our last game, we’re at home at the Orange Bowl, and we were like ‘Our mind-set should be let’s treat this like our National Championship game.’
Davis: We figured if we keep winning and we keep winning convincingly, eventually the poll is going to flip. Unfortunately it never did.
Moss: We wanted to show the world that we were the best team in college football, and we made that statement (beating Boston College 52-6).
Reed: We were the best team in college football before the BCS even picked that game. But we weren’t even surprised, Miami was known to get screwed. If we left it in somebody else’s hands … we knew we’d get screwed.
Moss: After that game we all went to one of our teammate’s house, we had an end of the season party. We were sitting in front of the TV to see if we were one of the teams in the National Championship. And there’s f*****g Florida State, man. And I remember the whole room was like ‘What the f**k, we beat these guys.’
Vilma: We left it up to some mathematicians with the BCS calculations. It was such a travesty.
Dan Morgan (senior, linebacker): When Florida State got picked to play Oklahoma, I was just shocked. I’m still confused to this day.
When Florida State got picked to play Oklahoma, I was just shocked. I’m still confused to this day.
Phillip Buchanon (sophomore, cornerback): We had one bad half at Washington. It all goes back to that.
In the end, Florida State was picked to play for the title, over a one-loss Miami team that beat it head-to-head (it’s worth noting that as Neuheisel pointed out during the reporting for this story, the Washington team that beat Miami head-to-head, also finished with one loss that season. Where’s the four-team playoff when you need it?)
Like all BCS controversies, the reasons Florida State jumped Miami remain vague to this day. Moss claimed that a late-season win over Louisiana Tech hurt the team’s point differential, while senior Delvin Brown referenced a Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech game where lightning struck Lee Corso’s car (incredibly, that actually happened) as hurting the team’s strength of schedule. Had Virginia Tech played and won that game, some believe it would’ve given the Hurricanes enough computer points to play for the title.
Whatever the reason, when the dust settled, Miami ended up in the Sugar Bowl, angry, and ready to show the college football world they were the best team in the country
And the Hurricanes had the perfect opponent to take out their frustrations on.
Davis: I think the disappointment of not getting to play for the National Championship was moderately modified by playing Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Had it been anybody other than Florida, it might not have resonated with the players.
Gonzalez: We hadn’t played Florida in I don’t know how many years, because Florida didn’t want to renew the rivalry.
Davis: Florida had dropped Miami in 1987, and refused to play and didn’t want to play anymore.
Gonzalez: There was that mentality of ‘Florida doesn’t want to face us’ that the coaches fed on. So when we got the bid to play them in the Sugar Bowl, it was the perfect opportunity to bring the wood.
Sikes: We’re like ‘We’re gonna whup their ass, and take out our frustration on them.’ Oh, you said we didn’t earn it? Ok, well Florida is going to feel our frustration for this.
Portis: We had already beaten Florida State. (Beating Florida) kind of gave us the throne of being the best team in Florida.
Davenport: (Butch Davis) kind of told us, ‘If we beat Florida, and Florida State beats Oklahoma, we get a share of the National Championship.’
Gonzalez: If we don’t win that game, we don’t have the opportunity for a split championship. The Florida State game was the following day.
Davenport: We were young and at the end of the day all we’re hearing is ‘If we beat Florida, we’re National Champions!’
Moss: Even though we were disappointed we weren’t in the big game, we still held out hope. We knew we were going to kick Florida’s behind and we would be state champs (thanks to wins over Florida and Florida State) and then hopefully we could be National Champs.
Morgan: Honestly we just wanted to kick their butt, beat them as badly as we could. We wanted to show the voters who the best team was, even though we weren’t playing in that National Championship game.
Vilma: If they won’t let us claim a championship, we’ll just show them that we should’ve been champions that year.
Simply put, the teams didn’t like each other, and tensions boiled over… eventually on the field, but first on the streets of New Orleans, when the teams engaged in the famed "Bourbon Street Brawl" a few days before kick-off. Ultimately no arrests were made and no players for either team were suspended, although a disproportional number of Florida players howed up on the news the next day with black and blue marks on their face.
The brawl also furthered the belief that Miami already had about its opponents: Playing in the pass-happy, ‘Fun ‘N Gun’ offense employed by Steve Spurrier, the Gators were soft, and ready to get beat up again, this time on the field.
Rumph: A team like us was the opposite of what they were used to seeing. We had big corners, physical corners, we were gonna go man-press.
Davis: We felt like their strength was going to play completely into our strengths. We had a great defensive backfield, great linebackers who could cover, but we also would be able to get a pass rush on them up front.
Delvin Brown (senior, cornerback): Florida was always the finesse team. They threw the ball 50, 60 times a game.
Rumph: We felt they were finesse… we didn’t see them as a kind of smash-mouth, run the football kinda club.
Reed: Those guys are gonna go to the Sugar Bowl, play Florida, fight them on the street, then beat them up on the football field. That was truly the old Miami way.
Brown: (Our game-plan was) We gonna hit these motha****ers in the mouth, we’re gonna take their heart. And that’s exactly what we did.
The Hurricanes led 10-7 after the first quarter and 13-10 at halftime, before the damn broke in the second half. By the end of Miami’s 37-20 victory, the Hurricanes left no doubt who the best team in Florida, and maybe all of college football was.
The BCS National Championship was the following day, and the Hurricanes were put in the most unusual situation of rooting for their rivals. If Florida State beat Oklahoma, Miami would likely split the National Championship.
We were on cloud nine. We had just kicked the s**t out of the Gators twice in one week, once on the field, once off of it.
Brett Romberg (sophomore, center): We were on cloud nine. We had just kicked the s**t out of the Gators twice in one week, once on the field, once off of it.
Portis: We took over Florida first. That propelled us, ‘We’re the best team in Florida and nobody plays football like they do in Florida. Can’t nobody beat us.’
Buchanon: As a team we felt like we were the best in college football. Hands down.
Moss: All that was on our mind was that if we’re Sugar Bowl champs, we should be National Champs. We thought Florida State should go take care of business against Oklahoma.
Gonzalez: The Florida State game was the following day. A big group of us stayed in New Orleans to watch it.
Portis: We knew we would dominate Oklahoma; we wanted Oklahoma so bad.
Morgan: We were clicking. By the end of the year, we were on a roll and kind of that team that nobody wanted to play.
Damione Lewis (senior, defensive tackle): I’ll tell you right now, if we had played the Sooners we would’ve beat their a**. We were the best team in the country that year.
Unfortunately, Florida State didn’t live up to its end of the bargain. Oklahoma beat the Seminoles 13-2 to claim the National Championship, meaning there would be no split title.
Miami had to settle for the belief that it was the best team in college football (even if the polls said otherwise), and the knowledge that big things were in store for 2001. The Hurricanes lost four first round draft picks to the NFL (wide receivers Moss and Reggie Wayne, in addition to Morgan and Lewis). They still returned plenty of talent however, and their lineup was bolstered when projected first-round picks Ed Reed and Bryant McKinnie elected to return to school.
Everything was lining up for a no-excuses, take-no-prisoners, championship-or-bust 2001 season.
That is, until a call from the Cleveland Browns changed the Miami program forever.
Rumph: (Butch Davis) pretty much told us throughout the season that he wasn’t leaving (for the NFL). There were rumors but he told us he wasn’t leaving.
Davis: A lot of times when NFL teams called, I would listen, and say ‘You know what? I’m flattered, but I’m not really interested, I’m happy with where I’m at.’
Larry Coker (offensive coordinator): He knew that we had a potentially good team coming back, and I don’t know that I would’ve thought it would’ve been the right time for Butch to leave to the NFL.
Davis: (After an initial offer) I turned down Cleveland, and had every intention of finishing my college coaching career at Miami. I thought I’d be there another 10 years.
Gonzalez: We get back (from the Sugar Bowl) and rumors start because Tad Foote the President had left the University of Miami, and there were all these rumors about Butch Davis’ contract.
Davis: We’d been in contract negotiations with Miami. The money was done. It wasn’t about the money. But I didn’t think certain elements of the contract offer were fair.
Vilma: I’m 18 years old, I don’t understand the business side. So you start to hear stuff and you’re like ‘Nah, there’s no way he’s going anywhere. Why would he want to leave, he’s got a great thing here.’
Davis: My last home visit was with Antrel Rolle. There was people talking, the newspapers were saying ‘He’s being courted by such-and-such NFL team’ and I sat in the house with Antrel and his parents and I said ‘I am not going. I turned them down,’ which was true.
Antrel Rolle (high school senior): Butch was my guy, he was the first collegiate coach I ever had interaction with.
Davis: I made that last home visit with Antrel and I’m pushing my agent ‘Let’s get this contract done.’ What better statement for recruits in February, then the coach just signed a new contract, he’s going to be here another four or five years. Strategically that’s smart on my part, and a smart play on the university’s part. They (Miami) go in, say ‘We’ve got to talk it over, we’ll get back to you.’
Romberg: There was a meeting that previous Friday, where he said ‘I love it here, my wife and kids love it here, we have a place down in the Keys, don’t believe the hype.’
Davis: Well lo and behold I get a call (after Miami says they’ll get back to Davis), and it’s (Browns GM) Carmen Policy. My contract negotiation has been going on for two-and-a-half months. And I’m sitting there looking at my wife like ‘Are we being stupid?’ The Browns were offering me a guaranteed contract at five years, at X amount of money, and we’d done everything at Miami to try and earn their trust, to try and earn their respect.
Davis broke down the details of his contract situation with Bruce Feldman here, but at the end of the day, his decision on ‘NFL vs. Miami’ never came down to money as much as pride and respect. The program had been hit with NCAA sanctions months after he arrived in 1995 (the sanctions had nothing to do with Davis or his coaching staff), yet he stuck it out and rebuilt the Hurricanes into a National Championship contender. Despite it, Davis felt he was being treated like a first-year coach, who needed to prove himself.
Eventually, a decision was made: He was going to become the next head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Coker: It was the Monday morning after the Super Bowl and I was feeling pretty good, then Butch called me and told me he was going to take the Cleveland Browns job. I was a little bit shocked.
He started crying, and we’re all like ‘What is he talking about?’ Nobody really put two-and-two together that Coach Davis was leaving at the moment.
Gonzalez: He hosted a makeshift meeting at like 8:15 and explained that he took the job. At that time in my life, I didn’t understand the business side of football. Was I hurt? I was absolutely hurt. And I was like ‘Hold on, you’ve been telling us all along to hold this team together, we’re growing, we’re one of the favorites to win the title next year.’
Davis: I could hardly talk. And I probably did a crappy job. I didn’t want to go in there and plead my case.
Portis: He walked into the locker room and says ‘We tried to get a contract worked out and we didn’t get it done.’ He started crying, and we’re all like ‘What is he talking about?’ Nobody really put two-and-two together that Coach Davis was leaving at the moment.
Davenport: His explanation of why he was leaving, it was short, it was quick, it was straight-forward. But as an 18, 19-year-old kid, we didn’t look at it like that. We looked at it like someone was abandoning us just when we were about to be on top.
Davis: When you look at how much the Cleveland Browns were going to pay; it’s what I had told all of them. I told Edgerrin James he’d be set for life and he should leave (school, when he declared for the draft in 1998). You kind of use that same psychology on yourself, and as hard as it was to leave, you sit there and say ‘Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. It’s an opportunity for me to take care of my wife and my son maybe for the rest of our lives.’
Vilma: I look back now and I would’ve made the same decision he did. They gave him everything he wanted, and not too many guys can say they were NFL head coaches.
Rumph: It probably rubbed some people the wrong way, but what we’re in this business for is to take care of our families. When I saw how much money was at stake for his family, I didn’t have any problem with Coach Davis.
Davenport: I remember somebody saying ‘S**t, I guess I’m going to the Browns.’
Davis: To this day I regret it. I wish I would’ve stayed at Miami in light of that. At the time it was a decision we made of ‘Maybe we should take this opportunity.’ But hindsight being 20/20 like it usually is, I wish I had stayed.
The players were crushed, but they also had to move on, and figure out what was next.
With a new President who had ties to a certain Big Ten school coming in, there was fear that she’d bring in ‘her guy’ and shake up everything Miami had worked toward.
Gonzalez: Immediately my focus went from ‘Butch, why’d you do this’ to ‘How can I help the team.’ I was team captain my junior and senior year. And I was trying to figure out how to keep the team together.
Rumph: Our worry was who was going to replace him. It wasn’t that we were pissed he was gonna leave, it was ‘who are we going to get in here that’s as good as he is.’
McKinnie: We had a new president, Donna Shalala was coming from Wisconsin. We start hearing rumors that she wanted to bring Barry Alvarez to Miami.
Davenport: We just didn’t want it to be Barry Alvarez from Wisconsin. Nobody knew the man.
I play running back, I don’t want to play for Barry Alvarez!
Portis: I play running back, I don’t want to play for Barry Alvarez! He gave guys the ball 40 times a game … I don’t want the ball 40 times a game! I don’t want the ball 30 times a game. I wanted to try and get 100 yards on the least amount of carries possible and be out of the game.
Davenport: All (Alvarez’s) offense did was run the ball. But our offense wasn’t built to run the ball 60 times a game. Could we do it? Yeah, we had the backs to do it, but we were more a pro-style offense.
With rumors swirling, the players decided to take matters into their own hands …
Reed: I got with the leaders and the dogs on the team, and said ‘This is how it’s going to be.’
Dorsey: A few of the players actually went and had a meeting with Paul Dee, the Athletic Director at the time, and just expressed our belief that Coach Coker is the right guy for the job.
Gonzalez: It was Ken Dorsey, Ed Reed, myself, Brett Romberg and another guy or two.
Dorsey: We just wanted to make sure Mr. Dee knew how we felt, and he got our opinion. As players in the program we just wanted to make sure our voices were heard.
Romberg: Paul Dee came in and said ‘What’s up.’
Gonzalez: We pretty much said ‘Listen, we want Larry Coker to be our head coach. It would keep the continuity.’
We all stood up and said ‘This is how it’s gonna go. We’re gonna leave if this isn’t gonna happen.’
Romberg: We all stood up and said ‘This is how it’s gonna go. We’re gonna leave if this isn’t gonna happen.’
McKinnie: We were talking, but I don’t think he was even really paying attention, and I was like ‘Well if not, I think I’m going to have to go to the supplemental draft!’ I just had to go there because I didn’t know if it was sinking in.
Romberg: He took that in, digested it, and said ‘Alright boys, that’s the way it’s going to be.’ And thank God he did, because we’re talking about the greatest football team that’s ever been assembled in college football history.
Coker: That was probably the biggest honor for me is that they backed me for the head coaching job.
Davis: It turned out that they named Larry the head coach and a lot of the assistant coaches stayed.
Gonzalez: The rest of the staff was in place. Butch Davis only took (recruiting coordinator) Pete Garcia, and (defensive backs coach) Chuck Pagano with him to Cleveland. The rest of the staff stayed.
Coker: I met with the players and I had their support.
Romberg: What he said was, the leaders of this ship are who is going to make this thing run. We have the formula; we have the pieces in place. This thing can go as well as you want it to go.
Curtis Johnson (wide receivers coach): When Larry got there, it was just a breath of fresh air. We got to keep the band together.
Soldinger: He just slipped right in. It was good for the kids. They knew what to expect.
Rumph: I commend him on not coming in and changing everything and acting like he didn’t know us from before.
Curtis Johnson : Larry went out and hired another one of our own, Randy Shannon from the Dolphins (as defensive coordinator). That just made it even better and tighter to what we were doing.
Gonzalez: That week or so, 10 days, that composure we kept as a team was key. The leadership on the team, the Ed Reed’s, Ken Dorsey’s, myself, to keep us together, to keep the vision of ‘We have something good coming back’ was key. If we had a younger team, it would’ve been hard to keep the mojo going.
The final, and arguably most important piece to the 2001 team was set: Miami had its head coach.
Now it was time to get to work. A team that had been denied a shot at a National Championship the season before, was not going to allow that to happen again.
D.J. Williams (sophomore, linebacker): It was great to be there with Butch, but when he left our plan didn’t change.
Gonzalez: The one thing I remember going into 2001 was, Larry Coker and his staff, as well as the players decided that we weren’t going to leave the decision on who plays for the championship on anyone else’s plate but our own.
Romberg: We were anxious to get back at it. We didn’t want downtime. Usually you’re excited to get back home, brag ‘We just won the Sugar Bowl’ but we didn’t want that. We were like, ‘Let’s get back in the weight room, and get after it.
Andreu Swasey (strength and conditioning coach): That was part of our system. It wasn’t talent-driven, it was work-ethic driven.
Rumph: I don’t feel like we get ever get credit for our work ethic. I played six years in the NFL and the hardest I ever worked was at Miami. Those summers were treacherous.
Rolle: The way we practiced, it was insane. I’ll be honest with you, it was literally insane. You would think that we did not like each other, on the field, off the field.
Curtis Johnson: Andreu Swasey said this all the time: The players were always around. It’d be Friday night, Saturday morning, they’d be around, they’d want to want watch more film, and we couldn’t get rid of these guys for nothing. Their whole lives revolved around this little football team.
Mark Stoops (defensive backs coach): Soon after I was hired by Larry I was in my office working on a Saturday and I saw one of my players come by, then I saw another one. Over the course of the morning several guys stopped up and were talking. And I thought it was odd. I asked one of them, ‘What are you doing here on a Saturday morning?’ And one of them just looked at me and tilted his head and was like ‘Coach, this is just what we do.’
Romberg: Saturday morning at 8:00 a.m., no matter how hung-over you were, you are on the field. Granted, you didn’t have to be there. At any other school a guy might show up at 8:05 with his shoes untied or something. Not at Miami. No, if you didn’t show up at 7:55 ready to go, you got shunned. Nobody wants to talk to you, because you think you’re so much bigger than the group. There were never any egos.
Curtis Johnson: It started during 2000, but the players, really policed themselves.
Reed: We told coach, ‘If anything happens with the players on the team coach, we got it. Don’t you worry about it.’
Buchanon: The coaches aren’t gonna handle this. This is our locker room. We’re going to handle this.
Swasey: They handled their own discipline. So I’d start talking and Ed Reed would cut me off, like ‘I don’t mean any disrespect…’ then he’d handle the lecture for me. And I’m like ‘Damn, ok.’
Davenport: This may seem bad to say, but my senior year, Coach Coker was the head coach, Coach Chud was the offensive coordinator, but once we learned the system, that’s all she wrote.
Romberg: Butch Davis had done a great job steering that ship and doing a great job in building it, and all we needed was somebody to maintain the animal. Coker was the perfect fit.
Davenport: We were teaching each other, coaching each other, watching film together. We were destined to win the National Championship.
Miami may have had its eyes on the title, but the college football world had its doubts about the ‘Canes.
Entering the season, Miami had a new head coach, new offensive and defensive coordinators (Chudzinski and Shannon respectively) and plenty of holes to fill, after losing four first round picks in that spring’s draft. Wide receiver appeared to be especially thin, where a little-known redshirt sophomore named Andre Johnson had to try and fill-in for the departed Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss.
Not to mention that the Hurricanes weren’t going to open their season against some directional school, but instead, in one of college football’s toughest environments, under especially emotional circumstances.
It seemed as though everyone had their doubts about Miami, well, except for the Hurricanes players and coaches themselves.
Coker: I think we were ranked fifth or sixth in the preseason.
Portis: After we beat Florida (in the Sugar Bowl), knowing who we were losing- Santana (Moss), Reggie (Wayne), Dan Morgan — we lost so many guys from that team, that people felt ‘Well that was our shot, and we didn’t win a championship.’
Curtis Johnson: When you’ve got a Jeremy Shockey, a Clinton Portis, you had all these guys who were just as good as who we lost.
Portis: We were the only ones that knew we were going to be better (the following year), that we had enough in the tank to replace those guys.
Chudzinski: That year our opener was Penn State. The next win Joe Paterno got was a milestone (Paterno was going for his 322nd victory, which would’ve tied him with Bear Bryant for the most all-time).
Coker: They had redone their stadium, and at the time it was the largest crowd to ever watch a football game.
Jarrett Payton (sophomore, running back): They opened the stadium, 109,000 people.
Portis: I remember looking up in the stadium and I said ‘Wow, this is the biggest crowd ever.’ We had never seen a crowd like that, and we play at the University of Miami!
Coker: They were also honoring Adam Taliaferro.
Romberg: When they told us about the kid that was paralyzed leading the team on the field, the 100,000+ thousand fans, that’s what college football is all about.
Davenport: They came out with Adam Taliaferro, I believe he walked out, and everyone was all loud and emotional.
Portis: So the crowd erupts when Tailiafero comes out … and that’s the last time we heard from that crowd.
The Hurricanes took a 3-0 lead a few minutes in, and were up by double-digits by the end of the first quarter.
From there, the rout was on.
Coker: I tell ya, it got out of hand quickly.
We slapped ’em in the face and they shut up. You didn’t hear nothing else.
Davenport: We slapped ’em in the face and they shut up. You didn’t hear nothing else.
Romberg: You know how you’re in the zone and everybody disappears and the sound quiets down? That’s what happened when we were up there.
Art Kehoe (offensive line coach): In my mind it’s gonna be this fierce battle, and by halftime it was 30-0?
Portis: I think I had 164 yards in no time … again, that was at halftime. Imagine if I decided to stay in the game, like (if) I wanted to run for 300 yards? They couldn’t have stopped me.
Kehoe: At halftime I was going into the locker room, and there were all these Pennsylvania high school coaches, because I recruited Pennsylvania most of my career. We’re jogging by and they’re yelling at me, and I’m putting my hands up like ‘I don’t know.’
Davenport: Watching the game film, I see it now, but they didn’t have a chance.
Dorsey: It was a great game to start the season with. That can really catapult you into the season right away.
The final score of 33-7 doesn’t tell the true story of the game, since as Kehoe mentioned, Miami was up 30-0 at halftime before pulling most of their starters. It was an emphatic statement, for a team that some had doubted entering the game.
Miami was supposed to get revenge against Washington the following week, but the game was postponed due to the Sept. 11 attacks, and rescheduled for later in the season. When Miami did return to the field two weeks after the Penn State game, it picked up right where they left off beating Rutgers– coached by former Hurricanes defensive coordinator Greg Schiano — 61-0. The Hurricanes followed with a 43-21 victory over Pitt, and a 38-7 beat down of Troy.
That set up one of the marquee games of the early season, when the Hurricanes traveled to Florida State on Oct. 13.
The Seminoles were a bit down from previous years, and already had a loss early on. But that meant little to Miami, which had a few bones to pick with the Seminoles. Florida State had obviously kept the Hurricanes out of the 2000 National Championship game, giving the entire team fuel, for an already heated rivalry.
However, the game carried added weight for fifth-year seniors like Gonzalez, Davenport,Reed and others, who had lost 47-0 as true freshmen at Doak-Campbell Stadium in 1997.
Coker: The thing I remember most vividly is we hadn’t beaten Florida State at Florida State in 10 years.
Gonzalez: We were so ready to kick their a—-s.
Davenport: We really didn’t like Florida State at all. They were cocky, but not cocky in a good way. I can’t put my finger on it, but we really didn’t like Florida State in those years.
Williams: The Florida State game, it was just a different feel. The entire week in the facility they played their song, every meeting room, every day on the practice field.
Buchanon: I watched so much film on Florida State, the film started talking to me.
Curtis Johnson: I’ll tell you what we did tell (the team): The rabbit has the gun this time. We felt we were the better team. That was the first time during my time at Miami that we felt like were the better team entering that game, that we had a one-up on Florida State.
Williams: The game was almost always at noon, the perfect part of the day. Every time we played them it was set up perfectly.
Andre Johnson: Once we got to that stadium it was all business.
Rolle: I think we were beating them 21-0. We were just making plays all over the place.
Dorsey: We hit a lull in the second quarter and that’s when they got back into it.
Rolle : I think they scored right before the half.
Gonzalez: I think we were up, 21-13 at halftime. It wasn’t as if we were playing bad, we were just letting them hang around.
Andre Johnson: We held each other to such a high standard. Even though at halftime we were still winning the game, (but) we weren’t playing the way we should’ve been playing….
For Miami, a team which held itself to an impossibly high standard throughout the entire era (maybe more so in 2001, then at any other point), a 21-13 lead wasn’t good enough, especially with Florida State scoring all 13 of their points in the final few minutes.
The disappointing end to the second quarter, led to one of the most legendary halftime speeches in the history of football.
A little background …
Gonzalez: After I became captain my junior year, I would break down the team as a unit (before the game). My break down was simple. ‘Dominate on three, dominate on three, we will f***ing dominate on three. One, two, three, dominate.’ So that was the breakdown for every single game. I’d say it so loud and so deep, there were very few games where I didn’t spit out blood when I screamed that. I’m not trying to make it theatrical here, my throat would be sore from that.
Sikes: You could feel the thing slipping through your grasp, and we felt we weren’t putting in our best effort. I just think he (Ed Reed) sensed it, the team sensed it, and he needed to speak up.
Rolle: Ed Reed had injured his shoulder the week before. So everyone is checking up on him, asking him if he’s alright.
Reed: I had gotten hurt right before the half. I had a bruised sternum, and everybody was walking in, and I’m taking off my shoulder pads, and I can’t really do it.
Curtis Johnson: We had a couple guys that were injured, and Ed was one of those guys that were injured. You heard the whispers on the sidelines, ‘Ed Reed’s hurt, Ed Reed’s hurt, Ed Reed’s hurt.’
Reed: They’re all like ‘you alright, Reed?’ Everybody kept asking me ‘you alright, you alright?’ And you keep hearing people say ‘Oh s**t, Reed’s hurt.’
Sikes: One of the coaches had told me to be ready just in case. And I was like ‘Reed? Ed’s gonna play.’ And it’s nothing against me, but I just know Ed and I know he’s not coming out of that game.
Reed: People need to be paying attention to the coaches, and they’re (asking me) ‘Ed, you good?’
Davenport: Halftime, after we had our meeting (with the coaches)…
Rolle: He just snapped.
Ed Reed (senior, safety): Finally, I put my pads back on like ‘Yeah, I’m alright, don’t ask me if I’m hurt!
Rolle: ‘Stop asking me if I’m alright! Hell no, I’m not alright!’ and we think he’s talking about the shoulder, but he’s talking about the fact that they had scored a point.
Reed: People always ask me ‘Why were you yelling?’ And I’m like ‘Because we should’ve been kicking their a** worse!’ I’m yelling because I was there when they scored 47 points (in 1997), and they put their ones back in.
He went off. That was the ultimate speech, of ultimate speeches. To this day, I’ve never heard anything more transformative.
Rolle: He went off. That was the ultimate speech, of ultimate speeches. To this day, I’ve never heard anything more transformative.
Vilma: In my head, I’m already thinking what Ed was saying. Like ‘Yeah, these guys are good, but dammit we’re better and we’re gonna go out and show it.’
Rolle: When I talk about it now, it still gives me goose bumps. I’ll never forget it.
Gonzalez: People fail to realize that we were winning that game handily. But our thought process was ‘we got embarrassed at this stadium. We want to go out there and show these f***ers up.’
Andre Johnson: We didn’t feel like we were playing at the level we should be playing at. And as you can see, after he gave that speech we came out in the second half and looked like a different football team.
Gonzalez: In the second half (we) put the pedal to the medal.
Rolle: We went out there and kicked their a**. That’s when I had a newfound respect for Ed Reed, and I knew the kind of leader he was.
Vilma: These guys (Reed, Buchanon) were out there making plays, and I’m like ‘Man, I want to make plays too.’ I had a little scoop and score, and I was like ‘Finally! I’m making some plays like these guys.’
Gonzalez: If you’re able to look at the first half and the second half, it almost looks like two different teams.
Davenport: Everybody scored that damn game.
Gonzalez: Everybody had a hand in that win, I think our punter scored.
Sikes: It was also the first time we really put our foot on somebody’s throat and showed them, just, ‘We’re better than you. Sure you might recruit the same players, sure you might have a good record, but we’re just better than you.’
Sikes: It’s kind of like beating up your big brother. Once you beat up your big brother one time, he doesn’t want to fight you anymore. Our big brother through all those years was Florida State. Well, we beat them in 2000. But now, not you not only beat them, but in 2001 we beat them up, in their place.
Dorsey: I think that (win) catapulted us throughout that second half of the year.
Sikes: That was the beginning of the end for everybody else.
Romberg: It was after that Florida State game we realized how good we were. Florida State is always a really good gauge no matter when you play them.
Vilma: For all the hype that the Florida State-Miami game got, we felt like ‘These guys aren’t even on our level.’ We respected them of course, but we felt like they weren’t on our level. So if Florida State isn’t on our level, then there’s no way any of these other teams even come close.
Gonzalez: I still walk the streets of Miami and people still come up to me and say ‘Joaquin said dominate!’ it’s a sense of pride for me.
McKinnie: That speech still gets talked about. They played it when I was on the (Baltimore) Ravens. I was like ‘Reed, weren’t we winning when you gave that speech? He’s like ‘Yeah, don’t tell nobody.’
Reed: We laughed so hard at that after the game. (My teammates were) like ‘Reed, you were trippin’. You know you were trippin’ right?’
At 5-0, the Hurricanes were beginning to fill their preseason destiny as National Champions, and having fun doing it. Miami continued to roll in its next two games, beating West Virginia (led by first year head coach Rich Rodriguez) 45-3, and Temple 38-0.
More than halfway through the season, all was going well for the ‘Canes.
That is, until a trip up North. To their personal house of horrors…
Curtis Johnson: As you know, we get to Boston College….
Gonzalez: Boston College always played us tough in Boston.
Kellen Winslow Jr. (tight end): I don’t know why Boston College played us so well, but they did. Every single time.
Tom O’Brien (Boston College head coach): Who knows, maybe it was too cold for those guys. Maybe they didn’t like the long plane ride. But we always played them well in Boston.
Reed: That’s it, it’s cold. You couldn’t prepare for it because the whole year, the whole off-season you’re working out in 90+ degrees.
Davenport: It’s cold, I don’t know if it’s the Boston chowder that we eat at the hotel, but we’re always just sluggish when we come out.
It’s cold, I don’t know if it’s the Boston chowder that we eat at the hotel, but we’re always just sluggish when we come out.
Randy Shannon (defensive coordinator): It was just … Boston. Even when I (coached) with Dennis Erickson, it was always the same. For some rhyme or reason, we couldn’t figure it out.
Coker: What I really think it was, was perception. We didn’t perceive Boston College as being a Florida State or Florida or Penn State or one of those types of schools. Right or wrong, that was the perception.
Curtis Johnson: You never stay near the stadium. The bus ride in, it looks like — this isn’t a knock on their stadium, because it’s a great stadium — but it doesn’t appear what you would expect it to be as far as a major college football stadium. It’s not like you’re going into Florida State. You just don’t see it as being, that kind of stadium.
Vilma: Yeah they played us close, but that was probably part of their game-plan. Shorten the game, don’t make any errors, don’t go for a home run, keep it close and see what happens at the end. I assume that was their game-plan.
O’Brien: One thing we thought we had to do was play ‘keep away’ with the football on offense. We had to be situational.
Curtis Johnson: One of the things we tried to stress as a coaching staff was we couldn’t play to the opponent. We wanted to dominate each quarter, and a couple of those quarters we didn’t play to our capabilities.
O’Brien: Their offense was predicated on timing passes, so by playing two-deep, bumping the receivers it made Dorsey hold onto the ball a little longer. I think it messed with him a little.
Dorsey: They were playing us a soft, zone type coverage that just required us to be patient, and I just forced some things.
Portis: Yardage-wise, we marched up and down the field. We’d get in the red zone and throw a pick. It was frustrating.
Coker: Five turnovers. That was kind of the gist of the game.
Gonzalez: It was just a comedy of errors on the offensive side.
Portis: I had a spectacular game. From the 20 to the 20, they couldn’t stop us.
It was an ugly day for Miami’s offense no doubt, but championship teams are built to win all three phases of the game, and to their credit, the Hurricanes were dominating on special teams and defense. Kicker Todd Sievers nailed four field goals that day, the final one giving Miami a 12-7 lead.
Miami’s defense continued to hold strong through the rest of that quarter, and when the Hurricanes got the ball back with a few minutes to go, all they had to do was hold onto the ball, and they’d hold onto a narrow win.
Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.
Coker: We really had the game won.
Gonzalez: We were up by four or five points. We didn’t need to score. We could’ve just run out (the clock). I think it was Frank Gore, had a crucial fumble late in the game.
Frank Gore (freshman, running back): I’m not gonna lie, I wanted to be the hero. I was trying too hard, instead of being smart. I wanted to show my team that I can play in this type of game.
Coker: We gave the ball back to them. It was one of those situations right there, where if they go down and score it’s going to be really hard to win the football game.
O’Brien: Earlier in the fourth quarter we had missed a chip shot field goal (which would’ve made the score 12-10). It would’ve set us up to have to kick a field goal on the final possession. Well, we missed the field goal earlier, so now we had to go for the touchdown on the last possession.
Portis: They (start) marching down the field.
Curtis Johnson: I was in the press box. They were going to score. It was Washington (in 2000) all over again.
‘Are we really gonna lose to these people?’ Are we really about to not to get to the National Championship because of a loss to Boston College?
Andre Johnson: To be honest it had really gotten to a point where I was like ‘Are we really gonna lose to these people?’ Are we really about to not to get to the National Championship because of a loss to Boston College?
Chudzinski: It was one of those days that the ball just never seemed to bounce our way … until the end.
Miami needed a miracle. And they got one from who else, but Ed Reed.
Vilma: (My mindset was) you’re driving, fine, but we’re going to find a way to make a play. That’s just how we were build. We had great playmakers, guys with great ball-skills, at some point we were going to find a way to make a play.
McKinnie: They’re driving down, they’re clearly in the red zone, and then I see them throw a pass.
Portis: Why they even threw the ball, I don’t know. But I’m glad they did.
Davenport: I played with Brian St. Pierre (in the NFL) who was their quarterback. Brian told me that he threw it toward his receiver’s feet on purpose because they just wanted to run the ball, and they were eating us up, running the ball down our throats. And he was like ‘Why are we even throwing it, let’s just keep running the ball.’ There was like a minute, or minute and a half left in the game.
Andre Johnson: That play, I think everybody can tell you where they were, and what they were doing when that happened. I was actually sitting on the sidelines, I had my head down and I was just frustrated and I was like ‘Man, what’s going on.’
Rumph: That was a play that we had studied. I knew that route was coming, I guess-timated that play would come after watching so much film of them in that area (of the field).
Shannon: That was something special. We always said in practice, ‘If you don’t have a call, always go to this front and this coverage.’ And they went to that coverage.
Reed: They threw a slant, Mike was right where he was supposed to be.
Rumph: I jumped into the route and as I went down to put my hands down to catch the ball, my hands were right by my knee. It was as if my hands were right by knee, and my knee was in between them.
Romberg: They say luck is when opportunity meets preparation, you kind of create your own luck. And you do. If we weren’t a hustle, bad-ass football team, Matt Walters wouldn’t have been five yards down field making that play.
Rumph: It hit my knee and bounced right back to Matt Walters. And Matt caught it and ran towards the sidelines.
Davenport: When we see that it was an interception, all the offensive players were on the sidelines and we had to scramble to find our helmets. Some of the guys had put their helmets by the heater.
Andre Johnson: I just heard all the guys on shouting on the sidelines and I looked up and I’m like ‘What the hell happened?’
Rumph: I’m almost in celebration mode like ‘Let’s take a knee and get the heck out of here.’ But I see (Walters) start to stumble, start to fall and I see Ed Reed come out of the pack stumbling.
McKinnie: I see Ed Reed try to wrestle the ball out of his hands. And Matt’s not letting go, because I don’t think he knows who it was at first.
Reed: I was screaming at him the whole time ‘Matt, it’s Reed, Matt it’s Reed. Let it go! Matt it’s Reed!’ I can’t tell you how many times I yelled at him ‘Matt, it’s Reed.’ Matt made a great lateral.
Rumph: I didn’t know he had the ball until Boston College’s running back started chasing him.
Vilma: I see E. Reed steal the ball from Matt Walters and he sprints down and I’m like ‘Great, I’ll sprint too!’
Williams : Then you see it’s Ed Reed and you’re like ‘Just go, just go!’
Andre Johnson: I looked up I see Reed just running. And I was just jumping like ‘Go, go, go!’
Williams: He was like ‘I’m gonna put the game away and make sure it’s over.’
Gonzalez: One guy from Boston College was chasing him and Ed Reed was never the fastest guy. He was quick, I remember him zigzagging a little bit, and it tripped (BC’s guy) up.
Rumph: We all started running just in case, and we’re sprinting down there, and that’s when he started zigzagging, and the guy fell.
Vilma: After he scored, I just wanted to celebrate with him and have a good time. I might’ve been the first one to jump on him after that.
Rumph: I’ll never forget Ed Reed spiked the ball and took the 15-yard penalty.
There’s no better penalty in the world then the penalty they gave to Ed Reed after he slammed down that ball.
Gonzalez: There’s no better penalty in the world then the penalty they gave to Ed Reed after he slammed down that ball.
Andre Johnson: I think that was a big wake-up call for us like, ‘We can be beat.’
Dorsey: If you look at it, all National Championship teams have those games that could go either way. Those good teams find ways to win when you’re not playing well.
Chudzinski: The great teams I’ve been fortunate enough to be around, even on their bad days, they find a way to win. That was our day.
Andre Johnson: It was funny man, after the game everybody was just so happy. We knew we had put ourselves in a situation. We probably shouldn’t have won.
Johnson’s right, Miami probably shouldn’t have won, a message that Reed, Gonzalez and the rest of the veterans weren’t afraid to share, what Johnson called "one of the worst a-s–ripping sessions of my career" when the team returned to campus.
Simply put, the Hurricanes knew how close they were to defeat, and knew they couldn’t let an opponent hang around like that again.
And they didn’t.
What proceeded over the next two weeks were two of the most lopsided losses between ranked teams in college football history. The first victim was No. 14 Syracuse, which entered the game tied for first place in the Big East, and left the Orange Bowl with a 59-0 loss.
The following week was supposed to be a bye for Miami, but instead it turned into a make-up after the Sept. 11 attacks postponed the Week 2 college football slate.
For the Hurricanes, they were happy to skip their bye however, since it provided the opportunity to get revenge, on an opponent that had it coming to them.
Curtis Johnson (wide receivers coach): The Washington game, the coaches didn’t even have to show up for that one. We knew they were going to be ready.
Andre Johnson : It was an attitude from the time we finished with Syracuse. We had Washington coming next and we knew we were going to give it to them. There were no ifs, ands or buts about it. They had it coming.
Buchanon: We made it very clear that we were going to beat the s**t out of them. If you look at our interviews that built up to it, we were like ‘You messed up our National Championship (in 2000) and we’re fixin’ to mess you up.’
Sikes: Not only are we going to beat you, we’re going to humiliate you.
Davenport: That was more our payback game. We were chompin’ at the bit to play Washington. After everything we had been through, we wanted to put up 100 on them.
Sikes: We wanted to beat them up because of our own failures the year before. We cost ourselves the National Championship. But they were the ones who got the credit.
Portis: When they stepped on the field, they had a few players that were hyped (up), and they were talking trash about how they’d beaten us already (the year before).
Vilma: They didn’t realize that they were coming down to our house now.
That’s right, Miami was playing the team which had cost it the National Championship the year before. This time, it wouldn’t be played on a cold, rainy afternoon in Seattle, instead on Miami’s home turf.
The game also marked the rarest events for the Hurricanes: A night game in the Orange Bowl.
That’s the one that Ed Reed said ‘The freaks come out at night at the Orange Bowl.’
And well, you know what happens during a night game at the Orange Bowl …
Chudzinski: That’s the one that Ed Reed said ‘The freaks come out at night at the Orange Bowl.’
Reed: Oh yeah. It was right before everybody was going to go out, right before the city is about to get as crazy as it wanna get. They came out to the games right before they went out, to get they freak on.
Dorsey: There were a lot of big games in the Orange Bowl, but I think that was one of the most electric games we ever had there.
Reed: We didn’t have very many night games, but when we had a night game, oh man, it was the best crowd ever.
The crowd was ready. So too, were the Hurricanes …
Portis: I think they lost the coin toss … and it never got better.
Neuheisel: We went right down the field on the opening drive, got down to the one-yard line. I said ‘I’m going for it. We’re not going to come down here and only get three points.’ And we got snuffed. From there, it was like the damn broke.
Andre Johnson (sophomore, wide receiver): That was quickest we scored 21 points ever. That score was 21-0 so fast!
Portis: I think I was out by the second quarter.
Vilma: They were shell-shocked in the beginning by our speed, our violence. That stunned them early on.
Neuheisel: It was horrible. I felt like Custer. It was horrible. They were so geeked up, ready to play.
Indeed Miami was.
With the Hurricanes leading 37-0 at halftime, the game was all but over. Not that it stopped them from continuing to pile on the points.
Gonzalez: I was standing on the bench, and I remember calling everyone over, except the guys on the field. I think there’s video of this, and I was telling everyone ‘It is 0 to 0. We score every single time we touch that ball.’ If I’m not mistaken we did that, we didn’t have a single drive where we didn’t at least score a field goal.
Davenport: I got a couple guys in interviews (for my documentary) that wanted to go back in. They didn’t want the freshmen to play. Not because we didn’t trust them, but we wanted more points on the board.
Romberg: We were scratching and clawing to stay on the field. It was 60-something to nothing, and we’re fighting to get back out on the field, and bury their second- and third-string guys, after we’d already pulverized their first string guys.
Soldinger: We beat them so bad, they said they never wanted to play us again.
Romberg: Their athletic director came into our locker room all upset that Larry Coker put up a few extra points on them.
Sikes: The AD came out and said ‘We’re not going to play Miami again.’
The final score of 65-7 was a second straight statement win, letting the college football world that this team would not be denied their opportunity at a National Championship.
Or so everyone thought. That’s because despite their perfect record, and back-to-back wins over Top 15 teams, the schedule didn’t get any easier for the final regular season game.
To get to the National Championship game, Miami would first have to beat one of college football’s best teams, in one of the sport’s toughest venues.
They’d also need to beat a team which had been giving them trouble for years.
Gonzalez: Butch Davis and Larry Coker would take us to see movies the night before the game. We had seen a movie with Keenu Reaves where he is court-ordered to coach a baseball team. It’s called ‘Hard Ball.’ And we took a line out of that movie, ‘We’re going to the ‘ship’ which meant ‘We’re going to the championship.’
I remember going into the Virginia Tech game, like ‘we want to go to the ‘ship.’ (But we knew it’d be) tough game, they always played us tough, specifically at Virginia Tech.
Andre Johnson: (Virginia Tech) was a game that we were always worried about.
Sikes: Virginia Tech is a tough breed. They’re all of the step kids. Most of them are the kids nobody wanted. They didn’t get to go to the big high school, they didn’t get to go to the big college. So you put them all together…
Gonzalez: I don’t know if scared is the right word, but I remember being so close to greatness, being so close to playing for a National Championship, that it forced me to stay focused more.
Williams: A few guys may have had the jitters knowing that this game decides if we go to the championship or not.
Dorsey: It was one of those, they’ve got a lot of respect for us and we’ve got a lot of respect for them, type rivalry.
From the start, Virginia Tech showed it wasn’t going to back down, and spent the better part of the first quarter using their option offense to move the ball on Miami. Eventually though, things calmed down and after the Hokies scored the first three points, Miami ripped off 20 straight.
As the game dragged on, Miami continued to keep control, taking a 26-10 lead into the middle of the fourth quarter, before the Hokies got a big score to make it 26-17.
And then just when Miami got the ball back, ready to seal the victory, all hell broke loose …
You’ve got to put V-Tech away. From my experience against Virginia Tech you can’t let them stick around, and expect them not to make a play. They did.
Portis: You’ve got to put V-Tech away. From my experience against Virginia Tech you can’t let them stick around, and expect them not to make a play. They did.
Rumph: Special teams wise, they were a team we knew we had to keep an eye on. They took a lot of pride in special teams.
Sikes: Back then, ‘Beamer Ball,’ that’s what they were known for. You had to account for all three phases with them.
Soldinger: We wound up getting a punt blocked.
Rumph: It was the loudest thing you’ve ever heard. You hear the double-thump of ‘boom-boom’ of the ball getting blocked. It got so loud it went from a loud noise to a ring, like a bell ringing in our ears.
Virginia Tech didn’t just block the punt, but Brandon Manning took it to the house, cutting the deficit to 26-24.
Even though there was over eight minutes left in the game, Beamer didn’t chance it. He decided to go for two.
Vilma: They score and they’re down two, and everyone forgets that they needed to convert the two-point conversion just to tie the game.
Portis: I was worried. I just was like ‘Man, we can’t let this slip away.’ That was the first time I had actually worried all year.
Andre Johnson: There’s not a lot of memories from that game. The one thing that sticks out is that they had a chance to tie the game and send it into overtime.
Virginia Tech quarterback Grant Noel dropped back in the pocket. He locked eyes with receiver Ernest Wilford.
Andre Johnson: Ernest Wilford pushed Phillip (Buchanon) down, literally pushed him down
Buchanon: Ernest Wilford pulled me down, he shoved me down. He dropped the two-point conversion, which would’ve made it 26-26.
Rumph: The ball bounced off his hands, and he fell on the ground. The ball literally fell off his chest and rolled off.
Andre Johnson: When that happened I just thought ‘It was meant for us.’
While there was still time on the clock, that was Virginia Tech’s best shot to push Miami to an extra period. The game eventually ended a series later with, not surprisingly, an Ed Reed interception.
Miami was going to the title game …
Dorsey: When we won, it was just a great, great, feeling. You were playing a team that, you had to win the game; they weren’t going to give it to you. You had to earn it. To go to the title game out of that, you felt like you earned it.
Chudzinski: I remember taking a deep breath, looking around that stadium and realizing we were going to the Rose Bowl.
Portis: I just remember seeing the roses. I remember the roses coming out, the guys running around with roses in their mouths . it was just a shock to me like ‘Wow, it’s the Rose Bowl.’ Growing up you always heard about the Rose Bowl, ‘The Grand Daddy of Them All.’
Andre Johnson: The Rose Bowl committee came in and told us that we were going to be playing, and before anyone could get the words out, we were like ‘We accept, we accept!’
We just started screaming ‘We’re going to the ‘ship!’
The ‘Canes were going to the ‘ship, fulfilling the unfinished business of a season before, when they got shut out of the title game due in large part to BCS controversy.
Well, BCS controversy struck again in 2001, although this time it was Miami’s opponent Nebraska, which who was in the center of it.
The Cornhuskers’ 11-1 record looked respectable on paper, but that one loss stood out more than the 11 wins did. It came in the final game of the regular season, when Colorado not only beat Nebraska, but dominated it, 62-36. The loss not only left the Cornhuskers’ record with a major blemisht, but it also kept them from winning the Big XII North, and having the opportunity to play for a conference championship.
Yet with a group of teams bunched behind the Hurricanes, it was Nebraska which drew the assignment to play Miami for the title.
Some of the ‘Canes were concerned, specifically with quarterback Eric Crouch, that year’s Heisman Trophy winner.
But still, most knew what was coming …
If I could just be totally honest, there was no way on God’s green Earth that Nebraska had a chance.
Sikes: If I could just be totally honest, there was no way on God’s green Earth that Nebraska had a chance.
Curtis Johnson: I’ll tell you the funniest story. Larry (Coker) had been at Oklahoma and got beat a lot by Nebraska.
Coker: I told our players this ‘I played Nebraska since the Big XIII and we never did very well’ so because of that, I had a lot of respect for them.
Curtis Johnson: He comes into the meeting before the bowl game, and he’s nervous. He goes ‘Nebraska, they’re going to run the option, they’re going to do this …’ Ed Reed stands up and says ‘Coach, we’re the new Nebraska. Don’t worry about it. We got it.’
Reed: It didn’t matter who we were playing, we were so confident. And you’re going to give us a month before we play? Oh man, you can’t give us that much time to work out and get stronger, and study tape.
Gonzalez: We were so ready, it didn’t really matter who they would’ve put in front of us. Nebraska was the one who drew the short stick.
It was time to play for a championship.
And it didn’t take Miami long – a few seconds actually – to realize that its opponent would be no match.
Here’s where we knew they were going to be in trouble: Our young kids were Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle, Kellen Winslow … and on the opening kick-off they ran down and just killed this guy. I mean killed him. And we said ‘This is over.’
Curtis Johnson: Here’s where we knew they were going to be in trouble: Our young kids were Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle, Kellen Winslow … and on the opening kick-off they ran down and just killed this guy. I mean killed him. And we said ‘This is over.’
Sikes: Kellen Winslow blasts him.
Kellen Winslow Jr. (freshman, tight end): I got him good.
Chudzinski: He certainly set the tone.
Rolle: It was a s**t-show from the beginning.
Sikes: They ran the option! You’re not gonna run the option against us.
Coker: They played the option game. Well in the option game your linebackers obviously have to play well, but your safeties also have to be able to tackle in space. Well we had maybe the best safety in football in Ed Reed.
Rumph: Coach Shannon had faced triple-option a lot as a player, so he came up with a good plan. One guy was assigned to the dive guy, one guy was assigned to the quarterback and one guy was assigned to the running back. That’s what we did.
Shannon: We just had to be sound and not try to do too much.
Williams: When we saw the option, we knew that we were physically more dominant than they would be. They were bigger, but we were stronger and more powerful.
Sikes: We had linebackers who were faster than their running backs. We had defensive linemen who were faster than their running backs. So you mean to tell me you’re going to beat us by running sideways?
Vilma: After the first series, we were like ‘Man, these guys are slow. They’re too slow. They can’t outrun us. They’re not going to be able to score on us, unless we make a mistake.’
Not only did Miami’s defense feel like it could dominate. So too did the offense.
Coker: Rob Chudzinski, who was our offensive coordinator at the time, had a good design in getting the ball to our playmakers.
Chudzinski: I felt great about it, honestly. I felt like we had a great plan for them. They played a lot of man coverage, so I felt good about our match-ups there.
Dorsey: They did a lot of stuff where we were going to have to win on the outside, and I was going to have get those guys the ball. They were going to try and match-up against the receivers.
Andre Johnson: Going into the National Championship game, Nebraska had this guy Keyuo Craver. He was the No. 1 cornerback. It was ‘Keyuo Craver this, he’s the No. 1 cornerback, how do you feel like you match up with him.’ And I was just like ‘Man, I can’t wait to get ahold of him.’
Buchanon: (Johnson) said ‘When I get done with him, he isn’t going to be considered the No. 1 cornerback. We are going to eat him alive.’
Dorsey: We shifted Andre out of the back-field and he ran a go-route on the safety.
Andre Johnson: He tried to jam me and I just grabbed him and threw him down. I was just running down the sideline and Dorsey saw me and I just kept running.
Coker: The corner was trying to get physical with Andre, and Andre is just so big and physical he kind of threw him down, so we got a touchdown there.
Andre Johnson: I think it might’ve been a little tight at first, but once you have that one good play it just didn’t stop. It just kept coming one after the other after the other.
Gonzalez: We didn’t think the game was going to be that easy. I remember coming off to the sideline and talking to Coach Kehoe, like ‘Coach, whatever play we run, we’re cashing in.’
Vilma: It was 34-0 at halftime.
Within 30 minutes, the Hurricanes had left no doubt who the best team in college football was. The second half became simply, a formality.
Gonzalez: Brett (Romberg) and I have some friends now who played at Nebraska at that time. I won’t say the name, but the guy told us that their coaches kind of told them at halftime, ‘Alright guys, let’s just try and keep this thing close!’
Andre Johnson: When we went into halftime everybody was just like ‘We’re going to approach it like it’s 0-0.’ That was our thing ‘Yeah we’ve got a big lead but we’re not gonna give them nothing.’
Coker: The thing is they were an option team. Option teams struggle to come back from big deficits, so once we got ahead we were feeling good.
Dorsey: Eric Crouch, that guy had some talent now. But plays he made that year where he was just out-running people, we had the speed to kind of catch him, and take him down. So plays that were going for 60 yards for touchdowns, our safeties were tracking him down.
Romberg: (Nebraska running back) Derek Dietrich told me ‘The holes … there were games in our conference where those would be 30, 40-yard runs. There were plays where holes looked like they were open and in a millisecond, I got my s*** knocked out of me.
Rolle: They had never seen speed like that before.
Gonzalez: It was one of those games where things were going so well, that I was able to actually step back and enjoy it a little bit. It was a great feeling.
Dorsey: When Jon (Vilma) had those big hits, you kind of realize ‘We just won the National Championship.’
Vilma: I just remember I hit the tight end and everybody was just like ‘Oooo.’ It didn’t feel like that big of a hit. I’d hit people like that before, I guess it was because it was on the national stage.
Jonathan Vilma, oh my God! The hit he put on those guys, it was probably the best hits I’ve ever seen, the best form tackle I’ve ever seen.
Rolle: Jonathan Vilma, oh my God! The hit he put on those guys, it was probably the best hits I’ve ever seen, the best form tackle I’ve ever seen.
Romberg: Richie Incognito (who redshirted at Nebraska that year, and played with Romberg in the NFL) told me that tight end never was the same after Vilma lit him up on the sideline.
Vilma: I hit him, I looked up at the Jumbotron and I was like man ‘I swore I’ve hit people like that before.’
Gonzalez: Being part of that, being part of the team that’s kicking the s**t out of the other one, it allows you to enjoy the whole process.
Rolle: My ultimate memory is the way we looked. Everybody just dominated. Clinton Portis dominated. Jeremy Shockey dominated. Andre Johnson dominated. It was just men amongst boys, in every aspect.
Chudzinski: More than the X’s and O’s- and I’d love to take credit for all that — this group was zeroed in on the National Championship, and there was nothing that was going to happen to keep them from doing that.
Andre Johnson: You have dreams as a child, and it almost felt like you were dreaming. We were just hugging and high-fiving and it was like …man, the goal you set, you did it!
Chudzinski: I remember sitting in the Rose Bowl after the game. And while that celebration was going on, I remember thinking what a dedicated, committed group of guys they were. And you always wonder ‘Am I ever going to be a part of group of players like that, of great coaches?’
Andre Johnson: Everything we said we wanted to do, getting the program back on the map, getting a National Championship, we did it.
The Hurricanes were National Champions. It was process that really had begun with Butch Davis’ first recruiting class in 1996, which set the groundwork that carried straight into 2000, and was continued on by the players who remained in 2001.
To the credit of Butch Davis and his staff, they had accumulated so much talent, that Miami actually went undefeated in the regular season the following year, and if it weren’t for a questionable pass interference call, would’ve won the title in 2002 as well. Meaning, that a strong case could be made that Miami had the best team in college football in 2000, 2001 and 2002).
Yet only the 2001 club has withstood the test of time, as the team that most consider the best in college football history. But while everyone has an opinion on the subject, the only people who never seem to be asked the question, are the players and coaches themselves.
Coker: I’m biased from the standpoint of … I wouldn’t trade this team for any team I’ve ever seen play college football. They were talented, but they were also smart, there were so many good qualities about this team.
Kehoe: Let’s put it this way: I’ve been here a long time. I would gladly take those dudes against anybody.
Sikes: There’s no team I would fear going up against with that team, or those teams.
Portis: I think we were the best college football team ever.
Romberg: Honest to God, I cut people off mid-sentence when people try to create any type of argument or justification. There is no team ever, or will ever be assembled like that 2001 team.
Davenport: There’s no doubt we were the greatest team in the history of college football, because of the things we did. We played ranked teams and demolished them. We had an All-American, I believe, at every position.
Vilma: There may have been a USC team that came close. I don’t think any of the other teams come close, from every perspective; point differential, number of guys drafted into the league, the length of the careers of guys in the league once they got there, whatever you want to compare it to. I don’t know anybody out there that would even come close.
There’s no doubt we were the greatest team in the history of college football, because of the things we did. We played ranked teams and demolished them. We had an All-American, I believe, at every position.
Sikes: A lot of people compare us to that USC team that came along a few years later. And look, I love Reggie Bush as a player. I thought he was awesome. But is he gonna bouncing around, running around all crazy like that? What’s going to happen is that he’s going to be running around, and Sean Taylor is going to blast him!
Romberg: No college team could ever beat an NFL team. But, if you took the best players from like a five-year span who played at the University of Miami and assembled an NFL team, we’re coming home with a Super Bowl trophy. There’s no doubt about it.
Gore: (We’re winning a) Super Bowl, easy.
Dorsey: When you start realizing how many just first-rounder’s off those teams, you start thinking, ‘Wow, we really had some guys now.’ And those are just first round picks.
Swasey: If you look at the success and say ‘Where are they now?’ look at it. These guys are in positions that are unheard of.
Shannon: And when you look back on it, those guys weren’t the most highly-recruited players. They weren’t high on the rating charts, they just wanted to win.
Buchanon: I would say the majority of the guys who came to Miami around my time all had chips on their shoulders because they weren’t this, they weren’t that, and other schools all picked other players over them.
Swasey: The success of that team as a unit, and for reaching their goals…that was the thing. They were very goal-oriented, very competitive. You had first rounder’s backing up first rounder’s.
Soldinger: I always told (high school) kids ‘If you want to see how good you are, come to Miami. Because the kids we recruit at Miami love to play ball. If somebody else is promising you the chance to start, and you want to go start, go there. I’m not promising you a starting spot. There are a lot of good athletes here. You’re going to see just how good you are.’
Romberg: It wasn’t just our abilities, it was our family atmosphere, and the way we policed ourselves, I don’t think you’re going to see that in today’s college football.
The legacy of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes however, might be best summed up, by a guy who didn’t even play for the team.
Damione Lewis (graduated in 2000): I was in the league next year, but I’ll tell you what. On Saturday’s in the locker room, it didn’t matter whether you were from Florida State, Oklahoma, I’m playing with guys from all these different colleges. But on Saturday’s we were watching The U.
Talk all the s*** you want to, it’s ‘The Hurricane Show.’