Miami, Nebraska rivalry produces some of the greatest times in ‘Canes football history

Miami's senior defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo is a third-generation Hurricane.  

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. — The University of Miami football program has captured five national championships and nine conference titles. Two Heisman Trophy winners and 35 All-Americans have taken the field for the Hurricanes.

Countless memories stand out in UM lore, and yet offensive line coach Art Kehoe would tell you the 1984 game against undefeated Nebraska at the Orange Bowl holds the greatest importance.

Entering Jan. 2, senior quarterback Turner Hill had lost just once in his career while setting several program records. The offense had averaged 50 points, the most since the 1944 Army team.

"I came out with the kickers and the snappers about an hour and 40 minutes before kickoff (and) there was already 60,000 in the Orange Bowl, and they gave us a standing ovation," said Kehoe, who was a graduate assistant at the time. "All the kickers started bowing and everything. So jacked up for that night. They were No. 1 and 13-point favorites, and we had to watch in our pregame meal Auburn beat somebody to get us into the championship. And our place went crazy. Howard (Schnellenberger) said, ‘Hey, chill out.’ Howard told everybody to relax. We were all pumped up for that game. Stage was right."

The once unranked Hurricanes scored 17 straight points in the first quarter but led just 17-14 by halftime. By the fourth, Miami pulled ahead 31-17.

Running back Mike Rozier rushed for 147 yards before leaving in the third quarter with an ankle injury. His replacement, Jeff Smith, would run for a touchdown that pulled the Cornhuskers within 1 with less than a minute left. But Nebraska went for the win on a 2-point conversion and failed, handing Miami a 31-30 victory.

Texas, Auburn and Illinois all needed to lose — and did — in order for No. 5 Miami to win its first national title. A program with just one bowl appearance in 15 seasons accomplished this even after dropping the season opener to Florida.

"It was an awesome environment and the Orange Bowl was just from start to finish as crazy as I’ve ever seen it in my life," said Kehoe, who is in his 30th season with the Hurricanes. "It was the greatest win for me. I still think it’s the biggest win in the history of our program."

Hurricanes notes

Fast-forward 30 years and Miami travels to Lincoln for a primetime matchup this Saturday at Memorial Stadium. More than 90,000 fans are expected for the first meeting in Nebraska since 1976 when the Cornhuskers won 17-9.

Six of the 10 meetings have been with bowl implications, including the 1983, 1988, 1991, 1994 and 2001 seasons that decided the national title. Miami won all but the one in 1994.

During the heyday of Miami-Nebraska showdowns, head coach Al Golden played tight end for the Penn State Nittany Lions. From an outsider’s perspective, he could appreciate the rivalry and nail-biters.

"I think it’s why their kids go there and why our kids come here," Golden said. "It’s part of both of our traditions and heritages. I think it’s awesome. It makes for good theater."

Senior defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo, a third-generation Hurricane, hears stories every time his father, Tony, and Kenny Calhoun get together.

Calhoun deflected Gill’s pass on the 2-point conversation that cemented Miami’s first title and launched the dynasty.

"It’s a series that goes way back," Chickillo said. "A lot of great games between the two teams. We’re excited to play them on Saturday. They’ve always been a great team regardless of what their record has shown and regardless of the things they’ve done in the past and now. They’ve always been a great team, and they always are going to play hard."

In the most recent game on Jan. 3, 2002, the Hurricanes stormed past the Cornhuskers, 37-14, for the BCS national championship at the Rose Bowl. That is the last time Miami stood atop the college football world.

True freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, like many of his teammates, doesn’t recall much about it. Kaaya, now 19, grew up in Los Angeles and witnessed both school’s supporters taking over southern California.

"It was pretty cool," Kaaya said. "I was really little. All I remember is all the Miami and Nebraska fans flooded LA. That’s what I remember pretty well. … That was pretty cool to see when I was little. That was the first Miami game I ever watched. To be playing against Nebraska now as a Miami quarterback is a pretty cool feeling."

These teams will meet again next season at Sun Life Stadium as part of a home-and-home series. Then-athletic director Kirby Hocutt, now at Texas Tech, scheduled it in 2008.

Athletic director Blake James is no stranger to either program. In 1995, he was hired as Miami’s director of ticket sales before being named athletic development officer at Nebraska in 1997. James is currently in his third stint at Miami.

"I think everybody recognizes Miami is one of the truly special programs in college football, as is Nebraska, so anytime you can be a part of a game like this it’s something special," James said. "I said the same thing last year with the University of Florida, and I’ll say that when we have these types of games in the future.

"They’re some of the greatest times in Hurricane football history. Excited to have these two games set up and looking forward to being there in Lincoln this weekend. It’s one of the great environments in college football. I think our guys and our fans will enjoy going in there and playing in a great place and having a great game."

You can follow Christina De Nicola on Twitter @CDeNicola13 or email her at cdenicola13@gmail.com.