Miami: The Death Of A Superpower?
Miami QB Vinny Testaverde
Miami QB Vinny Testaverde
Posted Aug 18, 2011

Miami is in huge trouble. With the NCAA sanctions looming and the public anger growing, here's a look back at the end of the Miami superpower and just how great it used to be.

The End Of The Superpower?

Looking Back At Miami's Greatness

Miami's Greatest Games
- 1984: Miami 31, Nebraska 30 | CFN All-Time Miami Team
- 1989: Miami 27, Notre Dame 10 | 1993: Alabama 34, Miami 13
- 1987: Penn State 14, Miami 10 | 1986: Miami 28, Oklahoma 16
- 1988: Notre Dame 31, Miami 30 | 1984: BC 47, Miami 45
- 1984: Maryland 42, Miami 40 | 1991: Miami 17, Florida St 16
- 1987: Miami 26, Florida St 25 | 2003: Ohio St 31, Miami 24 2OT

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Thank you, Miami football.

No, really, thank you.

For the next several months, Miami football is going to get dragged through the mud, and rightly so.

If any of the Nevin Shapiro allegations are true, then this could finally be just the spark needed to come up with real changes and an honest assessment of what the NCAA's goals are and what they should be. This is too outlandish, too sensational, and too juicy - especially coming off the ridiculous summit the collegiate powers-that-be just held – for the NCAA to issue its normal ham-handed, "duhhh which way did he go, George, which way did he go?" punishment.

No, Miami won't get hit with any SMU-style Death Penalty. The NCAA might bomb Miami back into the Stone Age - or the 1970s - and the football program will almost certainly get Charlie Harpered out of any upcoming TV package, but this is a far, far different situation than the SMU problem three decades ago.

In the 1980s, the NCAA told SMU to stop cheating, and it didn't. The NCAA told SMU again to stop cheating, and it didn't. The NCAA put SMU on probation, and it didn't matter. The NCAA gave SMU chance after chance after chance until there wasn't any other alternative but to go nuclear.

More than the lessons learned from the SMU decision, the NCAA doesn't want to set a precedent going forward. If Miami goes dark and doesn't have a football program for a year or two over Shapiro's allegations, then what happens if more is uncovered in the Ohio State situation? What happens to Auburn if Cam Newton was lying and Stanley McClover was telling the truth? The NCAA can't hand out the Death Penalty for Miami if it's not prepared to do the same to other programs, and that's not going to happen.

There's going to be plenty of time to bury the Miami football program, so for a brief moment – very brief - let's Michael Jackson this story.

For a split-second, try to turn a blind eye to all the creepy, sleazy elements and remember that the reason this is a big deal is because the Miami Hurricanes used to be the biggest, baddest, brashest team around.

And we liked it that way.

Miami, because it did such a great job of playing the LeBron Heat role of the uber-talented evil villain, dominated the landscape of the sports world as the team that defined the 1980s, or was a close second to the Los Angeles Lakers.

It's hard to explain considering college football might be bigger and better now, but not even superpowers like Ohio State, USC of a few years ago, Oklahoma, Florida, or Alabama have the aura the old Miami teams had, and no team in college football history was as polarizing off the field and talented on it. Now, you have to go through the SEC to win a national title. For more than a decade, you had to go through Miami.

To most college football fans under the age of 30, the Miami scandal is simply another fiasco in a summer full of embarrassments for college football and the NCAA. To many, considering the lack of success over the past few years, Miami football really is Michael Jackson; a formerly talented has-been from a bygone era whose passing isn't all that surprising. But to anyone who remembers just what Miami used to mean and what the football program used to be, the Shapiro story will likely represent the official deathblow to something that used to be truly special.

If there's still some semblance of a Miami football program left standing after all the dust clears, it'll never, ever, ever, work its way back to being close to what it was. No one can ever do that again.

Miami was decent in the early 2000s, but the bar was set so high by the previous two decades that a strong 9-3 2004 season, with all three losses by a touchdown or less, looked disastrous by comparison. During the 1980s and early 1990s, if Miami didn't win the national title, the season was a complete and total failure, and for good reason.

When current Florida Atlantic head man Howard Schnellenberger put up his mythical recruiting fence around the State of Miami back when he took over the woebegone program in 1979, he managed to start a revolution that changed college football forever. He set the foundation for a program that became so good, so skilled, so different, and so successful, that in today's day and age the formula can't be repeated.

Schnellenberger kept the talented Miami players home, and all of a sudden, a sport that was known mostly for plodding running games and tough defenses became about speed, athleticism, and attitude. In just four short years, Miami went from being a loser with no following to the national champion.

And then the fun really started.

Jimmy Johnson, after a rocky start, took what Schnellenberger started and made it better, utilizing the speed and athleticism more efficiently and effectively to create dominant teams that steamrolled over everything in their path. Miami football all but ended the wishbone offense, made it fashionable to use a pro-style offense in a collegiate game, and changed how athletes talked, acted, and played – for good and bad.

But for all the success, the failures only elevated the program that much more. From the then-biggest choke in college football history, giving up a 31-0 lead to Maryland in the 1984 classic; to the Doug Flutie Hail Mary the following game; to the 35-7 loss to Tennessee in the 1986 Sugar Bowl; to the colossal failure in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl loss to Penn State; to the controversial 31-30 thriller against Notre Dame in 1988; to the stunning 1993 Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama; to the loss to Washington early in 2000; to the epic game against Ohio State in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl; it was always a really, really, really big deal when Miami lost because Miami was college football.

Beating Miami made a legend-maker out of players and defined eras for opposing teams. Flutie had the 1984 Heisman won anyway, but his Hail Mary sealed it. Ty Detmer all but won the Heisman in the 1990 season opener when his BYU team stunned the defending national champions.

Florida State was great in the early 1980s, but it didn't become Florida State until it went toe-to-toe with the Canes in the 1987 classic. Notre Dame got out of the doldrums and into a national championship with the 1988 win, and from 1983 to 1992, a span of ten years, Miami either won the national title or had a hand in the championship eight times.

- The Canes won the 1983 national title by beating a mighty Nebraska team.
- After beating eventual national champion Oklahoma earlier in the 1985 season, Miami would've almost certainly been voted the champion in 1985 if it had won the Sugar Bowl against Tennessee.
- The 1986 team might have been the best of the bunch, but Vinny Testaverde couldn't stop throwing interceptions to Penn State and lost the national title.
- The 1987 team won it all, as did the 1989 and 1991 teams.
- The 1988 team would've won the title if there was instant replay for the 31-30 loss to Notre Dame.
- The 1992 team was favored, but lost to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

In other words, as good as Miami was winning four championships in ten seasons, in hindsight, it was even better.

But there was a reason.

The Miami football program liked to be brash, and it liked to be bold, and it liked to play up the fact that it was shaking up the stodgy, conservative college football world, but it also managed to thumb its nose time and again at the NCAA, and it paid the price for doing it.

After the NCAA cloud had passed in the 1990s, Butch Davis brought Miami football back and roaring. Restoring the glory, he had a chance to win multiple national championships going 35-2 from 2000 to 2002. The 2000 team – and not Florida State - deserved to play Oklahoma for the national title, and a bad call on Glenn Sharpe against Ohio State kept the Canes from repeating after winning the 2001 title, but again, there was a problem, as Shapiro is painfully pointing out.

The tough part for Miami is going to be the harsh reality that it can't ever go back to the heyday. It's a small private school with a fair-weather fan base, and the championship-level success only comes when rules get broken. While that might also be the case for most top programs, it's been harder to keep the problems hidden at Miami because of the history of being so brash, so brazen, and so boisterous. Miami always had a "hey, look at me" attitude, and everyone did.

Making the Shapiro case even more sad is that Miami football really did appear to be making positive overall changes. Randy Shannon might not have won enough on the field, but he got the players to class, with Miami on the same tier as Stanford in the latest Academic Progress Reports. There were problems and a few scandals, but for the most part Shannon appeared to have changed the culture of Miami football – with an emphasis on appeared. There were smart players back in the 1980s and 1990s, too, but under Davis, Larry Coker, and at times, Shannon, Miami was able to win with players with strong character as well as NFL talent.

Again, though, according to Shapiro, there was a reason, and now, the sanctions that are almost certain to come and the arguments about the punishments will be all anyone will care about.

Florida State is enjoying a rebirth under Jimbo Fisher, Florida is going to be a national title superpower again soon, and even the smaller Florida programs like South Florida, UCF – who won the Conference USA title last year – and Florida International – who won the Sun Belt title – are enjoying a successful upswing. They'll all get players that used to go to Miami, and everyone else will stronger, but the shift in the balance of college football power all started with the Hurricanes and the attention they brought.

It all came with a price. Miami fans might be devastated that their program is about to get crushed, but for fans of great college football games, it was a glorious ride.

Having lived through that era, was it worth selling my innocence and my college football soul for the 1987 Florida State game, the 1988 Michigan and Notre Dame games, the Wide Rights, the Wide Left, the 1991 Cotton Bowl, the 1986 Oklahoma game, the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, and all the talent and all the skill that was assembled year after year after year?


If this is it, and if Shapiro is right, then rest in peace, Miami football.

Miami's Greatest Games
- 1984: Miami 31, Nebraska 30 | CFN All-Time Miami Team
- 1989: Miami 27, Notre Dame 10 | 1993: Alabama 34, Miami 13
- 1987: Penn State 14, Miami 10 | 1986: Miami 28, Oklahoma 16
- 1988: Notre Dame 31, Miami 30 | 1984: BC 47, Miami 45
- 1984: Maryland 42, Miami 40 | 1991: Miami 17, Florida St 16
- 1987: Miami 26, Florida St 25 | 2003: Ohio St 31, Miami 24 2OT