- Sep 7, 2004
Tennessee vs The Maxims vs Miami vs The Sugar Bowl - 1986
DATE: 1 January 1986
PLACE: The Super Dome, New Orleans, Louisiana
FINAL SCORE: UT 35 Miami 7
Earlier in the season, the Vols had been scheduled to be the token opposition in a coronation. ABC Sports sent their top broadcast team of Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles to Knoxville to gush all over everybody's All American and shoo-in for the Heisman, Bo Jackson, and the Auburn Tigers in front of a national audience.
As we all learned in an earlier episode of these off-season meanderings, a funny thing happened on the way to the throne. His Bo-liness and the Tigers ran into a rock-ribbed Tennessee defense and the Vols proved to have an All-American candidate on offense themselves in the form of a skinny quarterback with quick feet and a cannon for an arm named Tony Robinson.
The Mighty Vols waltzed to a 38-20 shellacking of Auburn. Bo took himself out of the game in the mid-3rd quarter. Tony Robinson graced the cover of that week's Sports Illustrated.
By the end of the regular season, the TV sports establishment had found a new love. The Hurricanes of the University of Miami had emerged as the latest and greatest. Somewhere in the bowels of ESPNABCNBCCBSSPORTS some geek had noticed that younger urban people were not tuning in to college football. Something was needed to correct this deficiency.
Enter the University of Miami Hurricanes.
In 1979, an itinerant college and NFL coach named Howard Schnellenberger took the Head Coaching job in Coral Gables. At that time, the Miami was an independent school with high academic standards. In football, Miami was a perpetual doormat that major programs scheduled to give their second teamers and freshmen some meaningful playing time. Think Vanderbilt with palm trees.
With his mane of salt-and-pepper hair, luxurious moustache, gravelly voice and ever-present pipe, he looked like a sleazy Southern lawyer - the guy everybody sneered at until they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and needed someone to keep them out of the pokey. Which brings to mind the old joke that a good lawyer knows the law, a better lawyer knows the judge, but a great lawyer has dirt on the judge.
Schnellenberger convinced the administration to lower the standards for incoming athletes. Soon kids who could barely string together a coherent English sentence but could run a sub 4.7 40 or bench press the stadium populated Miami's roster. The Hurricanes also began to feature a collection of thugs and cheap-shot artists as well. Within five seasons, the Hurricanes sat atop the college football world winning their first-ever national championship. Schnellenberger left to coach for the only season of the USFL and then went to Louisville where he took a program that would have struggled to make the Kentucky high school football playoffs to national prominence.
Jimmy Johnson took the reins in 1984 and built on his predecessor's foundation. To this writer, Johnson always brings to mind the notion that CharterVol's dictum that one should never trust a Southern politician whose hair does not move can be applied to coaches as well.
By the end of the 1985 regular season, Miami stood at #2 in the national polls, trailing #1 Penn State. However the Nittany Lions were scheduled to play in the Orange Bowl against Oklahoma. They were not favored.
The Hurricanes drew Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl. The national media virtually ignored the Volunteers to drool over the Hurricanes. For his part Coach Johnson did nothing to curtail the “Thug Life” image the Hurricanes projected. He recognized the intimidation factor and anything that helped put a “W” in the left hand column was all good.
As Miami players strutted around The Big Easy in paramilitary outfits, Tennessee fans flooded the town savoring UT's first trip to a major bowl in fifteen years.
Tom Wolfe once described the media as an amoeba in that once a part of it bumped into a subject the rest of the mass followed right along. So it was in New Orleans. The sports media types salivated over the 'Canes. The Miami players lapped up the attention, publicly speculating on how their impending national championship would affect their draft status. It was the classic error of believing one's own press releases.
One thing they all ignored was that in its last six games, Tennessee had out scored its opponents 163 to 21 with three shutouts and that two of those were against conference foes. Interestingly, both schools had lost to Florida which was banned from post-season play because, well, Florida.
Once again, ABC Sports' crack broadcast team of Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles were assigned to preside over the crowning of the new Kings of College Football, after they dealt with the hapless Volunteers.
To the dismay of the media elites, Vol fans didn't really give a crap what they said or wrote. The Orange faithful robbed their kids' piggy banks, raided their savings accounts and cashed in stocks to fund their way to New Orleans. They grabbed every available ticket they could find and on game day the Super Dome became Neyland Stadium by the Father of Waters. Over 50,000 Vol fans occupied the place. Since the Vols were the home team, the Pride of the Southland did its full pregame show and then formed the “T” for the team to run through. The cheers were thunderous as John Majors led his troops out of the dressing room. Keith Jackson, et al, were amazed.
Miami kicked off but Tennessee did absolutely nothing but move backwards on their first series and punted. After a decent return, the 'Canes set up on the UT 48. The Vols did a decent job on defense and Miami lined up to punt. They faked it and ran the ball down to the Tennessee 18. Miami quarterback Vinnie Testaverde then found Michael Irvin in the end zone.
Jackson wet himself.
Time: 11:01 1st Quarter
Score: Miami 7 Tennessee 0
The only troubling factor for the 'Canes was that Testaverde was sacked on that series. It was a harbinger.
The Vols punted on the next possession pinning Miami deep. Miami moved the ball out a bit and then Vinnie got introduced to the turf yet again. Miami punted and the Vols took over, dinking and dunking until Darryl Dickey found Tim McGhee around the Miami 7. At that point the 1st quarter went in the books.
On the first play of the 2nd quarter, Dickey was under duress from the Miami pass rush, he rolled out and lofted the ball to Jeff Smith who was all alone in the end zone.
Smith took a bow.
Jackson was speechless for a good thirty seconds.
Time: 14:52 2nd Quarter
Score: Miami 7 Tennessee 7
Things went back and forth. Miami was victimized by an Alonzo Highsmith fumble and a sack of Testaverde. Finally, the Vols got their ground game going aided by a penalty for a cheap shot and Jeff Powell carried the ball to the seven and then was hit and fumbled as he reached the goal line. He fumbled into the end zone where Tim McGhee fell on it.
Time: 3:28 2nd Quarter
Score: Miami 7 Tennessee14
Miami put together a bit of a drive but then a sack of Testaverde forced them to attempt a field goal as the half expired and it was short.
At half, the 'Canes, who were used to putting up gaudy passing yards, had less than 100 and very nearly that many yards (75) in penalties. Jimmy Johnson admitted most of those were due to the crowd noise. He also cited the Vol defense for confusing his offense. Vol defensive co-ordinator Ken Donahue was certainly earning his pay.
Miami took the 2nd half kickoff and picked up right where they had left off. After having some success running the ball, Testaverde faded to pass and promptly got sacked. Forced into a passing situation, on the next play he got blindsided and coughed up the ball. Tennessee recovered on the 28 and was in business. Dickey rifled two passes to McGhee and then from the five handed the ball to big Sam Henderson, the 250lb fullback carried most of the Canes' defense down to the two-foot line and then blasted in on the next play.
Yours Truly was watching the game with friends at one of their houses. By this point we were running plays in the living room. Yes, alcohol was involved.
Time: 9:10 3rd quarter
Score: Miami 7 Tennessee 21
Miami took the ensuing kickoff and did squat. One thing that hampered Miami was their return men would repeatedly catch the ball in the end zone and then run it out. In this case he made it out to about the ten. Miami was forced to punt and Andre Creamer fair caught it at the Tennessee 40.
Dickey took the snap and turned left, handing the ball to Jeff Powell. Tackle Bruce Wilkerson blocked three Miami defenders out of the way and opened a hole I could have run through. This led to one of John Ward's most memorable calls: “... 25, 20, 15, 10! 5! 4! 3! 2! 1! SIXTY! YARDS! JEFF POWELL! TOUCHDOWN BIG ORANGE! … POWELL JUST COMES ROARING DOWN THE GREENSWARD OF THE SUPER DOME!”
Time: 7:09 3rd Quarter
Score: Miami 7 Tennessee 28
The remainder of the game went pretty much the same way. Miami would get a drive going, Keith and Frank would explain that surely this was the beginning of a Hurricane comeback only for Testaverde to get sacked or throw an interception. A lot of that commentary, though, was an effort to keep their national audience from drifting over to the Orange Bowl where the national championship was actually being decided.
As the clock wound down toward the seven minute mark of the fourth canto, Testaverde tried a quick pass hoping to catch the Vols napping. Chris White was wide awake, though, and snagged his tenth interception on the year, returning it to the Miami 4.
Tennessee ran left twice, losing a couple of yards. Tennessee then lined up in an old-fashioned power “I” set and ran Charles Wilson on a sweep to the right. Big Sam Henderson leveled two defenders. Wilson found the end zone.
Time: 6:00 Fourth Quarter
Score: Miami 7 Tennessee 35
Miami did absolutely nothing on the ensuing possession and the Vols sent Jeff Francis in to bat clean-up. The crowd counted it down and and thundered their appreciation for a legendary Tennessee win.
Vol fans greeted their returning heroes at McGhee Tyson Airport, many lined Alcoa Highway to wave as the buses passed and over a thousand gathered at Bill Gibbs Hall.
It had been a long time coming.
Earlier this month, (June) the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Midway passed. It was not much observed or commented upon, and that in itself is a terrible oversight. Given the abysmal state of historical instruction in this country at all levels it is to be expected.
On the afternoon of June 5, 1942, a U.S. Navy PBY “Catalina” patrol seaplane was searching an area approximately 120 miles northwest of Midway Island. The mission was to search for any possible survivors of the previous day’s fighting. They found one, Ensign George Gay, a torpedo bomber pilot from Texas.
Few Americans now realize the long odds that faced American forces at the battle of Midway. In the six months after the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor which crippled the battleship force, the Japanese Combined Fleet had gone on a rampage throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
They had conquered Malaysia and seized the fortress port of Singapore, sinking two of Britain’s most modern capital ships in the process. They then sailed into the Indian Ocean sinking the only British carrier east of Suez. They had seized Indonesia brushing aside a combined fleet of American, Dutch, British and Australian cruisers and destroyers. They had invaded Philippines and defeated America’s most famous General, Douglas MacArthur and sent him scurrying to Australia aboard a PT boat under cover of darkness.
They then met an American force of two fleet carriers at the battle of Coral Sea, 4 May to 8 May 1942, and sank the USS Lexington (CV-2) and (so they believed) the USS Yorktown (CV-5). Significantly, though, in that last battle the Japanese had lost the light carrier Shoho and suffered damage to the fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku. Both would miss out on the coming fight. Japanese plans to invade Port Moresby on the southern coast of New Guinea were put on hold until after the successful outcome a planned operation to seize Midway Island. This would draw out the remnants of the American fleet where the might of Kido Butai, the crack Japanese carrier fleet, could sink it. All-in-all, for the Japanese, the Pacific War was shaping up nicely, if viewed it from Tokyo or the wardroom of one of His Imperial Japanese Majesty's warships.
Yorktown, though heavily damaged, was limping her way back to Pearl Harbor for repairs. At the same time, Adm. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet, was receiving intelligence from his code-breakers that the Japanese fleet was on its way to invade and seize Midway atoll, a critical base at the western end of the Hawaiian chain about 500 miles from Pearl Harbor. Given the 1200-mile range of Japanese “Zero” fighter (more with external fuel tanks) and the 3,000-mile range of the “Betty” bomber the base at Pearl Harbor could be made untenable and the US Pacific Fleet chased back to bases such as San Diego on the West Coast.
Acting on the intercepted messages Adm. Nimitz decided to try to ambush the Japanese carriers, The most likely route of advance for those would be to come in from the north west. He would position his two carriers USS Enterprise and USS Hornet under Adm. Raymond Spruance north of Midway.
It was a massive gamble.
Kido Butai under Adm. Nagumo mustered four fleet carriers: Kaga, Akagi, Hiryu and Soryu with over 200 aircraft all either equal to or superior to anything in the US arsenal. Backing him up was the Japanese Main Body under Adm. Yamamoto featuring five battleships including the massive Yamato. The US fleet had exactly no battleships whatsoever.
Nimitz was wagering the Pacific Fleet.
On 30 May, Yorktown sailed into Pearl Harbor and was immediately placed in dry dock. The Chief of the Yard (head of maintenance and repair) inspected her. Nimitz showed up and asked his opinion, The Chief told him it would take at least three months to get her ready for combat. Nimitz gazed at him and replied, “You have 72 hours.”
In a minor miracle, 72 hours later, cut and sutured, Yorktown pulled out of dry dock and headed out to sea fully capable of combat operations. She would be the centerpiece of Task Force 17 under Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher.
The fighting opened on 4 June with a Japanese airstrike on Midway. Despite doing some damage, the airfield there was still open. In fact, strikes were already in the air. Four B-26 medium bombers carrying torpedoes found the Japanese fleet. Two returned with no hits. Five brand new TBF torpedo bombers attacked, no hits, one returned, Dive bombers attacked with many losses and no hits. Finally B-17s tried their luck, but no dice.
Both fleets had search aircraft up and found each other, but the contact reports were spotty. Nagumo was caught between preparing to launch another strike on Midway or chase the contact report. As he dithered, torpedo planes from the three American carriers found him and promptly swept in. Of the total of 41 planes only six made it back. VT-8 of Hornet was annihilated. Only Ens. Gay survived.
The torpedo planes though had distracted the Japanese fighters. Overhead, SBD Dauntlesses from Enterprise and Yorktown tipped over, diving relentlessly toward the three Japanese carriers visible (Hiryu was hidden by clouds) at 10:22. In six minutes the course of the Pacific war changed forever. Kaga took at least four bomb hits, Soryu took three and Akagi took one bomb which exploded amidst fuel lines and bombs on the hanger deck and turned into an inferno.
Hiryu launched a counter strike which found and heavily damaged Yorktown. The Japanese strike passed an outbound American strike which found Hiryu and turned her into a floating wreck. All four Japanese carriers sank.
Yorktown survived until the morning of 7 June.
Navy legend holds that communications were established with crewmen trapped in the aft steering engine room before the final order to abandon ship. They were cut off. Supposedly one of them said, “Boys, we’ve got one helluva Acey-Duecy game going on down here!!” Later though, he said, “Look, when you torpedo her, aim one here, we want it to be quick.”
Shortly after, the great carrier gave a groan and, rolling over, disappeared under the waves.
The Acey-Deucy game was over.
When George Gay reached Pearl Harbor he was taken to the hospital. One of the doctors asked him how he had treated his wounds after being shot down. Gay smiled sardonically and told the doc, “Well, Sir, I soaked them in salt water for several hours.”
So, how did the Vols do against The Maxims?
1. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.
Miami made the classic error of forgetting that in any contest, the other side gets a vote. Tennessee had answers to anything the 'Canes could cook up and the offense was hitting on all cylinders. That Miami had well over 100 yards in penalties was also a decisive factor.
2. Play for and make the breaks. When one comes your way … SCORE!
The Vols never lost their composure. Miami did.
3. If at first the game – or the breaks – go against you, don't let up … PUT ON MORE STEAM!
Everybody in the ABC broadcast booth and on the Miami sideline expected the Vols to fold after Miami's first quarter score. That the Vols did not would be a source of consternation to all of them the entire night,.
4. Protect our kickers, our quarterback, our lead and our ballgame.
Ken Donahue's “Orange Crush” defense pitched shutout ball.
5. Ball! Oskie! Cover, block, cut and slice, pursue and gang tackle … THIS IS THE WINNING EDGE.
Vinnie Testaverde was completely fooled by Tennessee's defense and spent most of the game either observing the turf of the Super Dome at close range or watching yet another Vol grab one of his passes.
6. Press the kicking game. Here is where the breaks are made.
This was more a case of Miami miscues. Their repeated efforts to return kicks out of the end zone were snuffed out by the Vols' superb coverage units.
7. Carry the fight to Miami and keep it there for sixty minutes,
During the game, ABC's sideline reporter interviewed Tony Robinson. Still on crutches, T-Rob talked of his recovery and looking forward to playing at the next level.
In retrospect, it was bittersweet.
A week after the game, Vol faithful were stunned and saddened as they ate their breakfasts and learned that Robinson and his room mate B.B. Cooper had been arrested for dealing cocaine out of their apartment. Sentenced to 9 months in prison, Robinson would, however, get his day as an NFL quarterback. In the midst of the 1987 NFL players strike, T-Rob led the Washington Redskins to an upset of the Dallas Cowboys, securing Washington a playoff berth. The players settled and Robinson was cut the next day.
Keanu Reeves played him in the movie.
R.G. Smith's painting of the Dauntlesses attacking the Japanese carriers. A print of this hangs on my wall.