Nearly 10 years to the day have passed since the man who began his college career as a Florida Gator and ended it as a Miami Hurricane, sprinted in glory on the Orange Bowl turf doing the Gator chomp.
Quarterback Brock Berlin, who orchestrated the spectacular 38-33 comeback victory against UF in 2003, recalls that moment as surely as he recalls former Gators guard Shannon Snell — a good friend, mind you — telling reporters before the game that he hoped UF’s defense would make Berlin’s “mouth bleed.”
“I’ve never felt a stadium become so electric since that game,” said Berlin, a former St. Louis Ram and short-lived Miami Dolphin whose Canes were down 33-10 with 3:35 left in the third quarter before he rallied them to the win.
“The place was shaking. The people were going crazy. It was an amazing feeling.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Though the Orange Bowl is no more, Berlin, 32, will return to the Miami sideline at noon Saturday to watch his Hurricanes (1-0) take on the No. 10 Gators (1-0) in front of a capacity crowd at Sun Life Stadium. He said he was asked last month to serve as UM’s honorary captain for the game, which will mark the first time UF returns to Miami since the historic comeback.
Coral Gables police officer Maurice Sikes, who played as a safety in the 2003 game and had his finest moment against UF at The Swamp with two interceptions in 2002, will be there as well — as will fullback Kyle Cobia and likely other members of that squad.
Former receivers Sinorice Moss and Kevin Beard will watch on TV.
Beard, now a substitute teacher in Broward County and receivers/special teams coach for University School, made the comeback possible with his seven-catch, one-touchdown, 164-yard career-best performance.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than that,” said Beard, 32, the father of two young boys and a 2-year-old girl. “All I could think about was Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss, Andre Johnson, Andre King, Daryl Jones, Ethenic Sands — all the receivers I was blessed to play with at UM, before they left me to carry the torch as a fifth-year senior. I couldn’t let them down.
“The game is never over as long as there’s time on the clock. All that’s left is an opportunity to do the unthinkable — and we did that.”
With third-ranked UM trailing 21st-ranked UF 33-10 and most of the Orange Bowl capacity crowd chanting “Let’s Go Canes!” the Hurricanes would not die. UM scored three times within seven-and-a-half minutes from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth. With 3:35 left in the third, Berlin hit Beard for their first touchdown connection of the season — a 26-yard seam route — followed by a two-point conversion pass to Ryan Moore that made it 33-18.
Berlin then hit Beard for a 62-yard gain with 35 seconds left in the quarter to put UM on the 1-yard line. Frank Gore scored two seconds later to cut the UM deficit to 33-25.
The Canes came one point short of the lead when Moore caught a 6-yard touchdown pass with 11:08 remaining in the game. The Orange Bowl rocked as the home team trailed 33-32.
Moss, then a sophomore trying to follow in the footsteps of his record-setting older brother Santana, said he, like Beard, knew even before that moment that the Canes would prevail.
“I can close my eyes and see every single thing from that game,” said Moss, 29, who was close with Berlin during their time together in Coral Gables. “It was electrifying that night in the Orange Bowl — Brock’s moment to showcase to us and the rest of the world who he was as a quarterback and who we were as a team.
“We saw it in Brock’s eyes. In the huddle he said we were going to do anything it took to get the victory. He was calm, but he was fired up, too.”
UM took over on its 11 after a UF punt, and Beard came through again with a 25-yard leaping catch to put the Canes on the 36.
A 5-yard penalty brought the Canes back to their 31, but on first-and-15, Berlin hit Moss for his first catch of the season on a 26-yard curl.
Moss, now a film and TV actor in Los Angeles, played with the New York Giants from 2006 through 2009 and ended his football career in 2012 with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. But he still regards that 26-yard catch as a career highlight.
“That was a huge moment for me,” he said. “I was heading toward the west end zone and told myself, ‘Catch it before you take off.’ ”
UM had another first down from the UF 43, and subsequently benefited from a 6-yard Berlin bootleg on fourth-and-1. Berlin lay sprawled on the ground with a leg cramp and called timeout with 2:38 remaining.
“I was dehydrated,” he said, “but there wasn’t anything that was going to take me out of that game. I remember stepping into the huddle and thinking there was no doubt in any of those 10 guys’ eyes. We believed in each other.”
Berlin passed to fullback Cobia for 11 yards. Then, on third-and-5, Gore charged 12 yards, dragging Bobby McCray into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
Not to be outdone, UM’s defense also began to thrive once the Canes began their comeback.
Sikes, 32 and the father of two girls and a boy, still comes to practices when he can fit them in between his overnight shifts as a cop.
He said he recalls “being on the sideline” during that comeback “and the score was 33-10 and [defensive backs coach] Mark Stoops said, ‘We’re going to play out the game and not let them score anymore so it doesn’t look bad.’
“And I remember [safety] Sean Taylor and I were sitting there and told him, ‘Coach, man, we’ve got time. We’re going to win this game!’
“We never felt like that Gators team had a killer instinct.”
After the game, Berlin did his infamous Gator chomp.
“For me it was pure fun,” he said. “The Gators fans razzed me, so I looked at it as a way to razz them back. There was no hatred. I still have great friends from Florida, and I have nothing against UF.”
But be assured that Berlin is pure Cane. Though he came to UF as the 1999 Gatorade National Player of the Year, he sat on the bench behind Rex Grossman and transferred to UM after realizing his future in Gainesville was limited.
Now married and the father of 4-year-old and 3-month-old girls and a 2-year-old son, Berlin lives in his hometown of Shreveport, La., and sells medical devices for a company owned by Johnson & Johnson.
Though he was undrafted in 2005, he signed a free agent contract with the Dolphins and served as a backup during training camp. He also threw 12 passes in the 2006 preseason but was eventually cut.
Berlin made his only NFL regular-season start for the Rams in December 2007, completing 17 of 28 passes for 153 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals, with an interception.
He still considers Canes fans the best in college football and never looked back once he transferred. He threw for 5,099 yards and 34 touchdowns in two seasons at UM, beating Florida twice and Florida State three times.
“You know what’s great about Canes fans?” he said. “Their expectations are high. They want to see you playing your best. My time with them was awesome.
“I am a Cane and that’s all I am.”
Berlin, Moss and Beard all believe the Canes will defeat the Gators on Saturday, but don’t expect Berlin to be doing the Gator chomp if they do.
“No, I don’t think I’m going to be doing that,” he said, laughing. “I’m just honored to be coming back to be part of the game with our fans. I watched the team Friday night and they looked good.
“We have a chance to be really special this year.”