They were way below the radar coming into the 1983 season.
And after their 28-3 opening-game loss to the Florida Gators, the Miami Hurricanes were not even an afterthought. But the ‘83 UM squad went on to win their next 10 regular-season games and subsequently defeat Nebraska 31-30 in the Orange Bowl for the Canes’ first of five national titles.
At halftime of UM’s 31-17 win over the FIU Panthers on Saturday, about 65 former players, coaches and staff from that team, including head coach Howard Schnellenberger, were recognized on the field after spending the weekend celebrating the 35th anniversary of their title. Schnellenberger, 84, and former ‘83 quarterback Bernie Kosar and fullback Alonzo Highsmith addressed the group at a dinner that kicked off the weekend.
“It was emotional because coach spoke,’’ Miami attorney Dave Heffernan, 55, the starting right offensive tackle for the ‘83 Canes, told the Miami Herald on Saturday. “Coach is 84 and he acknowledged what we all kind of know but didn’t want to hear: ‘This might be the last one.’ It hit a nerve with everybody. We’re getting older.
“There is a lot of love for not only what Howard did for the program, but for what he did for all of us. One of the things people often overlook, and Howard said this, is we were the first national championship team without a single All-American. Everybody pulled for everybody. It was Howard having the vision and everyone believing it it, even after we got crushed by Florida in the opening game.’’
The current Miami Hurricanes have a bit in common. They, too, got crushed by a Southeastern Conference power in the 2018 opener against now-No. 6 LSU, and haven’t lost since.
UM, about to begin its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, would have to mow down all eight regular-season ACC opponents and win a likely rematch with Clemson in the conference title game to get in the College Football Playoffs.
Kenny Calhoun, who knocked down Nebraska’s two-point conversion attempt with 48 seconds remaining for one of the most important play in Hurricanes history, also was at the reunion.
Matt Patchan, father of current UM defensive end Scott Patchan, was a scout-team left tackle in 1983, and then became a starter for the 1987 championship Hurricanes.
“But I was so fortunate to be part of that team that perhaps changed the modern era of college football,’’ the elder Patchan said. “We had a redshirt freshman starting quarterback that no one knew, and we just got better and better every week. Then we beat a team touted as one of the greatest offensive teams ever. What a phenomenal leader Coach Schnellenberger was. He got everyone to believe.’’
▪ Heading into the FIU game, Hurricanes true freshmen had accounted for six touchdowns in 2018, including two apiece from tailback Lorenzo Lingard and tight end Brevin Jordan. Tight end Will Mallory and wide receiver Brian Hightower had each scored one touchdown. Jordan and Mallory had earned starts, and cornerback Al Blades Jr. was named a special teams captain last week at Toledo.
They added one more on Saturday, with Jordan catching a 12-yard touchdown pass from N’Kosi Perry with 12 seconds left in the first half.
Other true freshmen who had played for UM this season coming into Saturday: Bubba Baxa, John Campbell Jr., Marquez Ezzard, Gilbert Frierson, Realus George, Gurvan Hall Jr., Brian Hightower, DJ Ivey, Patrick Joyner Jr., Jordan Miller, Mark Pope, Cleveland Reed, Greg Rousseau, DJ Scaife, Nesta Silvera, Dee Wiggins and Jarren Williams.
▪ Venzell Boulware, a transfer offensive lineman from Tennessee, made his first start as a Hurricane on Saturday at left guard over Jahair Jones. Also making their first starts: freshman wide receiver Brian Hightower and sophomore safety Amari Carter. Hightower earned the start in place of the injured Ahmmon Richards, while Carter took the place of injured All-American Jaquan Johnson.
▪ The UM captains for Saturday’s game were Carter, running back DeeJay Dallas, Willis and linebacker Michael Pinckney.