University of Miami

Miami Hurricanes, South Carolina Gamecocks, Steve Spurrier linked by brawls

A screen shot from the ESPN broadcast shows the bench-clearing brawl that ensued after the Canes’ Dan Stubbs threw quarterback Todd Ellis to the ground during the 1987 UM-South Carolina game. Afterwards, Gamecocks athletic director Bob Marcum said South Carolina would not play Miami anymore.
A screen shot from the ESPN broadcast shows the bench-clearing brawl that ensued after the Canes’ Dan Stubbs threw quarterback Todd Ellis to the ground during the 1987 UM-South Carolina game. Afterwards, Gamecocks athletic director Bob Marcum said South Carolina would not play Miami anymore. FILE

Miami Hurricanes great Dan Stubbs still holds the school’s all-time sack record with 39½ in the mid-1980s. But his not-so-gentle takedown of Todd Ellis on Dec. 5, 1987, caused South Carolina to sever football ties with UM for the next 27 years — until they meet again Saturday in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, another legend, has his own unsavory memories of the only time he coached against Miami, as the Florida Gators coach in the 2001 Sugar Bowl.

Both contests became as famous for their related brawls as for the games themselves, which Miami won — and the brawls, too, if you ask the Hurricanes.

“Everybody knows what the memories are for me,’’ said a fired-up Stubbs, 49, who now lives in Boca Raton and was taken aback when he learned the schools, each smarting from a 6-6 regular season, will face each other in the bowl game in Shreveport, Louisiana.

“What’s it been — 20 years, 30 years?

“I’d still rather see us play South Carolina than the University of Florida.”

The intersection where Spurrier-the-coach, Miami and South Carolina collide is causing that old-time Miami swag to resurface among former Hurricanes.

“At the end of the day, that’s who we were, a bunch of dudes that refused to lose — tough, gritty and family,’’ said Kevin Beard, who was a redshirt freshman receiver for UM’s 2001 Sugar Bowl team and now serves as Miami’s assistant director of football operations. “I wasn’t on Bourbon Street that night, but I obviously knew about it.”

Former center Brett Romberg, who played in the 2001 Sugar Bowl, was on Bourbon Street immediately after the initial fight. “We basically whupped their [behinds] on the street before we whupped them on the field,’’ Romberg told the Miami Herald last week.

SOUTH CAROLINA BRAWL

Second-ranked Miami met No.8 South Carolina in the regular-season finale of 1987 at the 63,317-strong Orange Bowl, where the Canes emerged 20-16 victors and went on to win their second national title.

The fourth-quarter brawl was precipitated by Stubbs’ sack after a whistle was evidently blown, though Stubbs told the Herald last week that “the referee never called the play dead.

“Everybody was yelling and screaming, and I couldn’t hear anything,” he said.

After Stubbs threw down Ellis, both teams rushed the field, and Stubbs, who said he “got run over by two South Carolina linemen,’’ watched the melee as an official warned him, “You touch anybody else and I’ll throw you out of the game!’’

UM receiver Brian Blades was seen on game film elbowing Ellis in the head — “the single action that most upset South Carolina officials,’’ according to the 1987 Miami Herald story, and led Gamecocks athletic director Bob Marcum to say, “If that’s the type of football Miami wants to play, fine. But it is our privilege who we play, and we will not play Miami anymore.’’

Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson called Marcum’s decision “sour grapes.”

“It was a rough game on both sides,’’ Johnson said in 1987. “I know Stubbs got speared pretty good one time.’’

Bennie Blades, now 48 and a behavior specialist at a Fort Lauderdale charter school, won the Thorpe Award that season as the nation’s best defensive back. He recalled how gifted Gamecocks receiver Sterling Sharpe made UM’s secondary better. But he called South Carolina’s decision to sever ties with UM a poor excuse for “being discouraged.”

“Back in those days if a team didn’t want to play us anymore, they’d say we ran up the score or we taunted too much. They’d find any silly, little reason.’’

Added former UM defensive line coach Greg Mark, who started at tackle in that game and picked off Ellis: “A lot of teams didn’t want to play us anymore after a couple of butt whuppings. In those days the rules were more lax, and the fights were more prevalent.

“We worked hard, played hard, fought hard and won.’’

Mark, the owner of two Montessori schools in Miami Beach, said he’s excited for the bowl matchup. “You need a challenge in a bowl game, and going against Coach Spurrier and a Southeastern Conference team bodes well for the Hurricanes to really have a purpose to win.”

BOURBON ST. BRAWL

The night of Dec.27, 2000, exactly 14 years before the Canes would be scheduled to meet South Carolina in Shreveport, then-Gators-coach Spurrier and Canes coach Butch Davis learned of the fight that ensued when players met outside a strip club and trash talk turned into punches on New Orleans’ most famous street.

“It wasn’t a fight, it was a riot,’’ the manager of Gateway Mardi Gras Pizzi — at Bourbon and Conti streets — told the Miami Herald the next day.

“People could have gotten killed.”

Both coaches defended their players, Davis calling the situation “overblown’’ and Spurrier saying defensive tackle Gerard Warren “jumped in’’ when a Gator got “clobbered by about six or seven of them.”

Brock Berlin, 33, was the Gators’ redshirt freshman backup quarterback that season. Berlin, who grew up in Shreveport and still lives there, transferred to Miami after his sophomore year and will be at the Independence Bowl rooting for the Hurricanes.

After the Bourbon Street brawl, Spurrier, a coach Berlin said he still admires, wasn’t any stricter than usual.

“He just told us to be careful and not to do anything stupid,’’ Berlin said. “After that night, there were a lot more police in the French Quarter.’’

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