NEW ORLEANS — Penn State didn't want it. Iowa didn't want it. Miami didn't want it.
Volunteers for No. 1?
No, thank y'all just the same, Johnny Majors drawled after the team he coaches did a number on Miami, 35-7, in a Tennessee waltz Wednesday night at the Sugar Bowl.
"I'm not campaignin' for No. 1," Majors said.
But, like his team, it only took him a few minutes to get rolling.
"One thing I'd like to say is that I'm so dadgum proud of this football team, I could talk about 'em for hours and hours," Majors said, his voice getting louder by the second. "I have never seen a team play so well in a big game, anywhere at anytime, and I don't think there's a better team in the country at this time!"
And on he went.
About that Tennessee defense, which sacked Miami quarterback Vinny Testaverde eight times and forced him to fumble three times and throw three interceptions: "That was the most fantastic feat I've ever seen in football in any phase of coaching!" Majors shouted.
About quarterback Daryl Dickey, who outplayed Testaverde and was voted the game's most valuable player: "What else can you say about this young man! He's one of the most fantastic stories in college football of all time! A great team player! An unselfish performer! This team just loves to play for him!"
And about those Volunteers of his in general, who were supposed to roll over and play dead for a Miami bunch that still had a shot at the national championship: "I'll say it again!" Majors ya-hooed. "I think today this football team is as fine a team as the nation has!"
So, should Tennessee be ranked No. 1?
"Naw, like I was tellin' y'all, I'm not campaignin' for No. 1," Majors said.
So, where should they be ranked?
"Darn high," Majors said.
Would No. 2 satisfy you?
"I'd rather be first," he said.
OK, call them No. 1 1/2. The Volunteers (9-1-2) looked like world-beaters against the slap-happy Hurricanes (10-2), who now know how Notre Dame feels.
It was only a few weeks ago that Miami closed out its regular season by stomping on the Fighting Irish, 58-7. The much-criticized greed of Coach Jimmy Johnson's team agitated more than one person, including the friends of Tennessee's 250-pound junior fullback, Sam Henderson of South Bend, Ind., who scored one of Wednesday's touchdowns.
"Oh, I got talked to about that a lot before I left home (before Christmas)," Henderson said. "A lot of folks were unhappy with the way Miami, you know, just went out and drilled Notre Dame. I'm sure this makes them feel a little better."
Miami haters must have gulped when the Hurricanes scored first, on Testaverde's perfect 18-yard pass to freshman Mike Irvin. It was a touchdown set up by a fake punt, with single back Melvin Bratton taking a short snap and chugging 25 yards to the Tennessee 18.
But Tennessee seemed to have everything going for it after that, including high-volume fans who must have formed seven-eighths of the crowd of 77,432 at the Louisiana Superdome. That touchdown pass was Testaverde's only super throw of the night, and that fake punt was Miami's best weapon, to the point that it was hauled out again in the fourth quarter.
By then, the game and the No. 1 ranking were both long gone, and so was Testaverde, who was relieved by junior Geoff Torretta of Pinole, Calif., for the final few minutes.
Although his statistics are deceiving--20 of 36 passing--Testaverde did almost nothing right. He was supposed to be able to scramble better than his Miami predecessor, Bernie Kosar, could, but instead he was sacked eight times in the first three periods alone, offering little resistance.
It didn't help Miami any that the team was slapped with 120 yards in penalties, tying a 34-year Sugar Bowl record. As alibis go, though, it is inadequate. Tennessee had 125 yards in penalties, breaking the record.
Testaverde said: "The crowd noise was a factor, the penalties hurt and our lack of execution kept us from sustaining anything on offense." All true. But the blitzing Volunteer defense was the biggest factor of all, making hash of Testaverde's pregame comment that if Tennessee tries to blitz, "they'd better be prepared to get burned."
It was that sort of attitude that the Tennessee players sensed. "We were all over them all night long, and Testaverde and the rest of them didn't have a clue what to do," senior wide receiver Eric Swanson from San Bernardino said. "I honestly think they didn't think we would even give them a game."
As soon as the Vols recovered from the fake punt and Testaverde's touchdown pass to Irvin, they ran away with the game. Literally ran away with it, because after Dickey's six-yard pass to tight end Willie Smith tied the score, Tennessee tacked on four straight rushing touchdowns, by four different players.