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Scott Ostler

Testaverde Fails to Pass the Test for No. 1 in the Fiesta Bowl

January 03, 1987|SCOTT OSTLER

TEMPE, Ariz. — According to legend, Vinny Testaverde's dad put a football into his son's crib when Vinny was five days old.

Those four wasted days of training may have cost Miami a national championship.

His sharpness off just a shade at critical points in the game Friday night, Testaverde passed the Miami Hurricanes out of the game and himself out of the status of living legend.

Heisman Vinny threw five interceptions, four in the second half, as Penn State upset Miami in the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl, 14-10.

Misfire No. 5 came on fourth-and-goal with nine seconds on the clock.

When the play was blown dead, as dead as the Hurricanes, Testaverde hunkered down in a catcher's squat on the Sun Bowl grass for a few seconds, then trotted off the field, picking up an escort of four uniformed police officers.

At the final gun, the four cops jogged off the field with Testaverde, who was the first player to exit the field. This time, no one intercepted him.

Along with his five interceptions, Testaverde also completed 26 of 50 passes for 285 yards. Those statistics would be a good season for Penn State quarterback John Shaffer.

But the pesky Penn State linebackers who mysteriously failed to appear on Vinny's radar screen five times sort of spoiled the evening for Testaverde and the Hurricanes.

How to explain college football's golden boy, the quarterback pro prospect of the decade, going down in flames on the big night of his career?

Was Testaverde confused by the Penn State defenses? Someone asked that of Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson.

"We had a few problems as far as that," Johnson said. "You'll have to ask Vinny."

Vinny didn't shed a lot of light.

"I didn't get a chance to watch no film," he said when asked to analyze the reason for the interceptions.

On most plays, it looked like he had plenty of time to look for receivers.

"The reason it looked like that," Testaverde said, "was they (Penn State) dropped eight or nine guys back, so no one was open."

The interceptions?

"I pretty much shake off interceptions," he said. "They didn't bother me. But it's hard to throw an interception on the last (offensive) play of the game. If I had to do one play over, it would be that one."

Excellent choice.

On that play, Testaverde was firing for split end Brett Perriman, who was running a curl pattern in the end zone. The pass was picked off by linebacker Pete Giftopoulos.

"He (Giftopoulos) ran right to the curl, like he knew where I was gonna throw it, exactly," Testaverde said.

If the Penn State defense did confuse Testaverde, it was no surprise to Penn State, whose players admitted their new anti-Vinny defenses even confused themselves. They were waiting for Testaverde to call audibles, then Penn State players were audiblizing their own defensive alignments.

But more than sophistication and surprise, Penn State had violence on its side.

"I don't mean to downplay them (the Hurricanes)," Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan said, "but they talked a lot about how short our defensive backs are, how slow they are. But we can hit. They didn't want to catch the ball. They just did not want to catch the ball, and that was the key to the game."

Indeed, Vinny and his jets did appear to be hearing Penn State footsteps. In the first half, for instance, Miami had six offensive drives. One ended in a touchdown. The other five ended as a result of, in order: a dropped pass, a fumble after a pass reception, an interception, a dropped pass and a Testaverde fumble.

"I think we dropped more passes this game than any before," Testaverde said.

All in all, not a pretty picture for Team Rambo, the swaggering band of Hurricanes who spent the week before the game making fun of Penn State's cleancut, straight-shooting, class-attending, blazer-clad monsters of the malt shop.

Miami's outlaw act was fairly convincing, seeing as how it was backed up by police blotters and incident reports back in Miami. The citizens of the sleepy community of Phoenix took to locking their doors at night and looking both ways before crossing the street.

Miami came to town undefeated, untied and unloved. Except for Vinny, who is pretty much liked and respected by millions. We thrilled to his passing exploits and solid citizenship and devotion to his dad.

And he hadn't had a bad game since, well, since the Sugar Bowl last year, when he threw three interceptions in a Miami loss.

Frustration on blowing the big one again?

"It's (frustration) something I can deal with pretty good," Testaverde said.

But he did admit, "It's a tough one to swallow, for all of us. Penn State has a great football team, and I guess they deserve to win."

Good guess.

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