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After rare loss, opponents will be feeling the ire of the Hurricanes

August 24, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Miami loses one football game since September 2000 and it darn near requires a crisis intervention?

We've heard of defeat leaving a bitter taste, but not to the extreme Maurice Sikes is taking it, the Miami safety refusing to eat tortilla chips in the wake of January's double-overtime loss to Ohio State in the "Tostitos" Fiesta Bowl.

Some have called that bowl championship series national title game the most exciting in college football history.

Not here, though, not ever.

Here, the chip is on Miami's shoulder.

You would be mistaken to think that junior tight end Kellen Winslow has recovered from referee Terry Porter's controversial pass-interference call in the first overtime.

Had that flag not been tossed, seconds late, on fourth and goal in the end zone, against freshman cornerback Glenn Sharpe, Miami would have won its 35th consecutive game, 24-17, and a second consecutive national title.

Winslow acts as if the play occurred eight minutes ago, not eight months.

"That was a dumb call," he said, sweat dripping from his chin after an afternoon practice in which he thrilled fans with acrobatic moves and catches. "That was not pass interference. They were letting us play the whole game. You don't call that play. You don't make that call 10 seconds later, anyway."

You could get an infant to eat strained peas faster than a Miami Hurricane to devour the Fiesta Bowl game tape.

It took defensive lineman Vince Wilfork three months before the hurt had subsided enough for him to view a replay.

What Wilfork saw on review was more than one controversial play. He saw a Miami team he did not know. He saw five turnovers that kept Ohio State in the game and a defense that allowed the plucky Buckeyes to complete a fourth-and-14 pass for a first down in the first overtime.

A stop there and there is no controversial finish.

"It should not have ever come down to one call at the end to decide that game," Wilfork said. "And I think everyone knows that."

What was lost that night in Arizona? Only a potential and prominent place in college football history.

A victory would have given Miami a chance this year to break Oklahoma's major-college record of 47 consecutive victories.

Miami was also denied a chance to become the first team to win three consecutive Associated Press national titles.

And you say, "Get over it?"

Winslow refuses to wear the ring he received for winning the Big East championship.

"I want to throw it away," he said. "If you're playing for second place, you shouldn't be playing. The season didn't mean squat."

And that's one reason this off-season was all about squats.

Since the Fiesta Bowl defeat, Miami has blown the doors off the weight room and, to a degree, college football.

Off the field, Miami's controversial decision to high-tail it from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast in 2004 will have repercussions for years to come. The Big East bolt will lead to realignment and perhaps drastic reform as conferences scramble to regroup in the new order Miami has formed. It already has produced a lawsuit.

Syracuse and Boston College so shuddered to think about football life in a Miami-less Big East, they tried to play tag-along, only to be jilted in the end when the ACC took Miami and Virginia Tech.

It used to be that only Notre Dame held this sort of grip on the game, but no more.

With prowess comes power, and Miami now wields it. Of course, you have to walk the walk.

Miami is 53-9 since finishing 5-6 in 1997. If you believe, as many do, that Miami, not Florida State, should have played Oklahoma for the 2000 national title in the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes would be angling this year for a fourth consecutive BCS title-game appearance.

We frankly wouldn't care if Ohio State had all 11 starters back on offense and the ghost of Woody Hayes, Miami is our preseason No. 1 -- on the field, off the field and even under it.

Miami has momentum few football fiefdoms have known. The Hurricanes have it going the way Henry Ford had it going when he was rolling Model Ts off the assembly line.

"I think this is where you want to be," Miami Coach Larry Coker said recently of his program, seated in his office chair in front of the 2001 national title trophy.

Coker took the Fiesta Bowl defeat hard, especially because he had never known the feeling, having won his first 24 games as Miami's coach.

"Losing needs to be painful," he said, "and that certainly was a painful loss for us."

The Hurricanes have made winning seem like an inalienable right and defeat an affront.

Call it Miami-fest Destiny.

Of losing, Winslow said, "It's not acceptable here because we have winners here. Some people are losers. That's just how God made people. Some people have more drive than others. It's just competitiveness. We have people here that do not want to lose on any play, on anything. We want to win. That's what everything is about here. Even if it's video games or who gets to the [water] jug first."

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