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  Thursday, October 9, 2003

 Ohio State Football

Hurricanes rebounded from big loss to FSU in 1997

Gannett News Service

As reporters filed out of Tallahassee's Doak Campbell Stadium on Oct. 4, 1997, they felt the King was dead.

The University of Miami had been crushed by Florida State 47-0 that day.

"It wasn't that close," said Miami coach Larry Coker, then the offensive coordinator.

Those four national championships from 1983-1991 seemed a world away.

Many of the media and fans thought the rivalry was about to get one-sided and Miami never would return to glory.

"They're one of those programs that's fragile," ESPN's Beano Cook said. "They hadn't been a power that long."

Meanwhile, Hurricanes' attendance at home games dropped as low as 19,000 in 1997.

But three years and three days after the trouncing in Tallahassee, Miami upset No. 1 Florida State, 27-24. The victory signaled the Hurricanes' return to greatness. In the following three years, they've either finished No. 1 or 2 in the country.

"It's a best-seller," Miami color analyst Don Bailey, Jr. said. "I hoped we could return. But I never thought this place would die."

The '97 loss to Florida State was Miami's worst since Dec. 8, 1944 when Texas A&M routed the Hurricanes 70-14. The defeat also was the fourth straight for Miami, the first time that happened in 20 years when talk circulated of eliminating or downsizing football.

In 1994, Sports Illustrated had a cover story saying Miami should shut its program down. The magazine's reasons were much different than in the late '70s.

The Hurricanes' Oakland Raiders-like reputation of big plays, late-game heroics and penalty-plagued performances on the field and double-digit arrests and boorish behavior off the field turned the bad boys from being a national curiosity to a national embarrassment.

And when it was discovered school officials gave excessive financial aid and Pell Grant funds to athletes in and out of the football program, the Hurricanes were simply seen as cheaters.

Instead of giving Miami the death penalty, the NCAA handed out sanctions.

Miami self-imposed a loss of seven scholarships in 1995 and the NCAA tacked on 24 more during the next two seasons.

Instead of getting the electric chair, the Hurricanes were sentenced to something similar to the Bataan Death March.

When Miami traveled to Tallahassee in 1997, it dressed 56 players. Florida State had almost double that amount. "And we didn't leave anybody home," Miami assistant head coach Art Kehoe said.

Playing freshmen and walk-ons, the Hurricanes took their whipping.

"You can't expect a whole lot," said Miami running backs and special teams coach Don Soldinger.

Bailey was a sideline reporter that year and remembered FSU linebacker Sam Cowart hitting Miami tailback Edgerrin James on the sideline.

"Edgerrin got up and the look on face said, 'Oh my God, this is what real college football is all about,' " Bailey said.

On the flight home, Bailey never remembered everyone being so low.

"We didn't deserve any respect that day," Coker said.

Kehoe added, "We were outclassed, outmatched and there was a reason for it. I'll never forget that butt whipping, but that's life in the fast lane."

Humiliating losses like that can lead to a lot of reflection.

"We had a lot of work to do," Coker said. "From recruiting to coaching to the strength room, all phases of the game."

Rebuilding wouldn't be easy. For a time, then-coach Butch Davis couldn't even get into homes of top players. Meanwhile, top Miami-area recruits were leaving. FSU cornerback Stanford Samuels grew up a huge Miami fan, but he chose not to stay.

"I'm here because of (1997)," he said. "That's where I wanted to go. I rooted for the Canes. But they went 5-6 and I said to myself, I can't go there. I can't play for that."

In the big picture, Miami coaches knew they'd get the scholarships back. And they still had their greatest resource of all - some of the nation's best players being a short drive away. Not all would leave.

"If Miami were in Montana, that would be different," Cook said. "But they were in Florida. They have enough players to go around."

FSU coach Bobby Bowden also thought Miami would rebound.

"I've been in this game so long, and nothing stays the same," he said.

Sometimes you dip down (low), then you climb back up, you dip down and climb back.

"I never doubted them coming back, once they got probation behind them. I've never never seen any team that got hit with probation and it not affect them.

"They were down and we were up. Now, we got down and they got up. That's the way she goes. We hope we're back but we've got to prove it."

As history has shown with Southern Methodist and Alabama, schools either have minimal success or just fade away after the NCAA takes away scholarships.

Not Miami. But Soldinger isn't surprised.

"They just don't come back," Soldinger said. "This place is real special. What's amazing is look what we've done. Go back and look. People were counting us out. How can you count us out? I don't understand it."

(Contributing: Bill Vilona of the Pensacola (Fla.) News-Journal.)

Originally published Thursday, October 9, 2003

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