|56th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1990
Whew! That was close.
Miami entered the 1990 Sugar Bowl as a nine-point favorite, the biggest spread of that New Year's Day, but in the final minutes of the game, Alabama was suddenly within reach of tie - just as damaging as a loss for a team angling for the national championship.
With 2:53 to go, Alabama's Gary Hollingsworth found Prince Wimbly for a nine-yard touchdown, then connected with Lamonde Russell for the two-point conversion and all of a sudden ‘Bama could foil the dreams of the Hurricanes.
With no timeouts remaining, the Crimson Tide had to go for an on-sides kick - and the Hurricanes saved their title hopes when fullback Alex Johnson pounced on the bounding ball to retain possession. Then it was just a matter of running out the clock.
In the end everything fell precisely into place for Miami's third No. 1 trophy in eight years, but it wasn't easy. Not only did the Hurricanes, ranked No. 2 in the country entering the game, need to hold off a determined Tide, but results around the country had to fall Miami's way. After Notre Dame, which had already been defeated by the ‘Canes, defeated No. 1 Colorado 21-6, and Southern Cal beat No. 3 Michigan 17-10 starting early celebrations by the cadre of Miami fans in the Superdome. But Alabama's persistence dampened the revelry. It could have repercussions with voters.
"To have the opportunity to possibly win the national championship is a credit to our players and coaches," said Miami coach Dennis Erickson, but he cautioned, "people still have to vote."
Alabama gave the voters plenty to think about in the first half, after which the Hurricanes led only 20-17. Those opening 30 minutes produced a flood of yards (412) in what was expected to be a defensive battle. ‘Bama's 17 points were the most allowed in a half by Miami all season, although there was a general feeling in the Superdome that the Crimson Tide was an outmanned team that just kept dodging the knockout blow.
One early play that would loom large at the end was a simple offside penalty against ‘Bama. With a 4th-and-two at the seven-yard line 10 minutes into a scoreless game, Erickson opted for Carlos Huerta and the chip-shot field-goal attempt. However, when ‘Bama jumped off-sides, the Hurricanes had another chance at the end zone. Stephen McGuire scored on the next play, going over left guard with 4:55 to go in the opening period.
Two possessions later, the Crimson Tide pinned Miami back at its seven with an excellent punt. After a three-and-out by the Hurricanes, Gene Jelks returned a short punt to the Alabama 36. The Tide mounted a methodical nine-play drive, capped by Hollingsworth spearing flanker Marco Battle with a four-yard TD pass at 14:07 of the second.
"I saw the pressure coming," Hollingsworth said. "It was to pick up the blitz. What they did all day was to put man-on-man single coverage on our receivers and try to get pressure on me. I didn't see Marco catch the ball, but I was happy that he did."
Recap excerpted from the book "Sugar Bowl Classic: A History" by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.