How Miami and Florida Met in the 2001 Sugar Bowl
Paul Hoolahan and fans of Florida’s major schools were in a state of football euphoria.
In a year when the executive director of the Sugar Bowl could logically be expected to be scrambling, he was in uncommonly good position to fill his postseason extravaganza, which had played host to the national championship game in 2000. The Bowl Championship Series rotation indicated the Sugar should be fourth in the four BCS games this time. But the Sugar was in unexpectedly high clover, and the potency of the Sunshine State troika was the primary reason why.
Florida State was having its usual superlative year, this one with 10 regular-season victories; the University of Florida, sputtering at times compared to recent year, still beat 10 opponents, winning the SEC; and the University of Miami returned to the elite of the college game, with FSU counted among its victims in a 10-1 regular season.
Hoolahan almost couldn’t miss, listening attentively to the sales pitches of such programs as Nebraska and Notre Dame. But Hoolahan and the BCS couldn’t resist the lure of the outside possibility of a second straight national championship game.
This is how that potential could be factored in: FSU (second-ranked in the BCS but third-ranked in the polls) was taken to challenge No. 1-ranked Oklahoma in the BCS game of the year at the Orange Bowl. The winner of that game would automatically be No. 1 in the final USA Today/ESPN rankings, determined by coaches.
But Miami (10-1), which beat FSU 27-24 and rose to No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, could conceivably jump to No. 1 in the tabulation, which is determined through voting by sportswriters and sportscasters, with a Sugar Bowl victory over SEC champion Florida (10-2 and seventh-ranked) coupled with a Seminole win – and FSU was favored over the 12-0 Sooners.
And don’t think the Hurricanes didn’t play that angle for all it was worth, making the case for weeks that their 27-24 victory over Florida State should have put them in the title game in their own hometown. Conveniently ignored in Miami’s case, however, was a 34-29 defeat at the University of Washington in the second week of the season. The Huskies had the same 10-1 record and were ranked fourth at the end of the regular season.
“Hey, there’s 116 other teams or however many Division I schools there are out there that would love to be in our position,” said Miami sophomore tight end Jeremy Shockey, a native of Oklahoma who didn’t believe his home-state team had a shot against Florida State. “This is a great opportunity for us,” Shockey said. “You can’t let good opportunities like this slip past you.”
Both Miami and Florida, in-state rivals who had not played in 13 years, featured a number of game-breakers. For the ‘Canes they included receiver/kick returner Santana Moss, receiver Reggie Wayne, running back James Jackson, middle linebacker Dan Morgan and quarterback Ken Dorsey, a sophomore who threw for 25 touchdowns and just five interceptions during the regular season.
This is how resourceful the 2000 Hurricanes were: they turned eight turnovers (six interceptions, two fumbles) and five punt returns (four by Moss) into touchdowns.
Countering the Hurricanes was a potent Gator force that included quarterback Rex Grossman, receivers Jabar Gaffney and Earnest Graham, running back Robert Gillespie, cornerback/return specialist Lito Sheppard, defensive end Alex Brown and defensive tackle Gerard Warren.
The opponents couldn’t and didn’t wait to get it on. On their first night in the Big Easy, a week before the Sugar Bowl, a near-brawl occurred between 15 to 20 players from both sides on the downtown corner of Bourbon and Canal streets. Apparently the Hurricanes started taunting and threatening the Gators, who responded. New Orleans police broke up the altercation, though no arrests were made and neither Miami coach Butch Davis nor Florida coach Steve Spurrier felt any disciplinary action was necessary.
What was necessary was getting the players’ minds on the task at hand, though David insisted attaining a No. 1 pennant was not as important as playing well in the last game of a memorable season.
“I’m not concerned in the least about the Florida State-Oklahoma game,” David said. “It has some implications, potentially. But the only thing I’m really concerned with is us playing as well as we can, giving ourselves a chance to beat Florida. We’ll be happy with a one-point win. I can’t control the other teams; I can’t control the other games; I can’t control voters; I can’t control the computers. All we can do is play the very best we can on Tuesday night, and whatever happens is going to happen. “
“Regardless what happens, nothing will diminish or take away from this season. This is going to be remembered as a great season.”
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.