The first thing that always springs to mind when I remember that date is that it was an apocalyptically hot day in Miami.
My dad and I knew friends who had tickets to go to the game that day. I didn’t know about the plans until we were in the car, and I didn’t even know who we were playing until I took a look at the ticket.
The University of Miami Hurricanes vs. The Florida State Seminoles.
The last time I saw a UM – FSU game in person, it was UM getting pasted by FSU in 1996. I didn’t know much about sports then (since I was seven years old), but I knew that FSU was really, really good, and I hated them for it. I hadn’t followed sports since.
Coming into that game, there wasn’t much hope for Miami. We knew it. FSU was the most dominant program in college football, by far. Riding a 17 game winning streak, the defending National Champs came into the Orange Bowl, a place that no player on their roster had lost. The Orange Bowl was the home of the longest home winning streak in college football history, and this team, led by eventual Heisman winner and grown-ass man Chris Weinke, who was 28 years old.
One of my favorite weird little things about college football is how the teams time their entrances onto the field. It was usually a game of chicken, to see who would come out first. Normally, the visitors come out a few seconds after the home team, so as to not let the home team soak in too many cheers. At least, that’s how I saw it. Today, however, there was no game of chicken. Miami came out first, and there was an electricity in the crowd that persisted even after. There was just… something in the air. Besides the 90% humidity.
There was hunger. Desperation. The feeling that there was nothing to lose, since UM had already dropped a game to Washington earlier in the season. There was also a freshness to this team. UM had just revamped their logo and uniforms, something done as a result of the “it’s year 2000, let’s make everything feel futuristic” wave.
It wasn’t swagger, not yet. But all the ingredients to create it were placed into that horseshoe-shaped pressure cooker, with the timer was set to 60 minutes.
Even with the palpable buzz in the building, the first play of the game was a disaster for Miami. A fumble on the kickoff return, giving the Seminoles the ball deep in UM territory. Cue the chop.
Then, it happened. Whether it was Bobby Bowden’s bravado, or his lack of faith in his kicking game, he decided he was going to go for it on fourth and short on that drive. They were the best team in the country, of course they could pick up that yard.
Marcus Outzen, the backup QB, was stuffed on the sneak. The entirety of UM’s front seven beat the guys across from them. It snowballed from there. Dan Morgan forced a fumble on a punt return, and then UM’s running game opened up a seam for Najeh Davenport on a play-action, where Ken Dorsey found him for six. Miami would abuse the seam route for most of the first half, culminating in a goal line power run to D.J. Williams, a freshman linebacker at the time, for the second touchdown of the game. Miami stretched their lead to 17-0, ending the first half with a Dan Morgan INT of Weinke. who had led the ‘Noles inside the 5.
It was happening. We’re going to win this game, I thought. But then Miami’s greatest weapon began to backfire on them. The heat. Players began cramping up. James Jackson, who was having a good day running the ball, had to sit out for a while due to dehydration. A player would go down every series because of cramps. Even the crowd was beginning to fade. The stadium was out of bottled water and Gatorade at halftime.
FSU began to claw their way back into the game, exactly as a team of their caliber should. 17-0 became 17-10, and in the fourth quarter, 20-17. Their only major hiccup was Matt Munyon badly shanking a 22-yard field goal try.
With 2:19 left, Miami made their worst mistake of the game. Dorsey hit Najeh Davenport on another seam route, and was on the way to making UM’s biggest play of the half so far when he was stripped. FSU recovered in UM territory, and Weinke hit Atrews Bell for a 29-yard TD to take the lead, just like the best team in the country should.
That was supposed to be the moment that broke UM. They led all game, but got outscored in 24-3 so far in the second half. Ken Dorsey had never ran a 2-minute drill, and the offense had been mostly stifled since Mickey Andrews, the most highly regarded assistant coach in the nation, adjusted to UM’s offense at halftime.
But that primordial something in the air manifested itself again. All of what existed before came back now, but it now included heat-induced delirium and the most powerful catalyst of all: pure hatred of FSU. They had beaten us five times in a row. Their band played the chop at least 73 times during the second half. UM fans had watched FSU steamroll college football for years. We were not going to let that happen again.
Ken Dorsey took the ball, and became unstoppable. A sophomore, Dorsey came of age before the nation, hitting future Pro Bowl receivers Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne through ever-tightening windows.
“Big time players make big time plays in big time games.” That was all Santana Moss could say to sum up the day during the postgame interview. It was all he needed, really.
After only 42 seconds, Dorsey was able to get the seam route one more time, finding backup TE Jeremy Shockey, who “had just come off his death bed,” (as my middle school football coach put it the next day) for the go ahead TD. 27-24. Leading college football’s reigning dynasty with less than a minute to go.
Of course, FSU was able to use the last 45 seconds of clock to get the ball into range for Matt Munyon. Normally, were I anywhere else, I would have expected Munyon to drill the kick and send the game into OT. That’s just what the most dominant football team in college football over the past decade should do. But over the course of that afternoon, in that sweltering and swaying concrete building, there was a transformation. The heat melted down all the emotion and excitement from the game, and the resulting mixture became what sustained me, long after I should have collapsed from dehydration. For the first time, I did not care or take heed of what logic and common sense dictated should happen. This kick was going to decide the game, and it was the most important thing in the world at that time. It was then, during that timeout, that I, a straight-laced 11 year old kid, began to join in chanting what UM fans had sang to counter FSU’s band playing the chop:
Fuck you, Seminoles. Suck my genitals. Accompanied by waving a middle finger in the air along to the chop. I was hardly old enough to know what genitals even were. God, if my Mom would have seen me, I would get in so much trouble. But I had stopped caring about anything beyond the field.
Excitement, pride, desire, hatred. I had gone through the fire, and I was going to taste victory, damn it.
October 7th, 2000. Wide Right III.
The day I became a sports fan.