Ahh, the excitement of college football in April. What did we ever do before Classic Sports Network? Today, a replay of the 1998 comeback against No. 2 UCLA and tomorrow, Miami v. Florida State in 2002 and another come from behind Canes win. I have both games archived away, in full on VHS and the ‘classic’ versions (edited down to two hours) on DVD, yet when these games are ‘live’ again, I get sucked in every time.
The upset of the Bruins still warms my heart. I was 24 in 1998 and had just moved from Florida to Southern California. I landed a job with FANSonly.com (now CSTV) as a lowly sports editor, working the 2pm to midnight shift with Tuesday and Wednesday off. A Cane in California, it seemed everyone was a Bruin back then (yet conveniently now everyone seems to be a Trojan).
I worked with a half dozen Bruins, all who started breaking my balls in September before the original match up was postponed. As the season rolled on, so did UCLA’s win streak – up to 20 straight before the December 5th showdown at a half full Orange Bowl. Coming off that 66-13 beat down courtesy of Syracuse the week prior, the smack talk was at an all time high. My UM-themed cubicle had Post It notes stuck all over it, pictures pulled down and what not.
All in good nature, but definitely from a fan base who was sure their squad was going to lay a world class beating on Miami – their last hurdle between heartbreak and a national championship berth in the Fiesta Bowl. UCLA felt it was their destiny and the question wasn’t IF they’d win, it was by how much?
I looked into last minute airfare, but couldn’t afford it on my entry level salary, so I was stuck watching this one from home. An ESPN telecast in the pre-High Definition era. It seems like forever ago.
7-0 Canes early on. Edgerrin James was in full force, unstoppable and chewing up a weak Pac-10 defense, just as I’d hoped. As expected, UCLA made it look easy offensively as well. A 77-yarder from Cade McNown to Danny Farmer had it 7-7 in an instant. Miami was immediately back in the red zone and Scott Covington found a wide open, uncovered Aaron Moser to make it 14-7. The Bruins literally had nobody covering the back up wide out. I’d never seen anything like it.
Both teams traded blows in the second quarter and somehow Miami held a 21-17 halftime lead, which vanished almost immediately after the second half started. In a matter of minutes it was 31-21, Bruins and the Hurricane mojo was wearing off. By the quarter’s waning moments, a 38-21 deficit before UM started showing signs of life. The Edge continued pounding the rock and true freshman Najeh Davenport scampered for a 23-yarder as the quarter came to a close. 38-28 with fifteen minutes left to play.
The fourth quarter kicked off and I was now officially late for work. The only thing worse than the trouble I’d be in was the verbal beat down some dirty Bruins were going to give me upon my arrival. The first play from scrimmage, a huge pass play turned into a UCLA fumble when safety Al Blades (R.I.P.) tipped the ball out of Brian Poli-Dixon’s hands and recovered. Almost immediately Covington hit sophomore Santana Moss in stride for a 71-yard score. Miami trailed by three with almost a full quarter remaining.
UCLA pushed it to 45-35 on the ensuing possession and Miami answered on a 29-yard strike to Mondiel Fulcher. To his credit, then offensive coordinator Larry Coker called a balanced game – running it down UCLA’s collective throat, yet finding receivers, tight ends and even the fullback.
45-42 with a few minutes to play and UCLA was again driving until a bogus fumble gave Miami possession. A bang-bang play that wouldn’t have held up in the era of Instant Replay, but again the Bruins had their chances and just couldn’t stop the Canes offense, who amassed 371 yards on the ground and 318 through the air, for 689 total yards on the afternoon.
Just as it started with a dump off to full back Nick Williams, Coker went back to the well once more with the full back rumbling to the one-yard line and in fitting fashion, James punched it in for his third touchdown of a 299-yard outing.
The Bruins attempted the move the ball one final drive, McNown eventually heaved a desperation pass towards the back of the end zone and in an instant, it was complete. The upset was in the books. Bragging rites were in my back pocket and I was headed to work an hour later, just thinking of all the things I’d say to any Bruin who crossed my path. I called my brother, a junior at Arizona State who had just put his fist through his apartment wall in jubilation.
Out of his mind over the Miami win, there was added incentive as the UCLA loss kept heated desert rival Arizona out of the Rose Bowl – a post season game they still haven’t sniffed. ESPN’s cameras cutting to a smug Trung Candidate, Keith Smith and crew made it that much sweeter for the Sun Devil Cane in my family and he was a few cocktails away from talking some smack of his own to any Wildcats he saw on Mill Avenue that evening.
Being a Saturday, not a Bruin was in sight upon my arrival to our Carlsbad, CA facility. Just a few lowly editors ready to congratulate me and ready to help me devise a smack-talking game plan that would rear it’s ugly head on Monday morning. My direct superior was the biggest Bruin of all. On his desk, a picture of John Wooden holding his young son and always quick to drop a Bruinesque one-liner. (“I think I hate USC as much as I love UCLA, baby.”)
After wasting every drop of overpriced colored ink in the company printer, I covered his desk and office with AP photos from the game. I also broke into his microwaved-sized PC and added the Miami fight song and other Canes-themed audio clips to his hard drive. For days, every time he opened a new window, downloaded a new email, launched a new browser – the University of Miami ‘Band of the Hour’ blared through the office. It was a thing of beauty. Thank God he had a sense of humor, or I’d have gotten canned like tuna.
Amazing the memories a simple football game can bring. I can still quote the commentators from that 49-45 thriller. Ron Frankin during the game. Adrian Karsten interviewing Butch Davis after the game. Hell, I still laugh at the fan who rushes the field in his one-size-too-tight #8 home jersey and throws down the WWE “Degeneration X” crotch slap as Cade sulked off the field towards the visitor’s locker room.
Thanks for the memories, ESPN Classic. Can’t wait to watch tomorrow’s showdown with Florida State, partying like it’s 2002 all over again.