Flashback Friday: Washington Ends An Era at Miami

“Whammy in Miami.”

The description then-Washington Husky turned MMA fighter/actor/former New Japan pro wrestling champion Bob Sapp (no relation to former Miami Hurricane Warren Sapp) used for UW’s win over The U in 1994 is the title of a pivotal moment in Miami history.

Twice in my college football lifetime, Miami has been at the sport’s pinnacle. Each time, the Hurricanes dipped into an extended lull of mediocrity — though this week’s Yahoo! report could lead to something far worse, but that’s a different topic altogether. The most recent Hurricane warning seemingly blew out on the eve of the New Year 2006. That night in Atlanta, LSU put a 40-3 pounding on The U from which the program has never quite recovered.

Miami’s previous run of dominance ended 11 years earlier in similar fashion. Like the ’05 Chick-fil-A Bowl, The End began with the ‘Canes in a matchup of top 10 teams. On Sept. 24, 1994, Washington came to the Orange Bowl, the 31/2 years-too-late pairing of split 1991 national champions.

Now, one could fairly argue Miami’s original run ended nine months earlier when Arizona handed The U what is still the only shutout loss in Fiesta Bowl history. Perhaps even the three-touchdown, 1993 Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama could be seen as the tipping point. But even after those bowl game defeats, the Hurricanes remained a team reckoned with nationally. When the clock struck zeroes that September day, it killed the greatest mystique left surrounding a program once feared.

The Orange Bowl was an impenetrable fortress through the 1980s and into ’94. Fifty-eight games. The Hurricanes had gone most all of Ronald Reagan’s second, all of George H.W. Bush’s, and were midway through Bill Clinton’s first term as president. A national championship may have eluded Miami since 1991, at that point a veritable lifetime in Ibis Years, but the Orange Bowl remained untouchable.

A 14-3 halftime advantage certainly suggested No. 59 was on its way. But UW came out in the second half determined not to be just another statistic on Miami’s road to history. The two-touchdown underdog Dawgs had played two ranked opponents, Ohio State and USC, before coming to Coral Gables. A battle tested bunch showed its mettle against a Miami team that had previously feasted on Division I-AA Georgia Southern and a down Arizona State.

Miami’s vaunted defense worked on clamping down Napoleon Kaufman. Kaufman was the Pac-10′s most feared rusher in this era, and was limited throughout the game. After all, Miami’s aforementioned Fiesta Bowl embarrassment came largely from being unable to contain Arizona’s dynamic rusher, Chuck Levy.

But the energy focused on Kaufman allowed Damon Huard to break out. Huard threw for two touchdowns within the opening minutes of the third quarter, enough to give the Huskies a 17-14 lead they would never relinquish. The coup de grace was a pick-six on Miami’s second possession of the half. It wasn’t evident on the game broadcast that day, but watching the highlight of Russell Hairston galloping to the goal line one can see a decade of Hurricane intimidation exorcised from college football.

Ahead was six years of frustration and second rate bowl appearances — again, a lifetime in Ibis Years.

Things have changed dramatically since. The Orange Bowl is now closed. Miami’s current run of struggles stemming from that 40-3 beatdown against LSU, another mystique murdering defeat, hits six years this campaign. But the wait is going to be a lot longer this time around.

Topics: Flashback Friday, Miami Hurricanes, Washington

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