Things have changed since last Ohio State-Miami meeting

A whole different ballgame

Posted: Thursday, December 26, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Miami and Ohio State last met on a hot August day in New Jersey more than three years ago, a game that looms large as the teams prepare for a rematch in this year's national championship game.

Miami's 23-12 victory in the 1999 Kickoff Classic hasn't been forgotten by either side heading into the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3.

''I remember it like it was yesterday, in that locker room everybody was rumping and raving together, 'Let us out of here, let us out of here!''' said former Miami running back James Jackson, now with the Cleveland Browns. ''Then coach (Butch) Davis and the other coaches went out. And then once we got out, it was on, man. We started it, and we finished it.''

Current Ohio State free safety Donnie Nickey played his first game that day.

''I was kind of a wide-eyed freshman,'' he said. ''Now I've been around. I'm looking for some retribution.''

Miami has won 34 consecutive games and is defending its national championship against the Buckeyes. But in 1999, the Hurricanes were trying to escape the shadows of NCAA probation.

Ohio State was ranked ninth in the nation in the preseason and coming off one of the best seasons in school history. The Buckeyes went 11-1 in 1998 to finish No. 2 in the country, ending the season with wins over rival Michigan and against No. 8 Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl.

''(The game) was probably a lot more important to the University of Miami's football program at that time than maybe it was for Ohio State,'' said Davis, who took over as Browns coach two years later. ''They were ranked going into that year and for us it was an unbelievable opportunity to try to recapture a spotlight in college football.''

Miami's storied program had churned out national championships, Heisman Trophy winners and off-the-field problems during the 1980s and 1990s under Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson.

After four national titles between 1983 and 1991, probation in 1995 ended the dynasty. Miami was still hurting from three years of NCAA-mandated sanctions that cost the program 32 scholarships.

The Kickoff Classic came along at an ideal time for the Hurricanes. In 1997, largely because of the probation, they had sunk to a 5-6 record. At one point, they lost four straight games, including a 47-0 beating by rival Florida State.

The Hurricanes went 9-3 in 1998, ending the season with a 49-45 upset of No. 3 UCLA and a rout of North Carolina State in the Micron PC Bowl.

The Kickoff Classic was the ideal forum to get back onto the national stage.

''The main reason we accepted it was that we needed more high-profile games,'' Davis said. ''We had gone through all the sanctions and all the probations and the lack of being able to go to a bowl game and some of those kinds of things.''

Davis' fondest memory of the preparations was taking some of his small-town kids on a tour of New York City. He said one stared up at the skyscrapers in awe and said, ''Wow, there's not many buildings like that in Pahokey, Florida!''

On their first possession, the Hurricanes scored when Jackson bolted 44 yards for a touchdown.

Ohio State came back with Michael Wiley turning an off-tackle play into a 69-yard run. But even that play showed Miami's edge.

''We had way more speed than them,'' Jackson said. ''(Linebacker) Al Blades ran down Wiley from behind going in for a touchdown and I think that shocked everybody. Al wasn't slow, but he wasn't fast fast. We were surprised he ran down Wiley. That showed them.''

Archie Griffin, Ohio State's two-time Heisman Trophy winner and now the school's associate athletic director, remembers it the same way.

''They dominated us in that game,'' Griffin said. ''That game really got Miami started on their comeback.''

Miami had speed all over the field. Jackson ran for 89 yards on 13 carries and Santana Moss had three catches for 115 yards.

''JJ ran like a rabbit all game. Santana made big plays and it was a straight domination by our defense,'' former Miami wide receiver Andre King said. ''We spent all summer planning for that game. It was a big game for us, nationally televised, and we just wanted to start the season off right and get the program going. It was a chance for us to show that we were back, and we did.''

Ohio State tight end Darnell Sanders, who takes ribbing from the many Hurricanes on the Browns roster, had two vivid memories of the game.

''They were cocky,'' he said. He also recalled how fast the Hurricanes were: ''Their whole team could run, but I remember Santana Moss' speed.''

Miami finished the season 9-4. The next season the 'Canes went 11-1 and finished second in the rankings to Oklahoma. A 12-0 national championship followed last year, in Larry Coker's first season as head coach.

''We were kind of hot at the time. We needed the exposure,'' Davis said. ''All those guys were all really at the beginning of their career and we needed the opportunity.''

Meanwhile, things began to unravel at Ohio State. The Buckeyes stumbled to a 6-6 record -- just their second non-winning season since 1966. In 2000, they went 8-4 but lost to rival Michigan for the third year in a row and then were humiliated in the Outback Bowl by unranked South Carolina.

Head coach John Cooper was fired the next day and replaced by Jim Tressel. Now Ohio State says it has something to prove.

''Most of us came in 1998, the fifth-year guys,'' Nickey said. ''In 1999 we were obviously terrible. Through the coaching change and everything, it kind of forced our senior class to come together. It forced our team to come together.''



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