There's still a hollow, faraway look in the eyes of the Auburn faithful when it comes up. It's that painful.
It's been two years since the Tigers from the Alabama plains went through a demanding season unblemished – and didn't even get to the national championship game.
What's more, though largely
forgotten everywhere but in Alabama, that wasn't even the first time a No. 1 team
stepped over the bones of Auburn. A prime example of why strength of
schedule should be a major factor in determining who is No. 1 (and not taking it
out of the equation, as the BCS did last year), is what happened to the Tigers
two decades ago.
Think about it this way: In the
1984 Sugar Bowl, in which Auburn beat Michigan 9-7, the Tigers
completed an 11-1 season against what was the most demanding schedule in the
nation, one that included nine bowl teams and won a cumulative 70 percent of its
games. The lone loss was to Texas, by any measure one of the nation's top
Miami, a darling of the Eastern media in particular, had
been waging a fiery PR blitz to get voters to their side in case the Hurricanes
beat No. 1-ranked Nebraska.
"I just happen to have some figures
here,'' a drained Coach Pat Dye said in the locker room after the Sugar Bowl
after finding that, sure enough, No. 5 Miami upset the Cornhuskers, which
coupled with Georgia's upset of No. 2-ranked Texas would normally have vaulted
the No. 3 Tigers into the top spot, "and they say that our opponents had a
higher winning percentage than anybody else. Because of that, we should be the
No. 1 team in the country. If there's any credibility as far as scheduling is
concerned, then there's no way Auburn shouldn't be No. 1. If they (Miami) influence the polls
as hard as they are trying, they're going to get it'' Dye predicted. "I'd love
for our kids to win the national championship, but I don't want them to win it
on a political ballot.''
But Miami, the Cinderella of the season, did win it
on a political ballot. The Hurricanes leaped from fifth place to first place,
reminiscent of the '78 bowls when No. 5 Notre Dame, after beating No. 1 Texas,
bounded over No. 2 Alabama, which soundly whipped Ohio State.
To any thinking football fan,
Miami's first national title was nothing short of
an injustice to a more deserving Auburn.
Miami, a good team, make no mistake, bested a
schedule that won at a .514 ratio. Not bad, but not No. 1 either.
Consider: At no point of the season
was Miami ranked ahead of Auburn. In the last polls
of the regular season Auburn was universally third. Miami was fourth in one,
fifth in another. After the Orange Bowl, Miami
jumped to No. 1, Nebraska slipped only to No.
2, and Auburn
remained at No. 3.
Anyone would have to wonder, if the
voters were so impressed with the Hurricanes' victories over Purdue, Duke,
Louisville or Cincinnati, then why didn't Miami get more support during the
The biggest break Miami got was squeezing
into the Orange Bowl against the Cornhuskers, a media-made "Greatest of
Nebraska numbed America by opening the season with a televised
44-6 dismantling of Penn State, which just happened to be the
defending national champion. Immediately the national pulps began the drum
beating. Two weeks later, Nebraska added to its
credentials by scoring an eyebrow-raising 84 points against Minnesota. From then on
not a question was heard about the place of the 1983 Cornhuskers in college
But there should have
All but forgotten after the opening
State proceeded to lose its
next two games too, indicating the Nittany Lions weren't nearly the powerhouse
everyone expected. And the 84 points against Minnesota wasn't quite as impressive after Ohio State, Wisconsin,
Michigan and Iowa rang up 69, 56, 58 and 61 points against
those same Golden Gophers.
One other little item: Miami opened the season with a 28-3 defeat at the hands of
25 points separating those squads represent the biggest smudge on the record of
any national champion. It's also noteworthy that Auburn beat Florida 28-21. An early stumble can be
overlooked – if its not too bad and the team can pick itself off the canvas. The
loss, however, of more than three touchdowns is hardly a trivial matter,
especially when Miami would go five more weeks before meeting a
truly representative football team.
"Who did Miami play?'' asked Dye
rhetorically a day after the Sugar Bowl. A member of the press corps answered
Notre Dame (which struggled through a 7-5 season). "Notre Dame?'' exclaimed Dye
with a look of disbelief. "Lordy mercy.''
In the minds of the voters, though,
Miami's 20-0 victory over the disorganized Irish,
on national television, was second in importance only to the 31-30 win over
and the question of style. Football is generally won on defense, but the public
is enamored with offense and that Hurricanes had that, riding the brilliant
right arm of freshman quarterback Bernie Kosar.
Defensive and run-oriented squads
like Auburn and Michigan, though perhaps sounder, sort of pale in the
minds of the public next to a quick-draw team like Miami.
Football can turn on fate. No.
2-ranked Texas would have risen to No. 1 with
the Nebraska defeat had a Longhorn not fumbled
a punt, opening the gate for a Georgia victory in the Cotton Bowl.
Nebraska, as it turned out, might have retained
its No. 1 status had Coach Tom Osborne kicked the tying PAT in the final minute
instead of going for two.
None of which was any help to
yourself in our shoes,'' sophomore running back Bo Jackson reflected. "You're
the No. 3 team, and the No. 1 and No. 2 teams lose. You should, with no
question, move up to No. 1. But there comes a time in everyone's life when
you're going to get screwed over. And that was our time.''
Marty Mule' can be reached at