Miami-Penn State: A classic rivalry

Chafie Fields has had a hand in it. So has Jessie Armstead. And let's not forget Vinny Testaverde and Shane Conlan. They have all had an impact in recent memory on determining the winner and loser whenever the University of Miami and Penn State met on a football field. They aren't the only ones.

The series between both schools dates backs to 1961 and the Hurricanes and Nittany Lions have met just 12 times in their history. Unlike traditional rivalries, (Ohio State-Michigan, UCLA-USC, Florida-Florida State), both of these teams collisions are far and in between.

But when they have caught up with each other, Penn State and Miami have staged epic battles. Wars that are always defined as some of the greatest games ever played.

Next Penn State-Miami installment: Saturday night (Aug. 31) at Beaver Stadium when the schools face off for the 13th time ever. Penn State leads the all-time series 7-5, although the Hurricanes have come out on top in two of the last three games. The last five games in the series have been decided by less than a touchdown.

But the last team's last meeting in 1999, wasn't "I've only been part of it once, but as far back as I can remember Miami and Penn State has played some incredible ballgames," said University of Miami head coach Larry Coker. "We came up a bit short in 1999, but this has always been a great rivalry. There have been a lot of tight one."

Coker, the Hurricanes offensive coordinator from 1995-2000, was in his fifth season at UM in 1999, the team's last meeting, when the Nittany Lions came into the Orange Bowl and stunned the Hurricanes late in the fourth quarter.

It was receiver Chafie Fields who streaked pass Miami defensive back Mike Rumph and hauled in a beautifully placed throw from Kevin Thompson with 1:41 remaining in the game, giving the Nittany Lions a 27-23 victory. A defensive breakdown that Butch Davis was questioned on repeatedly sent close to 80,000 Hurricanes fans home upset. And Coker as well.

"I couldn't believe it," Coker said. "It was great execution on their part."

Rumph, who is part of one of the best secondaries in the nation and a Thorpe Award candidate, was stunned as he laid on the wet turf that rainy September afternoon. Rumph would eventually get back on his feet, but it took him a while.

"That play really stuck with me for a long time," Rumph said. "I was disappointed because I felt I had let the team down.

That is why the 6-2, 190-pounder has had Sept. 1 circled on his calendar since the schedule was announced. Rumph has waited close to two years for a chance at redemption.

"I can't wait to get on that field. I've been gearing up all summer for this," says Rumph.

Coker acknowledged this summer that the Hurricanes did get beat defensively on the play, but he also said the UM's inability to execute their offense late in the game was a bigger factor in the final result.

"We didn't move the ball when the game was on the line and that certaintly wasn't Mike Rumph's fault," Coker said. "If we do our jobs the game doesn't come down to that pass play."

The game that sticks out in the minds of many is the 1987 Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona when the Hurricanes arrived to play Penn State 11-0 and No. 1 after going through the season unblemished.

Jimmy Johnson's Hurricanes were the talk of the town, parading around in army fatigue outfits and causing an up-roar at most of the bowl events. Turns out it was No. 2 Penn State that had the final laugh.

Linebacker Pete Giftopoulos stepped in front of a Vinny Testaverde pass at the goal-line for an interception that nailed a thrilling 14-10 Lions victory over UM. Shane Conlan, hobbled by injuries the entire game, had two interceptions for Penn State. Miami turned the ball over five times.

"That was a beauty to watch," said Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. "It's one of those games that just sticks out."

In 1992, the last time the Hurricanes visited Beaver Stadium, Miami came in undefeated to play Penn State. And departed Happy Valley that way. UM, ranked No. 2 at the time, edged Penn State 17-14 to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 23 games. Miami would finished the season undefeated, before losing to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Hurricanes linebacker Jessie Armstead put the heat on Nittany Lions quarterback Tony Secca forcing him to throw an interception in the fourth quarter. That was the difference.

Armstead, now a member of the NFL's New York Giants, doesn't remember exactly what occurred in the play, but he can recall the silence that overcame the stadium.

"Oh man. One minute the place was going crazy and the next minute you could hear a pin drop. It was unbelievable," says Armstead. "That was Miami was all about. We made plays. We got it done."

The previous season, in 1991, it was Penn State who hit the road as they came into the Orange Bowl. But the result was the same. Miami, halfway through their 58-game home winning streak, posted their 41st consecutive victory in the Orange Bowl with a 26-20 win over Penn State.

The Hurricanes defense, which included Warren Sapp, Darren Smith and Armstead, recorded eight sacks on the day. That season the Hurricanes would finish 12-0 and claim the school's fourth football national title.

In 1981, the Hurricanes defeated the top-ranked Nittany Lions 17-14 in the Orange Bowl. It was the first time in school history Miami had defeated a No. 1 ranked squad.

"Special," said UM offensive-line coach Art Kehoe, who was a member of the 1980 Miami team and has the longest tenure of any coach on the staff.

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