Kenny Calhoun - Championship Saver

Certain athletes will be forever immortalized due to one play that they've made in their careers. Lorenzo Charles of North Carolina St. will forever be remembered for his game-winning dunk against the mighty Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA basketball finals, sealing the Wolf Pack's upset win over 'Phi Slamma Jamma'.

Bill Mazeroski, despite a Hall-of-Famer career for the Pittsburgh Pirates will always be synonymous for his World Series clinching home run against the vaunted New York Yankees in 1960. Then you had Bobby Thompson's 'Shot Heard 'Round the World' in 1951 against Ralph Branca, that sealed the pennant for the New York Giants over the hated Brooklyn Dodgers.

And in South Florida, you have one Kenny Calhoun. To younger Hurricane fans, Calhoun isn't a familiar name. When you think off all the safeties that have roamed the secondary for this program the past 25 years, you think of guys like Fred Marion, Bennie Blades, Daryl Williams, Ed Reed and most recently Sean Taylor.

But Calhoun, a solid three year starter for the Canes, will always have ' 55 Double Dog Trio'. It's the defense that was called when Calhoun made the diving deflection of a Turner Gill pass that sealed Miami's 31-30 upset victory over the heavily favored Nebraska Cornhuskers in the 1984 Orange Bowl that gave UM it's first national championship and spawned a new college football dynasty.

This past January Miami celebrated the 20th anniversary of that momentous occasion by defeating their up-state rivals from Florida St. in a tight defensive battle by a score of 16-14. Even two decades later Calhoun thinks back on that magical night when the Orange Bowl Classic celebrated it's 50th anniversary when the Canes upended the Cornhuskers.

"Quite a bit, quite a bit, actually," admitted Calhoun. "Probably at least once or twice a month."

But just three months earlier in that season, going to the Orange Bowl with a chance at a national title seemed a remote possibility. Led by a redshirt freshman quarterback in Bernie Kosar the Canes would proceed to turn the ball over seven times in a disappointing 28-3 loss in Gainesville to the hated Gators. But in those dark clouds was a silver lining.

"We knew we had a good team, we kinda had a rough start, we had two turnovers in the first half and inside the red-zone against a really good Florida team," said Calhoun, recalling the '83 season opener in which Kosar would complete 25 of 45 passes for 225 yards. "Seeing we were down 14-0 in the first half against the defense they had, we pretty much didn't think too much of it. You get behind like that, away in 'the Swamp', it kinda tough to come back. But overall the team graded out at 80-percent and that's pretty good. You can win just about all your games if you score 80-percent as a team, minus the turnovers. So we really didn't feel too bad."

This upstart Miami team would bounce back with a 29-7 win over Houston in the Astrodome with Calhoun contributing 11 tackles and an interception. That would be followed by a 35-0 trouncing of Purdue at the Orange Bowl in front of just 37,150 fans. It's clear that the people of South Florida had not begun to notice the rising storm coming from UM. But that would change the following week as the 13th ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame would come to town.

And the Canes would start to open more than a few eyes as they would shutout the Irish 20-0 with Reggie Sutton leading a stout defensive effort with two blocked field goals and 13 tackles. It was the first blanking of Notre Dame since 1978. Kosar would throw for 215 yards with a touchdown to the explosive Eddie Brown to lead the offensive attack. The nation at that point, began to take notice of the Hurricanes.

"I believe so," agreed Calhoun. "Because it was nationally televised and they were ranked. I think we pretty much dominated Notre Dame that game. We blocked a couple of field goals, we shut them out defensively and the offense played really well. I don't know if we were televised that much nationally but they got a chance to see what we had, the potential that we had."

Buoyed by their big win, the Canes ripped off easy wins against Duke (56-17), Louisville (a 42-14 win that was highlighted by Calhoun's 92 yard touchdown return of an interception), Mississippi St. (31-7) and Cincinnati (17-7). By this time they had climbed all the way into the top ten at number eight before they met up with 12th ranked West Virginia, who was led by quarterback Jeff Hostetler, for homecoming at the Orange Bowl.

In front of 63,881 fans the underrated Miami defense, which featured such performers as Jay Brophy, Tony Fitzpatrick, Rodney Bellinger, Reggie Sutton, Ken Sisk, Winston Moss, Joel Kohlbrand, Freddie Robinson, Jerome Brown, Danny Brown, Eddie Williams, Kevin Fagan, Dallas Cameron, Willie Broughton, Jack Fernandez and Julio Cortes alongside Calhoun, would stifle the Mountaineers offense in resounding 20-3 win. Hostetler was sacked five times and West Virginia was limited to just two net yards on 29 rushes.

But Miami was far from being out of the woods on their way to a Cinderella finish. In games versus both East Carolina and FSU, it would nearly ring midnight for the Canes before some late game heroics saved the day.

After their win over West Virginia, the fifth-ranked Hurricanes took on a game Pirate squad led by future NFL'ers Stefon Adams and Norwood Vann. What was expected to be a tune-up a week before their showdown with the Noles in Tallahassee, was instead a defensive dog fight.

With less than five minutes remaining in the game Miami would be down by a score of 7-6 and ECU had the ball deep in Miami territory, but on third and goal Calhoun led a trio of defenders that would make the key stop and force a field goal attempt that missed. From there, Bernie Kosar would go to work. He led an 80 yard drive, that was jump started with a 52-yard hook-up to Brown, and then punctuated by a quarterback sneak to propel Miami to a 12-7 lead. But Miami would not secure the win until a Kevin Ingram's 'Hail Mary' into the UM end-zone was caught and then dropped by Adams as he would collide with Vann in the endzone as time expired. Miami had escaped by the skin of their teeth.

Next week on a cold, chilly night in Tallahassee, Miami would find themselves down 16-7 at Doak Campbell Stadium. But in what would become a familiar sight in this intense rivalry, UM would fight back and break the hearts of the Noles in the fourth quarter. The tandem of Kosar and Brown would bring Miami to within 16-14 with a 37-yard touchdown hookup.

"It was cold and we really didn't have much going on," remembered Calhoun. "It was a pretty good battle out there and all we needed to do was get one more drive and get in field goal range and make it happen."

The Miami defense would stiffen- which would be a pattern all year as the Miami defense allowed just 10 fourth quarter points during the regular season in '83. And with 2:12 left in regulation, Miami marched it's way to the FSU goal line and Keith Griffin's 20-yard scamper on a well-timed draw play put the Canes in position to win the game and earn a bid to the Orange Bowl. With three seconds left, Jeff Davis would calmly drill a 19-yard kick through the uprights for a thrilling one-point victory.

"It was a hard-hitting game and you had one or two big plays here or there, but it was always a chance to win because it wasn't lopsided one way or the other, a score or turnover, you're still in the game," said Calhoun of that November night. "We didn't feel like we were ever out of the game at all."

Davis' kick was worth $1.8 million to the university and with that they would be facing one of the greatest college football teams in recent memory. The Nebraska Cornhuskers had steamrolled through 12 opponents, averaging 52 points per game. Led by Outland Award winner Dean Steinkuhler the Huskers were formidable upfront and with Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier, quarterback Turner Gill and wingback Irving Fryar, they were explosive as they were strong. But Miami was not intimidated.

"Absolutely not," Calhoun says. "Our thinking was you want to put yourself in a situation to be successful and we needed to play the best to be the best. And so that was great match-up for us."

And the confidence came from up top with head coach Howard Schnellenberger.

"Howard, all along just said,' Play your game, do what you do best. Our philosophy is were gonna go out there and do what we do best and that's our base offense and base defense, something that we've done all year' We didn't want to really change what we did based on the team we were playing. We wanted the team to make adjustments to what we were doing.

"So basically we tried to stay in our base offense and defense and go at them that way. We would make adjustments if that wasn't working for us."

And for the 'Team of Destiny' things started coming together earlier in the day. Second ranked Texas was upset by Georgia 10-9 in the Cotton Bowl, fourth-ranked Illinois was hammered by UCLA in the Rose Bowl by a score of 45-9 and third ranked Auburn squeaked past Michigan 9-7 in the Sugar Bowl. The stage was set for the fifth ranked Hurricanes to shock the world and win an improbable national title.

"We knew it early in the afternoon," Calhoun says. "A couple of top-ranked teams lost games so we felt that it was destiny the whole year and things were just falling into place. All we needed to do now was just win and we felt just that."

Miami did just what Schnellenberger spoke off by playing to their strengths. All night long, the Huskers, who were unaccustomed to seeing a sophisticated passing game had problems with Kosar, Brown and tight end Glenn Dennison. On defense, Miami's smaller defensive front gave the Huskers massive front line problems.

"Absolutely," agreed Calhoun, who finished third on defense in '83 with 96 total tackles and picked off three passes. "They say that weight is only good when it's leaning on you. But we were able to penetrate gaps, get up field, disrupt some things and I don't think they saw a defense like ours all year. That caught them off-guard."

Dennison would catch two Kosar passes for touchdowns and Miami would run out to a stunning 17-0 first quarter lead on the Huskers in front of a stunned national audience watching on NBC. Nebraska would fight back in the second quarter with a 'fumblerooski' to Steinkuhler that went for a 19-yard touchdown romp and a Gill one-yard touchdown run. But with the score tied at 17 in the third, Miami would put together two scoring drives capped off by touchdown runs from both Alonzo Highsmith (one yard) and Albert Bentley (seven yards) to put Miami on top 31-17 going into the final stanza.

But 'Big Red' wasn't dead by any means. Jeff Smith, who had taken over for a banged up Rozier would score on a one-yard run to bring Nebraska to within a touchdown. Then with less than a minute to play, Smith would take an option-pitch from Gill and scamper down the right sideline for another Husker touchdown to bring the score to within 31-30. A tie would have most likely given Nebraska a national championship. But bless his heart, Tom Osbourne played for the win and went for two.

So with 48 seconds left, it would all come down to one play. Both teams would go to their respective sidelines to map out their next move.

"There really wasn't much said," says Calhoun of the defensive huddle. "We put this defense in during the bowl preparations, ' 55 Double-Dog Trio', two linebackers blitzing in to get pressure, right away. The coaches knew that in those situations, Nebraska like to flood the strong side of the field. My thoughts before that play was Irving Fryar had dropped a touchdown before in the game and they're throwing the ball 75-percent of the time in that situation, so my thought process was that they weren't going to go to him."

It was a combination of great coaching, preparation and reading on the fly that combined to thwart Nebraska's last stand.

"That was my man at the start of the play by it's design, 'Double Dog-Trio' allowed us the opportunity to combo that coverage with me and the free safety. So we count outside,' 1, 2, 3' the receivers, I normally have the '2 receiver' and the safety normally has the '3 receiver' which is normally a back out the backfield," explained Calhoun. "On that particular play, '2' and '3' crossed, Fryar went to the free safety and '3' came out at me, so we combo'd that coverage and normally the way it worked, I would have went with Fryar and the safety would've went with Smith.

"There's no doubt their offensive coordinator knew how we ran things and it was a perfect design- had we stayed the same. But our coaches, coach Olivadotti and coach Archer, they knew. They did their jobs and they put us in situations to win games."

As Gill rolled to his right, he threw a pass near the flat intended for Smith with Calhoun closing in.

"You get a process to read your keys, my initial key was Fryar, when he went inside I picked up the back, that was my second read and then at that point I looked back to the quarterback," explained Calhoun, giving his point of view on that historic play. "I saw the ball at that time and then I still had to get to it, I didn't know if I would get to it or not. It happened so fast, I did about five, six things in a matter of seconds. I didn't know if I was going to have it, I picked it up kinda late."

But just in time, as Calhoun would dive for Gill's pass and knock it away with his right wrist. Pandemonium would hit the Orange Bowl as the ball would fall harmlessly to the turf. Miami would then recover an onside kick and run out the remaining seconds on the clock. They had done it, the Hurricanes had shocked the world and launched a dynasty.

"It was the best feeling in the world," says a joyful Calhoun, who made the game's final big play. "You worked so hard and I tell you, it's a game of inches, I really didn't get much of the ball but I felt enough of the ball to know that it would be deflected, to know it would be a completion. Man, it was just like paradise to know that they weren't going to complete that conversion. So that was just awesome, it's really hard to explain, I still have a hard time talking about it."

And to this day, those who recognize Calhoun, will immediately bring up that play.

"Well, you've got to be a die-hard Cane and you've got to go back a couple of years," he says, with a laugh. "Just this past year people came up to me and said that they became Miami fans because of that game. And that makes you feel real good when people watch a game and get hyped up , become hooked on the Canes because of one game. That's a pretty good feeling, especially to Cane fans."

(Part II: Calhoun talks about his Hurricane career, which includes a tumultuous senior campaign and what he's doing now.)

Steve Kim has been a loyal Hurricane fan since the mid-80's and has been logging onto Grassy.com since 1998. For any questions or comments, Steve can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com

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