There was enough speculation and rumors flying to put a smile on Don King's mug.
Who would deliver the first punch? Who would withstand the pressure of a big stage? Would there be enough room on the stage for two? Who would show the most will in the moment of truth? Whether true or not true, both the combatants were said to slight the other.
Back and forth the gossip flew all week with loads of he said that, he said this. Forget that there was a football game to be played between Syracuse-Miami. By game time a build up had been created the likes of Ali-Frazier, Liston-Clay, Ferre-Diaz and Lewis-Rahman (well….).
Syracuse-Miami would provide enough fireworks (so we thought), but as an added bonus two of college football's heavyweight players would tangle head-to-head, nose-to-nose, mano-a-mano and have a say in which way the contest would go.
Bryant McKinnie, a 6-9, 335-pound man-child, vs. Dwight Freeney, touted as the best defensive player in the game. All accounts were McKinnie would be tested like never before against Freeney, quick as a cat and deadly around the corners. Freeney? He would be taken to the limit by potentially a top-5 NFL Draft selection.
But thankfully this wasn't one of those pay-per-view specials that hard-working citizens are also suckered into because only one of the players bothered to join - not to mention just one team.
There could have been assault charges leveled on McKinnie by the middle of the first quarter.
Leaving the Orange Bowl, I would have thought the 1,668 police officers surrounding the premises were there to take the mammoth Hurricanes left tackle straight into custody what torching Freeney all night long.
Forget this being a candidate for ESPN Classic. All 52,869 judges in the Orange Bowl partial or not would have declared this a dud.
Even Jose Feliciano would have come to this conclusion- McKinnie in a TKO.
But for the first two plays of the contest, McKinnie punished Freeney with ease, reducing the heart beat of the Syracuse defense to a whisper. Scary to think about all the noise being made about Freeney entering the game.
One thing is to help control the line of scrimmage and help your unit keep the quarterback on his feet. But McKinnie showed the entire country why professional scouts are salivating over him. Although both players were matched up on every play, McKinnie pancaked Freeney to the grass almost every opportunity he got.
"He probably won't tell you, but everybody saw it- Bryant McKinnie dominated Dwight Freeney today," said junior UM running back Clinton Portis, who wasn't too shabby himself with 132 yards on 18 carries.
Even the talkative pair of Brad Nessler and Bob Griese could not manage to squeeze Freeney's name into the ABC telecast thanks to McKinnie. The 6-1, 250-pound senior defensive end was shut out in all phrases. Freeney came in with an impressive resume- the single season sack record holder (16.5) and first in fumbles forced and recovered in the Big East.
Apparently somebody forgot to tell McKinnie, as he made sure Freeney would walk off with 0000000000000000's by his name. 0 tackles; 0 sacks; 0 hurries; 0 interceptions; 0 to talk about.
Maybe not recording a single tackle in a game for the first time all season is and not getting to the quarterback for just the second time all year long, is the best brand of lip sealer. Freeney, who supposedly boosted about ‘making his first million' off McKinnie, had nothing to say in the Syracuse locker room afterwards.
Ditto for McKinnie, who is as big a teddy bear as they come. Instead of beating his chest for the whipping he had just administered to Freeney, he sprayed the praise on the entire Hurricanes offense and spoke candidly about the man he abused all afternoon.
"Dwight is a very good player, I just went out and did my job," McKinnie said, refusing to brag.
McKinnie didn't open up on how he stacked Freeney up play after play like a stack of pancakes. Neither did he bring up that in close to two years at the University of Miami no defender has gotten past him for a QB sack.
But don't be fooled.
From the very start McKinnie was starving to go at the Orangemen's big dog. Although Freeney would later deny the ‘million dollar' declaration, McKinnie apparently didn't take well to the comments. He kept quiet all week, but after the game admitted that ‘yeah, they stung a little bit'.
I could see it now. Miami offensive-line coach Art Kehoe, a veteran of 21 years, must have drilled McKinnie all week on the boosting that Freeney supposedly was doing up north. He was probably looking for every little edge he could give his big man from Woodbury, New Jersey.
"I think he was challenged," said Kehoe. "Whatever Freeney may have said, really lit McKinnie up."
It's a safe bet that no Washington or Virginia Tech defenders will be popping off at the mouth before taking on the best offensive lineman in the college game.
McKinnie's one-sided victory was only fitting on a day when the Hurricanes shredded the Orangemen. If this was the second best team in the Big East and owners of an eight game winning steark coming in, it's sad to think what might happen to Washington and Virginia Tech in the next couples of weeks.
The Hurricanes proved that their close call in Boston College was a mirage- a one shoot deal, a once a year slip up, a thing of the past.
Is there any question who the best team in the country is now?
The Huskies and Hokies will only serve as the latest victims on the road to Pasadena for Miami.
Good chance this season comes up smelling likes roses.
About That Matchup-All McKinnie
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