The Top 100 Hurricanes, The Elite

We have reached the pinnacle, the moment you've been waiting for since we started this countdown weeks ago. Here are my cream of the crop Hurricanes since 1980. Who will be number 1? Let's break down the final candidates and find out who ended up heading this list of all-time greats.

9- Eddie Brown (83-84): 'Fast Eddie' was one of the fatest and most explosive Hurricanes ever on the outside. He had blazing speed, hands that were like suction cups and once he had the ball, he was like running back in the open field.

Brown, has the only 1,000 yard recieving season in UM history as he totaled 1,114 yards with nine touchdowns. He would finish his two year run at Miami with 89 grabs for 1,754 yards. But forget the numbers, Brown made a series of big plays that can't be forgotten.

During the Cinderella run of 83, with Miami trailing the fiesty East Carolina Pirates, 7-6 with under five minutes to go, Brown would hook up with Bernie Kosar on a huge 52 yard pass that was the key play in the Canes 12-7 comeback win. Thenin the regular season finale at FSU, his 37 yard touchdown catch would cut the Noles lead to 16-14. The Canes would kick a last second field goal to earn a berth in the Orange Bowl against the mighty Nebraska Huskers. Where Brown would shine again, with six catches, totalling 115 yards and two punt returns for 50 yards, in Miami's stunning 31-30 victory that vaulted UM to it's first title.

He would continue his heroic ways with an acrobatic air show with Bernie Kosar that dazzled the Auburn Tigers in the 84 Kickoff Classic and then just a few days later he caught a fade in the corner of the endzone in Tampa to give Miami a thrilling comeback win over Florida. Even in losing causes he was brilliant, who can forget his 10 catch, 220 yard performance against Boston College that season.

Kosar to Brown, was simply historic and breathtaking.

8- Bennie Blades (84-87): Quite simply the most dominant and intimidating defensive back to ever come through this program. Built like a small outside linebacker with sprinters speed, Blades was equally adept at picking off passes or decapitating recievers going across the middle. And oh yeah, he'd let you know about it too.

The ringleader of the famed 'Bennie and the Jets', Blades along with co-horts Selwyn Brown, Tolbert Bain and Darrell Fullington, shut down enemy passing attacks at will. Blades was a consensus All-American in both 86 and 87 and won the inaugural Thorpe Award, giving to the nations best defensive back, in 87, sharing the award with Oklahoma's Ricky Dixon.

He currently ranks second on the all-time INT list with 19, which was tops till Ed Reed came along, his streak of five games with an interception is tied for first and he holds the record for most career tackles by a safety with 286. His 10 picks in 86, led the nation and is the single season mark at UM.

This fierce ballhawk was one of the greates safeties ever to play college football.

7- Edgerrin James (96-98): You just knew when this late signee to the recruiting class of 96 got his first carries in the closing moments of the season opener against Memphis that he was a thoroughbred.

After some early struggles tap-dancing behind the line and holding onto the ball, James, single-handedly carried UM football back to national prominence on his broad shoulders in the late 90's under the reign of Butch Davis.

Despite not playing on the greatest of offensive lines, James is the second all-time rusher at UM with 2,960 yards, third in all-purpose yards with 3,590 yards, tied for first in 100+ yard games with 14 and tops in touchdowns with 35. And he holds the all-time best rushing season for a Cane with 1,416 yards in 98 and his 1,671 total yards is second best for a season at UM and his 19 scores that year is tops for a season.

After being one of the lone bright spots in Miami's disastrous 5-6 season of 97, where he still rushed for over 1000 yards, James would kick it into a higher gear during the last seven games of his final year in Coral Gables. He would average 24 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns as the Canes would win six of their last seven games to lay a solid foundation for the rebuilding Canes. He would culminate that run with a performance for the ages as he would rip top ranked Ucla for 299 yards on 39 attempts and three touchdowns in Miami's huge 49-45 upset of the Bruins. This victory was one of the key building blocks in Miami's re-emergence.

He would finish his career at Miami by rushing for 156 yards and only 20 carries and scoring twice as the Canes routed the NC St. Wolfpack by a score of 46-23.

When you construct a running back, 'the Edge' is the prototype. Size, speed, durability, balance, quickness, hands, toughness, moves, and the ability to block. He could do it all and then some.

6- Warren Sapp (92-94): One of the most colorful and outspoken Hurricanes ever, who evoked images of the late, great Jerome Brown with his larger than life persona and his play inside the trenches.

Sapp, was a flat out stopper, who was capable of stopping inside running games with his penetration and collapsing the pocket with his quick first step. He would give glimpes of his skills early on, it was his pressure of John Sacca deep in Penn St. territory that led to Paul White's game clinching INT at Happy Valley in 92.

By 94, Sapp was the most devastating defender in the land. In addition to being named a consensus All-American, he would win this programs first Lombardi Award and was one of six finalist invited to the New York Downtown Athletic Clubs for the Heisman Trophy presentation. In addition to that he would be named the Defensive Player of the Year from ABC Sports, Sports Illustrated, the Footbal News, Football Writers Associations of America and the Touchdown Clubs of Atlanta and Columbus and the Big East Defensive Player of the Year. This after racking up 84 tackles, 10.5 sacks, nine tackles for losses, caused four fumbles and recovered three. Needless to say, he won the Jack Harding Award as the teams MVP. In other words, he was pretty damn good.

Sapp, not only influenced games, he flat out changed them. His seven tackle, two for losses, and two sacks keyed the Canes defensive effort in front of a rabid night time Orange Bowl crowd that saw Miami vanquish FSU 34-20.

Then against BC, in a tight defensive struggle, it was his big interception that led to Miami's touchdown that gave the Canes a 12-7 lead, in a game in which they pulled away to an eventual 23-7 victory that sealed an Orange Bowl berth against Nebraska.

And it was during that game- his last in orange and green- that Sapp gave a super-human effort. Along with his two sacks, he seemed to be in on every tackle but eventually he, like the rest of our defense would run out of gas and then get run over by a strong Husker rushing attack in a 24-17 loss. It would be the last we saw of Sapp, Dennis Erickson( thank goodness) and last remnants of Miami's first dynasty.

5- Ray Lewis (93-95): Has there ever been a player that made as quick an impact as Lewis? Despite being a late signee, he would quickly make incumbent middle backer Robert Bass into the modern day Wally Pipp. After taking over for a fallen Bass in the second game of the 93 season against Virginia Tech, Lewis would simply prove, time and time again to be the best linebacker ever to come through this program.

His first start at Boulder, Colorado against nationally ranked Colorado, Lewis would roam the field for 17 tackles, 12 of the solo, and a sack. It was just part of a strong true freshman campaign.

In 94, he and Warren Sapp would spearhead the nations top defense with 152 tackles, fourth best for a season at UM. Lewis would earn second team All-American honors that year.

But in 95 without the services of Sapp upfront, while others struggled, he continued to strive. He would total 160 tackles, but it was his heroic efforts in losses to Ucla and FSU that really showed his heart and fortitude. While some of his teammates seemed to quit when the going got tough, it was Lewis who continued to play hard. For his efforts he was a consensus first team All-American and came within one vote of winning the Butkus Award and for the second time he would be named to the All-Big East team.

Despite playing just three seasons, his 388 tackles, ranks sixth on the all-time list.

4- Jerome Brown (83-86): 'Did the Japanese sit down and eat dinner with Pearl Harbor, before they bombed'em?' NO JEROME!!! And the Canes weren't going to sit down at the famous steak fry with Penn St. prior to the 87 Fiesta Bowl. Never mind the Canes lost, it was still a great moment. Oh, yeah, and the fatigues were pretty cool, too.

It was all just part of the larger than life persona that Brown had while being the ringleader of the big, bad, notorious, hated Canes, that took college football to another level in the late 80's. Brown, was a big talker who backed up every single boast.

Brown was a dominating force on the inside who capped of his career with a banner 86 senior campaign. Brown, would start in four New Year's Day bowl games: the 84 Orange Bowl, the 85 Fiesta Bowl, the 86 Sugar Bowl and finally the 87 Fiesta Bowl.

For his career, he would finish with 183 tackles, 21 sacks and 19 tackles for losses but it was in the biggest games that Brown would shine.

In the watershed 85 Oklahoma game at Norman, he would lead the Cane defensive effort with 16 tackles, a sack, a blocked field goal and a broken leg of then-Sooner Troy Aikman. In an indirect way, he led to the championship season of the Sooners as Jamelle Holieway would take the Sooners all the way to the top and Aikman would transfer to Ucla.

And yes while Miami would lose to Penn St. in a heartbreaking 14-10 upset loss, Brown held up his own end of the bargain by dominating on the inside and leading the defensive charge that held the Nittany Lions to 162 yards of total offense and only eight first downs.

It would cap off a season in which he would be named a consensus first team All-American and a finalist for the Outland and Lombardi Awards.

Rest in peace, Jerome. We haven't seen your kind since.

3- Steve Walsh (86-88): How would Hurricane history differ if Bill Turkowski had beaten out this Minnesota native? It was a mild upset that he did at all, after all Turkowski was a highly touted recruit who had the choice of schools to attend while Walsh had offers from the likes of Iowa St., Northwestern and Louisville.

Walsh, was a slightly built quarterback with an average fastball, at best. While he was no Randy Johnson, he was Greg Maddux, who's precision and control won game after game under center.

He would get off to good start as UM's starting quarterback in 87, leading the Canes to wins over Florida and Arkansas. But it was October 3rd, 1987, that Walsh started his legend. Down 19-3 with 16 minutes to do at FSU( and reportedly, just a drive or two from being benched in favor of Craig Erickson), Walsh took it to another level. All day long Sammie Smith and the Noles were whipping the Canes, but the Canes never say die- they just do.

First Walsh, would hit Melvin Bratton down the seam for a 49 yard touchdown and the ensuing two-point conversion to Brian Blades would cut the lead to 19-11 coming into the final quarter. Then, after an FSU turnover, Walsh would then hit Michael Irvin over the middle for a 26 yard score and then toss a pass to Warren Williams for the two point conversion to tie the ball game at 19 all. Then Walsh would cap off his heroics by dropping the ball into the arms of Irvin who would scamper down the sideline for a 73 yard touchdown. It would be the deciding points in Miami's thrilling 26-25 win that would catapult the Canes to their second national title.

In the 88 Orange Bowl vs. the Oklahoma Sooners, he would toss two touchdowns to lead the Canes to a 20-14 victory.

But in 88 he would be even better, despite heavy losses to the NFL, he would lead the Canes to wins over the FSU( pre-season number one), Arkansas( SWC champion), LSU( SEC co-champion),BYU and Nebraska( Big 8 champion). But it was his play in Miami's unbelievable comeback win over the Big 10 champion Michigan Wolverines that sets him apart.

In front of over 100,000 in 'the Big House', Miami would find themselves down 30-14 in the closing minutes. But Walsh would hit Rob Chudzinski for a seven yard score and then a two-pointer to Dale Dawkins and then a 48 yard touchdown on fourth down to Cleveland Gary to bring the Canes to 30-28 late. And after a Bobby Harden recovery of an onside kick, Walsh would calmly direct the Canes to a game winning field goal from Carlos Huerta. From 30-14, he would bring the Canes back to a 31-30 win- all in the last six minutes, without using a single timeout. That's field generalship.

For his career, Walsh was 23-1 as a starter and if wasn't for one horrible call at South Bend against Notre Dame( where he threw for 424 yards), he would have lead Miami to back-to-back titles in 87 and 88.

Walsh, would depart for the riches of the NFL after being named the Football News College Player of the Year, first team All-American and finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1988.

His 48 career touchdowns is second on the all-time UM list.

2- Jim Kelly (79-82): This recent NFL Hall-of-Fame inductee grew up in what is called 'the Cradle of Quarterbacks' in Western Pennsylvania but ended up at UM only after Joe Paterno and Penn St. recruited him as a linebacker. Remember, the Nittany Lions used to be 'Linebacker U' way back then. But with these turn of events, Kelly, would help build Miami into a quarterback factory.

Kelly, put up some pretty impressive numbers at Miami, he would throw for 5,228 yards and 33 touchdowns, but mere numbers can don't gauge the sheer impact he had on this program. Running Howard Schnellenbergers' highly sophisticated pro-style offense, Kelly and the Canes would play giant-killers and lay the foundation for the most dynastic run in college football history.

As a freshman he would take on Penn St.( ironically enough) to a huge upset victory at Happy Valley by throwing completing 18/30 for 280 yards and three scores. He would continue his strong play by leading the Canes to a 9-3 mark in 1980 and a berth in the 1981 Peach Bowl.

Kelly, had a cannon arm to go with his toughness. There's a famous picture of him rolling out to his right as he looks down field for a receiver. Now, what's so unusual about that? Well, the fact that he had his helmet ripped off and the fact that he was without his lid didn't seem to faze him. He was the ultimate gamer and his confidence and bravado were infectious throughout this program. Kelly, was a gunslinger that never seemed to run out of bullets.

His senior year was ruined in the third game of the year with a shoulder separation against Virginia Tech. But the man had made his mark on Miami football. He was integral part of the nucleus that lifted the Canes to a different level.

1a- Bernie Kosar (83-84): Ok, so am I hedging? You better believe it, but hey, it's my list and who says I can't take a few creative liberties. And any quarterback that leads Miami to it's first national title, simply can't be placed any lower than this.

If football was a chess game, Kosar, would be Bobby Fischer. Yeah, he had slow feet and a funny delivery but he had a football IQ of about 300 and he always got the job done. But who would have thought after his rough start in Gainesville against the rival Gators that Kosar would proceed to lead the Canes to 11 straight wins and a National Championship? For the season his stats would read: 201/416 passes, 2,329 yards and 15 touchdowns and two big late comeback drives against East Carolina and FSU.

And then in the historic 84 Orange Bowl, he would torch the supposedly unbeatable Huskers for 300 yards passing and two touchdowns, in Miami's improbable 31-30 victory that took Miami all the way to the top of the college football world. And did we mention that he did this as a redshirt freshman?

Then as sophomore he was even better, he would throw for 3,642 yards and 25 touchdowns and if it wasn't for the some of the worst defense ever seen in Miami, he would've led Miami to another top 10 finish. His 262 pass completions and 3,642 passing yards is tops for seasonal marks at Miami, as is his 3,412 total yards that year.

But not all his valiant efforts were wasted in 84, in the season opener against Auburn in the Kickoff Classic, Kosar would throw for 329 yards in a 20-18 win, then just a few days later in Tampa, the Canes would find themselves down 20-19 against Florida with just 41 seconds remaining. More than enough time for Bernie and the boys. As he would need just 29 seconds to put Miami back on top of the Gators as he would hit Eddie Brown on a 12-yard fade into the endzone for the game-winning score.

Even in defeat Kosar was impressive, if it wasn't for the long heave by Doug Flutie, people would remember Kosars 447 yards passing he put up against the Boston College Eagles. It was only fitting I guess, that his UM career and his 84 season would end with UM's defense blowing another game and wasting another strong Kosar performance in a 39-37 loss to Ucla in the 85 Fiesta Bowl. Kosar's line would read: 31/44 for 294 yards and two touchdowns. For his efforts during that season he would be named second team All-American, made the academic All-American team( we told you he was smart) and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

By the time Kosar entered the supplemental draft, he would finish with 23 career UM records. He still holds the mark for highest career passing percentage at 62.3%, second in pass completions with 463, sixth in career passing yards with 5,971, seventh in touchdown passes with 40. And don't forget that he accomplished all this with two years of eligibility remaining at UM.

Not bad for a awkward, gangly kid out of Youngstown, Ohio, I'd say.

1- Michael Irvin (85-87): Yes, 'the Playmaker' is 'the Best Damn Hurricane, Period'. Hey, this guy is my all-time favorite Cane and I make no bones about it. I never said I wasn't going to be completely unbiased about this. But even then, it's hard to argue his placing atop this list.

Irvin, is tied for third on the all-time career list for receptions with 143, third in receiving yards with 2,423, number one in touchdowns with 26 and his 11 touchdown grabs in 86, is still the all-time best for a single season at Miami.

But beyond what the stats say, it was the number of big plays that he made in the biggest games that sets Irvin part. They say that, ' big time players, make big-time plays' and the personification of that was Michael Irvin.

As the Canes fell behind FSU in 87 by a score of 19-3, FSU cornerback Deion Sanders would tell Michael that it was time to pack it in, that this would be the Noles day. Michael would simply state to 'Prime Time': ' Uh, uh, a Hurricane never gives up' Especially this Hurricane.

Irvin would proceed to bring the Hurricanes to 19-17 with a 26 yard scoring strike from Steve Walsh in the fourth quarter and then, who can ever forget the 'the Playmaker' streaking down the sideline at Doak Campbell for 73 yards to put Miami on top 25-19 with just minutes remaining. It was the decisive score in the Hurricanes 26-25 win over the Noles. Hey Deion, that's why we put up the four fingers before the start of every fourth quarter.

But that was just one instance of Irvin's greatness. There were his big touchdown catches against the vaunted Oklahoma Sooners in 85, 86 and the 88 Orange Bowl that were instrumental in the three game sweep of the Sooners in those season- the only three losses that program would have in that stretch. Or his huge fourth quarter touchdown from Vinny Testaverde against FSU in 85. The list goes on and on. In his three season at Miami, he would lead the Canes in receiving every year.

Irvin's trademark swagger, cockiness, attitude, bravado, toughness and precociousness were synonymous with the program- and still is to this very day. Nobody played the game with as much passion, enthusiasm and heart as this guy. And with his hung out jersey, his 'Bomb Squad' towel and his multiple wrist bands, he not only played good, he looked good. The man was cool, flat out. Forget all this talk of 'class' and 'doing it the right way', it's still his image that attracts the nations best high school talent to this school to this day and forever. When you think of the Miami Hurricanes, Irvin is still one of the first names you think off.

And on the flip-side his on-field success and his off- the-field turbulence, closely mirrored that of the program in many ways. The excess of the late 80's and early-to-mid 90's combined with the rehabilitation of the past several years- that's the Hurricanes and that's Irvin.

But it's his on-field performance and exuberance that will ultimately be remembered. Nobody could celebrate and stir the pot like him. While Cane fans loved every minute of it, the rest of the country stewed. Hey, its a Canes' thing, you wouldn't understand. And we certainly don't care if you didn't like it.

It was Irvin that used to rally the troops before the coin-toss at the hashmarks to stare down and intimidate the opposition. Long before the 'Lambeau Leap' in Green Bay, Irvin would routinely make it a point to celebrate with those in the west end zone after scoring strikes. The scene of him whooping it up with the fans after beating Ricky Dixon like a rented mule in the 86 Oklahoma game is an all-time classic scene. Or who can forget his touchdown celebration against South Carolina in 87, that seemed to take for half an hour as he went from celebrating from the end zone all the way to the Miami bench as he exhorted the night time Orange Bowl crowd into a frenzy.

And then finally, in his last game as a Hurricane, he would again beat Dixon like a drum for the clinching touchdown in the 88 Orange Bowl, where he would intercept the ball from the referee and continue his New Years celebration all the way back to the Miami bench. It was pure 'Playmaker'. Thrilling, exciting, enthusiastic, over-the-top and most of all, fun.

Irvin, was and is, what Hurricane football is all about.

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