Pitt-Miami Rewind: 1986

Miami remained unbeaten, and the consensus top-ranked team in the country. It was Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, who left his mark on them.

Pitt was slowly, but surely getting back on its feet in 1986, under then first-year coach Mike Gottfried.

The previous week, in a 24-20 loss to Syracuse, the Panthers would lose fourth-year starting quarterback John Congemi for the season. Starting with the Miami game, the Panthers would abandon its run-and-shoot offense that had been adopted under Gottfried. Instead, it was going to be a heavy dose of running the football.

It was the day that the rest of the nation met Ironhead. Since Miami was the top team in the nation, they met him at the forefront. Miami won the game 37-10, making Heyward's and Miami's performance all the more remarkable. He finished with a then school-record 39 carries for 254 yards and Pitt's lone touchdown run, which came in the fourth quarter. Miami still had a dominating victory, in some weather conditions their team was not accustomed to seeing.

"It was a cold, dreary, damp night," Dave Wannstedt recalled, who was Miami's defensive coordinator at the time. "Our guys didn't want to get off the bus. It was one of those games. It was cold. We won the football game, but it wasn't easy."

The difference in the game, came down to the passing game. Sal Genilla and Joe Felitsky filled in for Congemi, combining for just 56 yards in the air, and five interceptions. Vinny Testaverde, on the other hand, had no trouble throwing the ball in such harsh conditions, completing 17-of-26 passes for 291 yards and four touchdown passes. Michael Irvin led the way with four of those catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.

Despite the lopsided score however, and despite it being his alma mater--his first trip back to Pitt at the time--Wannstedt still has nightmares about how Heyward punished his Miami defense, which included future first-round picks Jerome Brown and Russell Maryland on the defensive line.

"I got very clear memories of that," Wannstedt said. "I was in the press box calling the defenses. We had three first-rounders on our defensive line. Randy Shannon was one of the linebackers. Bennie Blades was our All-American safety, H.B's dad. I think he made 15 tackles.

"I remember being in the press box. I had never seen a back--in all my years at Miami--that ran over us physically and pounded us physically like Craig Heyward did that night. We were ranked number-one in the nation in defense that year, and we still ended up number-one."

With his performance against Miami--Ironhead left a lasting impression, that still stands to this day. Though he left an impression on Wannstedt, who was facing all kinds of emotions in making his return to Pittsburgh for the first time, that day, take it from a then redshirt freshman linebacker by the name of Bernard Clark.

"Ironhead had 275 yards," Clark said, clearly engrained in his head 24 years later. "I remember up on the (score)board, he slowly got better and better (as the game went on). Soon (the scoreboard) said, ‘The Iron is getting hot, it's getting hot.'"

The Miami pass defense forced Pitt into five interceptions that day, and they still came up with an impressive 27-point win over the Panthers. That should be enough to wipe away any memories of what Heyward did that day, right?

"It was 37-10, and he still had 275 yards," Clark said. "That's the one thing I remember from that day. It doesn't matter what the score was. I remember Ironhead had 275 yards. He killed us."

Even though the 275 yards is an oversight on Clark's part, by 21 yards, it's clear that what Heyward did to the vaunted Miami defense that day, still sticks around the memories of the opposing players and coaches that were on the field that day, not just Pitt fans.

"Ironhead had the most yards (against Miami during his playing career)," Clark added. "He punished more of our DBs than anybody I've ever seen. He ran over more safeties and corners than anyone I've ever seen in my entire life. We were the number-one defense in the nation, but it's hard to stop it when you're 265 pounds and run a 4.5. It's kind of hard to stop."


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