When the Miami Hurricanes won their first national championships in baseball (1982) and football (1983), there was no basketball program.
It was dormant from 1971-1985 for several reasons, most notably the lack of an arena on campus, a financially strapped athletics department, and fan indifference.
Interestingly, the baseball and football programs followed similar paths en route to their first championships. And the men’s basketball team appears to be going down the same road as it heads to the school’s first appearance in the Final Four, beginning Saturday night in Houston against UConn.
The biggest common thread: Underdogs.
Coach Ron Fraser’s 1982 squad was ranked 11th going into the post season and was 5th at the College World Series in Omaha, owning a 50-17-1 record.
Then they owned Omaha, going 5-0 in the double-elimination tournament. They defeated top-ranked Texas and its star pitcher Roger Clemens and beat second-ranked Wichita State twice, including 9-3 in the championship game.
The 1983 Hurricanes coached by Howard Schnellenberger began the season unranked, lost their opener at Florida 28-3, then won the next 11 games.
They were ranked 5th going into the Orange Bowl Classic against top-ranked Nebraska, a team some experts called the greatest in college football history. The Canes won 31-30 in game decided in the final seconds.
Now comes Jim Larranaga’s squad that thrives on the underdog role. Seeded fifth in the NCAA championships, they were slight favorites to defeat 12th-seeded Drake, then they became the spoilers in knocking off fourth-seeded Indiana, top-seeded Houston and second seed Texas.
Saturday night at 8:49 they face a fourth seed in UConn, which is favored by 5.5 points.
The perfect stage for a perfect storm, Hurricanes’ style.
Those 1982 baseball Hurricanes were in a rebuilding, actually reloading, season. They had to replace five pitchers from a team that took a 60-8 record to the College World Series, only to crash and lose two of three games.
In 1982 the pressure was off. Playing loose, they defeated Maine (yes, Maine was a formidable program then), 7-2, Wichita State 4-3, Texas 2-1, Maine 10-4 and Wichita State in the finale 9-3.
More than 5,000 fans jammed Mark Light Stadium for a celebration when the team returned to campus. Among the speakers was quarterback Jim Kelly, who said, “On behalf of the football team, I want to thank coach Fraser for giving the football team something to shoot for.”
A year and a half later, with Kelly having moved onto the USFL and eventual fame in the NFL, redshirt freshman Bernie Kosar led the Hurricanes to their remarkable Miracle in Miami season.
They were unranked until they knocked off Notre Dame 20-0 the last week in September. In the final seconds of the final regular-season game at Florida State, the Canes earned an Orange Bowl Classic bid by winning 17-16 on a field goal of 19 yards by Jeff “the Flea” Davis.
Then legendary coaches Bob Devaney, Ara Parseghian and Joe Paterno declared that the Nebraska Cornhuskers of Tom Osborne were the greatest college football team ever.
Really? They hadn’t faced Schnellenberger, Kosar and Company. As the Canes surged to a 17-0 lead, NBC’s Don Criqui said of Kosar, “He mixes up the calls at the line like a senior. He simply has fun playing the game of football. He does the job extremely well and has a good time doing it.”
With 48 seconds left, Nebraska cut Miami’s lead to 31-30. Osborne called for a two-point conversion, quarterback Turner Gill rolled rightand under pressure lofted a pass into the end zone toward tailback Jeff Smith. Strong safety Ken Calhoun tipped the pass away to seal the victory for “The Team From Nowhere.”
The Hurricanes had zero first-team All-Americans, a first for a national champion since the AP began polls in 1936.
“This is a love affair with Miami that began five years ago,” Schnellenberger said. “The fulfillment of a dream … no, the beginning of a dream.”
Indeed, the Hurricanes went on to win four other national championships and put themselves in contention of six others during the next two decades.
Meanwhile, the baseball team won the College World Series again in 1986, then twice under Jim Morris in 1999 and 2001. And it played in the NCAA tournament every year until 2017, going to Omaha 19 more times after 1982.
Thus winning the first national championship in baseball and football spurred more success.
Could the same be in the offing for basketball?
Coach L’s Hurricanes advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time a year ago. Now they’re in the school’s first Final Four. With no first-team All-American.
Is this the year another dream comes true? Or is this another step that helps Larranaga recruit even more talent to accompany Norchad Omier, Nijel Pack and Wooga Poplar into a deep run a year from now?
It’s fun to think of the possibilities.