Hurricanes' championship defeat was a surprise for the ages

Sunday, January 12, 2003

MOREHEAD, Ky. -- As I try and pass the time during Southeast Missouri State University's annual grueling Ohio Valley Conference basketball trip deep into the mountain region of eastern Kentucky, here is a bit more on that thrilling Fiesta Bowl national championship football game.

I know some people believed Ohio State's defense was good enough and the Buckeyes' penchant for coming through in tight situations solid enough to give them a chance at upsetting the mighty Miami Hurricanes.

Don't count me among those people. I thought Miami's overwhelming speed and abundance of NFL-caliber athletes would allow the Hurricanes to coast to their second consecutive national championship.

Sure, Ohio State deserved plenty of credit for reaching the title contest. But the Buckeyes had to squeak past a bunch of unheralded opponents to get that far. And their offense appeared mediocre at best.

But, as the saying goes, that's why they play the games. Ohio State's defense was as strong as advertised. And quarterback Craig Krenzel was efficient and tough -- if not spectacular -- as he avoided the big mistakes that plagued Miami QB Ken Dorsey throughout the contest.

The end result was Ohio State's 31-24 victory in two overtimes.

To be sure, Miami helped the Buckeyes a bunch with numerous turnovers. But Ohio State has thrived on those kinds of opponents' mistakes all season and, when it happens that often, I don't think you can simply classify it as luck.

And that was a horrible pass interference call on Ohio State's fourth-down play in the first overtime that gave the Buckeyes a chance to score the tying touchdown and force a second extra session.

Still, you've got to hand it to the Buckeyes. They utilized the formula they had thrived on all season -- playing stout defense, forcing turnovers and taking advantage of opportunities -- to pull off a major upset.

Even if I never thought it would come close to happening.

Nobody can argue that Miami and Ohio State didn't deserve to play for the national championship because they were the only two teams that emerged from the season without a loss.

But the kinds of impressive bowl performances squads like Oklahoma and USC put together sure made me wish Division I-A college football had some kind of a playoff system.

Maybe in the near future there will be one. College football fans can only hope so.

You have to feel for Miami's Willis McGahee, the sensational sophomore tailback who suffered a severe knee injury early in the fourth quarter of the Fiesta Bowl.

McGahee was less than one quarter away from being financially set for life as he would have probably entered the NFL draft and been one of the top picks.

Instead, McGahee now faces months of grueling rehabilitation and a return to Miami as he hopes to eventually regain the form that made him one of the nation's top players.

But McGahee was smart enough to take out a lucrative insurance policy before the Fiesta Bowl, so he'll be in pretty solid shape financially even if he can't come all the way back from the injury.

What in the world could have been going through the mind of Tennessee State basketball coach Nolan Richardson III when, after an argument with an assistant coach on Christmas Day, he brought a gun into the team's practice site?

People do incredibly stupid things, but that has got to rank high on the all-time list. Not surprisingly, Richardson was suspended the next day and Thursday he resigned, although he would have been fired anyway.

It's hard to imagine Richardson finding another decent coaching job -- or a coaching job of any kind -- in the near future.

What a wild opening round of the playoffs we had last weekend, with two incredible comebacks as first the Steelers rallied from 17 points down in the second half to shock the Browns 36-33 and then the 49ers erased a 24-point second-half deficit to stun the Giants 39-38.

The Giants have only themselves to blame for wasting such a big lead, but it's still a shame that the officials blew that non-call on the game's final play. By all rights, New York should have had one more chance to kick a winning field goal.

Anybody who has ever played basketball on any level had to appreciate Kobe Bryant's NBA-record performance of 12 3-point baskets against the Sonics Tuesday night.

Bryant, who nailed nine straight 3-pointers during one stretch, was in the kind of zone that all wannabe hoopsters -- myself included -- dream about.

But Bryant's explosion notwithstanding, the Lakers still aren't looking very good in their bid for a four-peat, although they have displayed some signs of life lately.

One more quick thought on the NBA:

Because I work most nights, I don't get a chance to watch many games on TV. But I did catch the Mavericks against the Celtics Friday night -- and let me tell you, Dallas is one impressive team.

If the Mavs and Kings happen to hook up in the playoffs again, that should be a heck of a series between two high-octane squads who feature similar styles.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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