|56th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1990
Whew! That was close.
Miami entered the Sugar Bowl as a nine-point favorite, the biggest spread of that New Year's Day, but, with 2:53 remaining, Alabama was suddenly within reach of tie - just as damaging as a loss for a team angling for the national championship.
With that much time to go, the Crimson Tide pulled to within 33-23 on Gary Hollingsworth's nine-yard pass to Prince Wimbly, then Hollingsworth completed a 2-point conversion to Lamonde Russell.
It was a long shot, but with an onside kick, another touchdown and another two-point conversion, ‘Bama could foil the dreams of the Hurricanes. In one game anything can happen.
But it was the ‘Canes who got the kick and who were then able to run out the clock.
In the end everything fell precisely into place for Miami's third No. 1 trophy in eight years, but Craig Erickson had to throw two of his three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter for that to happen. The question was, was that enough?
The cadre of Miami fans in the Superdome were ecstatic and celebrating when they started hearing scores of other games of major interest that day - Notre Dame defeated Colorado 21-6, and Southern Cal beat Michigan 17-10. But Miami's close shave dampened the revelry. It could have repercussions with voters.
"To have the opportunity to possibly win the national championship is a credit to our players and coaches," said Dennis Erickson, but he cautioned, "people still have to vote."
Alabama looked like it might do the voting in the first half, after which the Hurricanes led only 20-17. Those opening 30 minutes produced more yards - 412, the Crimson Tide garnering 163 - than either of the coaches expected. ‘Bama's 17 points were the most allowed in a half by Miami all season, although there was a general feeling in the Superdome that the Crimson Tide was an outmanned team that just kept dodging the knockout blow.
Looming large at game's end were four extra points for Miami, coming on an offside penalty against ‘Bama, which took the ‘Canes' field-goal unit off the field and kept their drive alive at the Tide 3. Stephen McGuire scored on the next play, going over left guard with 4:55 to go in the opening period.
Two possessions later, the Crimson Tide returned fire, taking full advantage of field position created by its punt team.
After pinning Miami back at its 7, Gene Jelks returned a kick to the Alabama 36. In nine plays, Hollingsworth speared flanker Marco Battle with a four-yard TD pass at 14:07 of the second.
"I saw the pressure coming," Hollingsworth said. "It was to pick up the blitz. What they did all day was to put man-on-man single coverage on our receivers and try to get pressure on me. I didn't see Marco catch the ball, but I was happy that he did."
Erickson established Miami's passing game for good on the ‘Canes' first series of the second quarter when he hit Wesley Carroll with three passes for 60 of the necessary 78 yards for a go-ahead touchdown. Carroll caught a 19-yard scoring pass. "After that we had to watch for everything," cornerback John Mangum said. "I mean, they just beat us. That's all there is to it."
Later, a Hurricane fumble led to a 47 yard ‘Bama field goal by Phillip Doyle, which made the score 13-10 with 8:28 left until halftime.
The score jumped to 20-10 as Miami drove 62 yards on nine running plays. At the 3, Alex Johnson juked none other than Keith McCants, considered the best linebacker in the college game, on the outside and hit the end zone.
Alabama responded, coming right back and driving 80 yards on 11 plays as Hollingsworth found Russell with a seven-yard touchdown pass. Russell beat free safety Charles Pharms on a slant pattern.
The Hurricanes got downright stingy in the second half, limiting the Crimson Tide to 89 yards. The game was relatively close, but Miami was clearly the superior squad.
Miami, primarily a passing team, once untracked, rushed for 227 yards on 50 attempts. Erickson finished with 17 completions on 27 attempts for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
"Give them credit," Ozmint said. "They're the best team we've played and Erickson is the best quarterback we've faced." But there was at least a little consolation for the Tide in the fact that the Tide had played hard and well - against the national champions.
The next day the Hurricanes were voted No. 1, making history on more than one front. Erickson became the first man to win a national title in his first season as head coach at a school since Bennie Oosterban at Michigan in 1948.
Recap excerpted from the book "Sugar Bowl Classic: A History" by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.