Clash of Titans
Games featuring a future Hall of Fame coach on each sideline.
January 2, 1987: Penn State vs Miami
Joe Paterno vs Jimmy Johnson
In 1986, there were 24 major college schools that did not belong to a conference. Two of the most prominent were Penn State and Miami of Florida. Both finished 11-0 in the regular season and were ranked #1 (Miami) and #2 (Penn State) in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls.
As independents, the two schools were not bound by contract to any bowl. So the relatively new Fiesta Bowl in Tempe AZ paired the two in the de facto national cham­pionship game to be played on the night of January 2 on NBC with no other game competing with it for viewers.
The teams had four common opponents.
Penn State Opponent Miami
42-17 East Carolina 36-10
23-17 Cincinnati 45-13
34-14 Pittsburgh 37-10
19-0 West Virginia 58-14
Each team had a signature win. For Miami, it was their 28-16 defeat of #1 Okla­homa in the Orange Bowl September 27. The victory vaulted the Hurricanes to the top of the rankings where they stayed for the rest of the season.
Penn State's marquee game was the 23-13 triumph over #2 Alabama October 25 in Tuscaloosa.
Comparative scores gave the edge to Miami. The Hurricanes had the more po­tent offense, but the Nittany Lions had a slightly better defense based on results against common opponents.

Jimmy Johnson and Joe Paterno at press conference before the game.
Miami QB Vinny Testaverde had experienced a roller coaster ride of emotions in the last two months. Two days before the last regular season game against East Caro­lina, he lost control of his motor scooter and hit a curb while heading home from a nighttime team meeting. He suffered extensive abrasions on his left side but fortu­nately no broken bones or torn muscles.
He watched from the sideline as his backup led the Hurricanes to a 36-10 rout of East Carolina to complete an undefeated regular season.
After the game, Testaverde's jersey was retired by the school. A few days later, he won the Heisman Trophy. Two days after that, he visited the White House and Presi­dent Ronald Reagan.
Vinny had only 10 practices before the Fiesta Bowl. He still had scabs and wasn't 100% when the team arrived in Phoenix.
The Fiesta Bowl was billed as a collision between an unstoppable force—Miami's potent offense—and an unmoveable object—Penn State's rock-ribbed defense.
The betting line favored the Hurricanes by 6 1/2 points.
Two Different Approaches to Game
Never has there been another game with such a disparity in the attitudes instilled in the two teams by their coaches.
Many saw the game as a morality play—a battle between good and evil. The good guys from Penn State vs the bad guys from Miami. Between the squeaky-clean Nit­tany Lions, whose school cared as much about academics as athletics, and the rene­gades from Miami, which put athletics ahead of academics. Between the Lions who celebrated touchdowns by joining their ten teammates who made the score possible and the Hurricanes, who jumped into the stands after touchdowns and taunted the opponent.
A series of scrapes with the law by Hurricane players had created the bad boy image, which they gleefully embraced. When the players deplaned in Arizona, a dozen of them, including Testaverde, wore Rambo-style army fatigues. "That was a great idea," said Coach Johnson. "I wish I had thought of it."
The Nittany Lions had an advantage over the Hurricanes because they had dealt with the hype and media circus surrounding the national championship game the year before when they lost to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.
Several days before the game, both teams attended the traditional Fiesta Bowl din­ner. It was intended to be an evening of good-natured fun with skits and presentations. But the Hurricanes had other ideas.
The Penn State players wore coats and ties while the Miami players wore the black sweat suits that the Fiesta Bowl had given them.
After dinner, there were jokes about Vinny Testaverde's winning the Heisman Trophy. Not funny, thought the Hurricanes. Other jokes about team unity had racial overtones. Then a shot by Penn State punter John Bruno at Miami coach Johnson's famous meticulous hairdo.
Miami DT Jerome Brown could take no more. He stormed toward the stage. He had planned to do a rap song, but instead he stripped off his sweat suit to reveal army fatigues and cried out, "We're not here for you all to make monkeys of us. We're here to make war." He added, "Did the Japanese have dinner at Pearl Harbor before they bombed them?"
When Brown shouted, "Let's go!" his teammates stripped to their fatigues and fol­lowed him out of the room.
As the Hurricanes left, Bruno unleased a parting shot.
"Hey, didn't the Japanese lose that one?"
Lions Coaches Craft Great Defensive Plan
An article in the Reading (PA) Eagle the day of the game revealed some aspects of the Penn State defensive game plan.
"Look for the Penn State defense, led by linebacker Shane Conlan, to try to sur­prise Testaverde with the blitz, fake the blitz as much as they actually use it, and to use a zone to try to keep Miami's wideouts from breaking long."
Conlan said the defensive coaches had devised two game plans.
"One is to go after them, and one is to sit back and defend the pass. But the main thing is that we just have to go out there and hit them. ... The name of the game is still hitting."
After watching films of the Hurricanes, Penn State S Ray Isom told one of his coaches, "I might not make it to the end of the game because if one of them goes up into the stands, I'm going up after him. If they beat us, they beat us, but they're not going to embarrass us."
Paterno told the press, "They're the best balanced team we've seen in many years. We can't trade touchdowns. If it's that kind of game, we're out of our league. The more it gets into the 20s, the worse our chances are."
The betting line favored the Hurricanes by 6 1/2 points.
The Hurricanes continued their shenanigans before the game when several players ran through Penn State's pre-game calisthenics talking trash. They zeroed in on State's defensive backs, whom they had criticized as being too small and too slow. Irvin singled out Isom. "You Isom? We're gonna get you tonight." There was a little shoving but no fights.
If they were trying to intimidate the Nittany Lions, they failed miserably. Obeying Paterno's orders, his players did not talk back. Instead, they responded by playing the game of their lives.

L: Vinny Testaverde; R: TE Charles Henry is tackled.
(University of Miami Ibis Yearbook Class of 1987)
Lions Defense Sets Tone Early
On Miami's second possession, star WR Michael Irvin curled to the right sideline for a pass. Penn State DB Duffy Cobbs, using an extremely deep drop like the rest of the secondary, came up fast and pounded Irvin right after he caught the ball. On the next play, Testaverde found RB Melvin Bratton over the middle for 12y before LB Trey Bauer leveled Bratton with a vicious hit.
Bauer was one of the few Penn State players who talked to opponents during the game. RB D.J. Dozier recalled, "I can still remember LB Trey Bauer always having a few extra words to say to an opposing player after making a ferocious tackle, and he would occasionally find himself in Coach Paterno's dog house. But he knew how to get the job done on the field. In the end, Trey was no different than the rest of us on that team. He was a team player first, not an individualist."
Three plays later, Irvin came across the middle on a post pattern. He took the ball in stride near midfield for a 24y gain, but S Ray Isom, a 5'9" 187lb cannonball, smashed him. Irvin fumbled, and Cobbs recovered for the first of seven Miami turnovers on the evening.
After that, Hurricane receivers were more cautious when they went out for passes. Irvin alone dropped five passes.
"That was one of our goals," said Bauer. "We wanted to fly to the football and make some great sticks. As Joe says, we wanted to shorten them up a little bit."
Miami receivers would drop six passes, and they found little freedom running their preferred routes.
It didn't help Miami's cause that Testaverde was playing in a game 47 days after his last outing without much practice time in between.
Trey Bauer recalled, "They played exactly the way we thought they would play. If Jimmy Johnson had half a brain, he would have run Alonzo Highsmith 50 times that game, but he didn't."
Cobbs: "Our little, slow guys back there just rocked 'em, and soon they didn't want to catch the ball. Later on, we were helping the receivers up after we hit them and patting them on their butts. Receivers hate that."
Hurricanes Stifle Lions Offense
The Miami defense lived up to its billing as one of the best in nation. They blitzed often and sacked Shaffer four times. He completed just five of his 16 passes.
The Nittany Lions gained only 9y rushing and 3y passing in the first quarter. Brown, who refused to shake hands with his opponents before the game, was a fixture in the Penn State backfield.
The Hurricanes scored first on a 1y leap by HB Melvin Bratton. That culminated a four-play drive that started when Brown and Bill Hawkins hit Shaffer as he tried to pass. The ball popped out of the quarterback's grasp, and Hawkins caught it at the Penn State 23.
Miami 7 Penn State 0 (6:38)

Melvin Bratton leaps over the top for Miami's touchdown.
(Penn State La Vie Yearbook Class of 1987)
The Penn State offense finally found success in the last minutes of the first half. They marched 74y in 10 plays with Shaffer scoring from the four on a rollout. The key plays were Shaffer's 23y pass to Eric Hamilton over the middle on third-and-12, and Tim Manoa's 20y run to the four that set up the touchdown. Penn State 7 Miami 7 (1:14)
Penn State P John Bruno, who sparked the Miami walkout at the banquet with jokes the Hurricanes called offensive, made things tough for them in the game as well. He punted nine times for an average of 43.4y. Three of his first-half punts made Miami start drives at their 2-, 9-, and 11-yard lines.
Joe Paterno said, "John Bruno deserves a lot of credit. The cover teams did a super job. We wanted to make sure they didn't get any easy field position."
Miami got the ball back with 1:07 left in the half and appeared to be in good shape for a field goal try after Testaverde connected with Irvin to the Penn State 38. But the officials ruled Vinny was beyond the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball.
Hurricanes Retake Lead
Penn State DE Bob White recalled: "The most unusual thing that I remember about that whole game was the fact that we were partly into the third quarter before those guys from Miami truly realized what they were in for. They were accustomed to being flamboyant, to running their mouths, to bullying people, to talking people out of ballgames. There were clearly points in that game where you could see that it finally dawned on them that what they had been doing the whole week leading up to this game and what they had done for the first half wasn't affecting those Penn State guys because we were still there going after them. By the time it sunk in, it was too late."
Neither team scored in the third period as each missed a field goal attempt—Mark Seelig for Miami from 28y and Massimo Manca for Penn State from 49y. That set up an exciting finish.
The Hurricanes regained the lead early in the fourth quarter on Seelig's 38y field goal. Miami 10 Penn State 7
Conlan's second interception set up Penn State's go-ahead touchdown. Shane ran 40y with the pick to the Miami 5. Two plays later, TB D.J. Dozier ran into the end zone from the six. Manca's PAT made it Penn State 14 Miami 10 with 8:13 left in the second quarter. The Hurricanes needed a touchdown or two field goals to win.

L: Duffy Cobbs returns interception. M: FB Tim Manoa runs with ball.
R: John Schaffer scores on a rollout in last minutes of first half.
(Penn State La Vie Yearbook Class of 1987)
Conlan revealed after the game that his knee "snapped" in the first period and was weak the rest of the game. He went to the sidelines for a while but returned to the fray. He also suffered an ankle injury late in the game. Amazingly, he still made two interceptions, one sack, and eight tackles.
"My knee bothered me," Conlan recalled, "but I said they'd have to drag me off the field because I wasn't going. If I lost my leg then, I would have hopped off." As for his fourth quarter interception, he said, "I was lucky to be around. I wasn't sure I was going to last that long. I had a lot of problems coming off blocks. As far as running, I couldn't cut right to left. I was so tired I thought I wasn't going to make it. But I was going to finish. The only way they could get me out of there was to cut my leg off."
After his junior year, Conlan could have opted to enter the NFL draft. But he wanted to come back for his final year of eligibility. His father advised against it. Suppose he got hurt? How would that impact his pro career? To be safe, his father took out an insurance policy on his son.
With their backs to the wall, the Miami offense offense finally got moving.
The Hurricanes faced fourth and six on their 27 with 2:24 remaining. Johnson disdained the punt and went for it. His gamble paid off when Testaverde hit WR Brian Blades for a 31y gain. CB Eddie Johnson went for the interception rather than let Blades catch the ball and then tackle him in bounds.
Paterno admitted he got very worried at that point. "In my experience, whenever I've taken a big, big game like that and made it, I've usually won. The kids get to thinking, 'Look out, this might be our night.' And everything starts to happen. I was scared."
His concern deepened when Testaverde completed several passes to put Miami on the Penn State ten with 1:01 remaining. The nation's best offense had four downs to gain 10y and win the game.
White recalled: "They (Miami) had a chance to win at the end, but the same thing happened at the end that had happened to us multiple times over the past two years and, in particular, that season. We had a group of guys who found themselves in a critical situation, and there was always that feeling, always that belief that somehow, some way, somebody in the huddle was going to make the big play."

Trey Bauer (35) congratulated Shane Conlan (31) after his interception.
(Penn State La Vie Yearbook Class of 1987)
Exciting Finish
After a 5y completion, Miami called a timeout with 48 seconds left. Both Johnson and offensive coordinator Gary Stevens wanted to run the ball, but Testaverde wanted to pass and got his wish. "We all pretty much agreed that we wanted to run on second-and-five," said Johnson. "We were all very frustrated, but we gave in. He wanted to throw, and he felt good about it, so we went with it."
As Testaverde faded back, he spotted Irvin open crossing the middle of the end zone. But DT Tim Johnson sacked Testaverde for an 8y loss to make it third and 13. Hurried again on the next snap, Vinny overthrew a pass across the field to HB Warren Williams.
So the national championship came down to fourth-and-goal at the Penn State 12 with 18 seconds left. As Testaverde settled in under center, Johnson was screaming for a timeout, but Vinny couldn't hear him amid the roar from 73,000 howling fans. Conlan yelled, "Somebody's got to make a play."
With Penn State dropping eight men into coverage, each following the quarterback's eyes, Vinny tried to thread a needle to WR Brett Perriman in the back of the end zone, but LB Pete Giftopoulos intercepted the ball at the one. He started running the ball up field as his teammates yelled, "Fall down! Fall down!," which he did. That allowed Penn State to go into victory formation to seal the upset. It was Testaverde's fifth interception of the evening, two of them by Giftopoulos.
Vinny said, "The middle linebacker dropped back and went right to the throw just like he knew what I was going to do exactly."
Giftopoulos explained that Testaverde "has a tendency to look to the area where he was going to throw. On that last play, he was looking right at the spot from the time the ball was snapped. All I had to do was follow his eyes. He threw the ball right to me. Any one of four players could have intercepted it or knocked it down."
Bauer: "I remember there was a still shot taken of Gifto intercepting the ball, and it was intended for Brett Perriman, but there were six of us around the guy. If you describe what the game was like in one picture, that would be it. That's kind of what we wanted. We wanted him throwing the ball where he didn't want to throw the ball. No one really believed that we could do it, and we did it. I said in the press conference after the game, 'I think we would have beaten them nine out of 10 times.' Regardless of the fact that they had so many great pro players, I just really think we kind of had their number."
It took several minutes to clear the exultant Penn State fans from the field so that Shaffer could take the snap and kneel down to officially end the game.
Miami fans wondered why the Hurricanes threw three consecutive passes when they reached the five since they still had two time-outs and had an outstanding running back in Alonzo Highsmith, who had gained 119y in 18 carries in the game.
Final score: PENN STATE 14 MIAMI 10
The final statistics were misleading: First downs Miami 22 Penn State 8. Total yards Miami 445 Penn State 162. Penn State gained just 109y rushing after averaging 237 during the season.
Penn State TB D.J. Dozier and LB Shane Conlan won the awards for offensive and defensive MVPs.
Paterno: "It was just a great, great college football game. We beat a great football team. We played as good a defensive game as I've ever seen. I think Jerry Sandusky and our defensive coaches did a super, super job. We were changing up a lot of zones, disguising a lot of stuff. And we were keeping enough pressure on him without blitzing all the time. Up front, our guys did such a super job, we could afford to play the amount of (zone) coverages we did. And they had a little trouble reading them."
Paterno added: "We spent an awful lot of the football game playing pass defense inside the 30. We have been awfully tough down inside the 20-yard line. And we play with confidence down there."
Sandusky: "We used every defense we had, and we have a lot of them."
Johnson broke down in front of his team in the locker room. He pulled himself together and told the press: "Both teams gave their all for the national championship, but we made too many mistakes. We had a few problems as far as picking things up. We had problems as a team. It was no individual."
The Miami coach added, "The rustiness of the quarterback, the focal point of our offense, cost us. I don't blame Vinny. It was a freak accident. Looking back, the backup quarterback (Geoff Torretta) might have given us a chance to win the na­tional championship because he had been at practice. We had been so dominating, the only way we would lose it was to beat ourselves."
Penn State DB Cobbs: "The main thing we did was knock them off their routes. All the games they played this year, no one put pressure on the receivers. Once we started knocking them off, Vinny got out of whack. You could see it when they were going up for the ball, sort of short."
Testaverde: "Penn State prepared well, and we didn't adjust when we had to."
Penn State LB Shane Conlan: "There's nothing left in me. I left everything I had on the field. No one gave our defensive backs the credit they deserve. They intimi­dated Miami's receivers so that they didn't want the ball. They deserve a lot of credit for the job they did tonight."
Penn State LB Tre Bauer: "Our secondary did a great job. Hey, man, they made some great sticks out there. All week they (Miami) were trying to intimidate us, but we intimidated them."
The four polls announced the day after the game all put Penn State #1. Only in one of poll were the Nittany Lions not a unanimous choice.
A few weeks before the Fiesta Bowl, Miami president Tad Foote told everyone at the Hurricanes' football banquet that he wanted to give Johnson a contract exten­sion. But after the Fiesta Bowl, Foote chastised Johnson for the banquet walkout and said he was putting J.J.'s contract on hold because of the embarrassment to the uni­versity.
When the Miami team returned from Arizona, Foote also demanded an apology to the Fiesta Bowl for the team's behavior and promised to take steps to prevent any more incidents like the bowl banquet episode. He also said a dress code would be im­plemented and gave the players a 42-page code-of-conduct book.
College Football’s Most Memorable Games, 1913 Through 1990: The Stories of 54 History-Making Contests, Fred Eisenhammer and Eric B. Sondheimer (1992)
Greatest Moments in Penn State Football History, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (1996)
The Penn State Football Encyclopedia, Louis Prato with Ron Falk (1998)
Tales from Penn State Football, Ken Rappoport (2003)
'Miami Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment, Bruce Feldman (2004, 2005)
What It Means to Be a Nittany Lion: Joe Paterno and Penn State's Greatest Players, Lou Prato and Scott Brown (2006)
Game Day Penn State Football: The Greatest Games, Players, Coaches, and Teams in the Glorious Tradition of Nittany Lion Football (2007)