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1987 Fiesta Bowl

1987 Fiesta Bowl

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The 1987 Sunkist Fiesta Bowl was a college football
College football
College football refers to American football played by teams of student athletes fielded by American universities, colleges, and military academies, or Canadian football played by teams of student athletes fielded by Canadian universities...

 bowl game
Bowl game
In North America, a bowl game is commonly considered to refer to one of a number of post-season college football games. Prior to 2002, bowl game statistics were not included in players' career totals and the games were mostly considered to be exhibition games involving a payout to participating...

 sponsored by Sunkist
Sunkist Growers, Incorporated
Sunkist Growers, Incorporated is a citrus grower's non-stock membership cooperative composed of 6,000 members from California and Arizona. It is headquartered in the Sherman Oaks district of Los Angeles.-History:...

. It was part of the bowl season of the 1986 NCAA Division I-A football season
1986 NCAA Division I-A football season
The 1986 NCAA Division I-A football season ended with Penn State winning the national championship. Coached by Joe Paterno, they defeated Miami 14–10 in the Fiesta Bowl. This Fiesta Bowl was the first in the game's history to decide the national championship, launching it into the top tier of...

. The game was the 16th edition of the Fiesta Bowl
Fiesta Bowl
The Fiesta Bowl, now sponsored by Frito-Lay and named with their Tostitos brand, is a United States college football bowl game played annually at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Between its origination in 1971 and 2006, the game was hosted in Tempe, Arizona at Sun Devil...

, played annually since 1971. The 1987 game was played on January 2, 1987, at the Sun Devil Stadium
Sun Devil Stadium
Sun Devil Stadium is an outdoor football stadium, located on the campus of Arizona State University, in Tempe, Arizona, United States. The stadium's current seating capacity is 71,706 and the playing surface is natural grass...

 in Tempe, Arizona
Tempe, Arizona
Tempe is a city in Maricopa County, Arizona, USA, with the Census Bureau reporting a 2010 population of 161,719. The city is named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece. Tempe is located in the East Valley section of metropolitan Phoenix; it is bordered by Phoenix and Guadalupe on the west, Scottsdale...

. The game pitted the #1 Miami Hurricanes against the #2 Penn State Nittany Lions and was televised on NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

. The game drew the largest television audience in the history of college football.

The 1987 Fiesta Bowl was originally scheduled for January 1, but moved to January 2 to accommodate this undisputed "winner-take-all" championship game. Up to this point, the Fiesta Bowl had been considered a minor bowl game, or, at best, a mid-major bowl game. However, since the only two unbeaten teams in the nation in 1986 were independents not affiliated with a conference, none of the four "major" bowl games were able to accommodate the matchup; the Cotton Bowl was tied to the Southwest Conference champion, the Rose Bowl
Rose Bowl Game
The Rose Bowl is an annual American college football bowl game, usually played on January 1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. When New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, the game is played on Monday, January 2...

 had to pit the Big Ten
Big Ten Conference
The Big Ten Conference is the United States' oldest Division I college athletic conference. Its twelve member institutions are located primarily in the Midwestern United States, stretching from Nebraska in the west to Pennsylvania in the east...

 and Pac-10 champs, the Orange Bowl
Orange Bowl
The Orange Bowl is an annual American college football bowl game played at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. It has been played annually since January 1, 1935 and celebrated its 75th playing on January 1, 2009...

 was obligated to take the Big 8
Big Eight Conference
The Big Eight Conference, a former NCAA-affiliated Division I-A college athletic association that sponsored football, was formed in January 1907 as the Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association by its charter member schools: the University of Kansas, University of Missouri, University...

 champion, and the Sugar Bowl
Sugar Bowl
The Sugar Bowl is an annual American college football bowl game played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Sugar Bowl has been played annually since January 1, 1935, and celebrated its 75th anniversary on January 2, 2009...

 was always hosted by the Southeastern Conference champion. This left the Fiesta Bowl and Citrus Bowl
Capital One Bowl
The Capital One Bowl is an annual college football bowl game played in Orlando, Florida at the Citrus Bowl, and previously known as the Tangerine Bowl and the Florida Citrus Bowl...

, which did not have conference tie-ins at the time, to bid for the rights to host the game, which the Fiesta Bowl won. This game brought the Fiesta Bowl into national prominence, and such prominence led to its selection as an Bowl Alliance
Bowl Alliance
The Bowl Alliance was an agreement among college football bowl games for the purpose of trying to match the top two teams in a national championship bowl game and to provide quality bowl game matchups for the champions of its member conferences...

 game in 1995 and its replacement of the Cotton Bowl as one of college football's four major bowls. Dissolution plans for the Southwest Conference were also a factor.

Penn State was the designated home team, but Miami was favored. However, in one of the most historic upsets in college football, the Nittany Lions won, 14-10.


Oklahoma and Michigan began the season at #1 and #2. A 28-16 defeat of Oklahoma by #2 Miami on September 27 pushed Miami into the #1 ranking. This was only the 20th time, the #1 and #2 teams had faced each other. Alabama moved into the number 2 spot. Probably the strongest case for Penn State was a defeat of a well-regarded #2 ranked Alabama team 23-3 at Tuscaloosa on October 26. This pushed Penn State into the number two spot. Otherwise, both Miami and Penn State had a number of teams on their schedule that were not strong opponents. Michigan defeated Iowa in a rematch of the previous season's #1-#2 Iowa game. Three games later, Michigan was number 2 and undefeated after Penn State fell in the rankings following a 17-15 close win to Maryland.

On the game at Michigan on November 15, Minnesota was regarded as an easy victory for the Wolverines as a 25-point underdog. They had not defeated the Wolverines since 1977. The Gophers were fired up for Michigan. With two minutes to go, and Michigan just having scored a touchdown to bring the Wolverines at 16 to the Gophers 17, Bo Schembechler called for the extra point to be kicked for the tie. Against number two ranked Michigan, Minnesota quarterback Rickey Foggie
Rickey Foggie
Rickey Foggie is a former quarterback. Foggie was the starting quarterback for the Minnesota Golden Gophers for four seasons, before going on to play professionally in – first the Canadian Football League, and then later in the Arena Football League...

 scrambled to put Chip Lohmiller
Chip Lohmiller
John McLeod "Chip" Lohmiller is a former professional American football placekicker in the National Football League for the Washington Redskins, New Orleans Saints, and the St. Louis Rams...

 in position to get the winning field goal. The Gophers took home the Little Brown Jug
Little Brown Jug (football)
The Little Brown Jug is an earthenware jug that serves as a trophy awarded to the winner of the American college football rivalry game played annually by the Minnesota Golden Gophers football team of the university of Minnesota and the Michigan Wolverines football team of the University of Michigan...

 from Michigan for the first time since 1962. This vaulted Penn State into the #2 position.

Miami Hurricanes

Miami entered the game with a seemingly unstoppable team. The Hurricanes had outscored their opponents during the season 420-136 en route to a perfect regular season. They had held the #1 ranking since handing the reigning champion (and eventual #3) Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma Sooners
The University of Oklahoma features 19 varsity sports teams. Both men's and women's teams are called the Sooners, a nickname given to the early participants in the land rushes which initially opened the Oklahoma Indian Territory to non-native settlement. They participate in the NCAA's Division I-A,...

 their only loss during the fourth week of the season. The 1986 Heisman Trophy
Heisman Trophy
The Heisman Memorial Trophy Award , is awarded annually to the player deemed the most outstanding player in collegiate football. It was created in 1935 as the Downtown Athletic Club trophy and renamed in 1936 following the death of the Club's athletic director, John Heisman The Heisman Memorial...

 winner, Vinny Testaverde
Vinny Testaverde
Vincent Frank Testaverde is a former NFL quarterback. Testaverde last played for the Carolina Panthers and had previously played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots. Testaverde holds the NFL record for having...

 starred at quarterback. The team also featured All-Americans Jerome Brown and Bennie Blades
Bennie Blades
Horatio Benedict "Bennie" Blades Sr. is a former American football cornerback and safety in the National Football League. He played college football at the University of Miami.-University of Miami:...

 on defense, future NFL Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin
Michael Irvin
Michael Jerome Irvin is a former American football player for the Dallas Cowboys, and actor. He is also a former broadcaster for ESPN's NFL Countdown and currently an analyst for NFL Network. Irvin was self-nicknamed "The Playmaker" due to his penchant for making big plays in big games during his...

 at wide receiver, and running back Alonzo Highsmith
Alonzo Highsmith
Alonzo Walter Highsmith is a former professional American football running back in the National Football League for the Houston Oilers, Dallas Cowboys, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers...

, the eventual No. 3 pick in the 1987 NFL draft.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Penn State came into the game with a different pedigree. Also 11-0 and undefeated, the Nittany Lions had nonetheless looked rather beatable, with close wins against Cincinnati, Maryland, and Notre Dame, all teams with .500 records or worse. However, the Lions relished their underdog status and their ability to shut teams down with a stifling, highly rated defense. They had All-Americans at linebacker (Shane Conlan
Shane Conlan
Shane Patrick Conlan is a former professional American football player. He played college football at Penn State University, where he won two national championships...

), defensive tackle (Tim Johnson
Tim Johnson (football)
Timothy Johnson is Senior Pastor at Orlando World Outreach Center in Orlando, Florida and a former professional American football defensive lineman in the National Football League.-College career:...

), running back (D.J. Dozier) and offensive tackle (Chris Conlin
Chris Conlin
Christopher Howard Conlin is an assistant coach in the Arena Football League. He was a professional American football player and collegiate All-American offensive tackle at Penn State University.-College:...

). "We were a team that couldn't be intimidated, and that's what Miami liked to do to other players," linebacker Pete Giftopoulos later observed. "How are you going to intimidate a bunch of steel-town kids from Pittsburgh, Ohio, Pennsylvania? You just can't do that."

Bowl arrangements

An Arizona State win over Cal, combined with the UCLA Bruins loss to the Stanford Cardinal, enabled the Sun Devils to clinch the PAC-10 and Rose Bowl Berth on November 8. The early clinching of the Rose Bowl bid for Arizona State began a scramble for all the Bowl games to confirm teams before the bids were to be extended on November 22. The Michigan loss on November 15, set Miami and Penn State at #1 and #2. The Cotton Bowl offered to take the loser of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry
Michigan-Ohio State rivalry
The Michigan–Ohio State football rivalry, also known as The Game, is an American college football rivalry game played annually by the Wolverines of the University of Michigan and the Buckeyes of The Ohio State University...

 game, as the winner would go to the 1987 Rose Bowl
1987 Rose Bowl
The 1987 Rose Bowl was a college football bowl game played on January 1, 1987 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. It was the 73rd Rose Bowl Game. The Arizona State Sun Devils, champions of the Pacific-10 Conference, defeated the Michigan Wolverines, champions of the Big Ten Conference, 22-15....

. With Penn State and Miami already written off to the bidding winner between the Fiesta and Citrus bowls, the other bowls made similar arrangements to take second-place teams.

With Miami and Penn State, the top 2 teams in the nation, and both independent teams unaffiliated with any conferences or bowl tie-ins, there was an opportunity to create a #1-2 matchup in what were widely seen as a second-tier bowls By November 17, The Citrus Bowl, which had planned to pay $875,000 per team, was offering about $2.6 million apiece to Miami and Penn State to land the game; the Fiesta, which normally pays $1.1 million per, was offering around $2.4 million and was poised to go higher. The Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl all had payouts in the neighborhood of $2 million. The Rose Bowl paid $6 million per team. By signing a contract with Sunkist
Sunkist Growers, Incorporated
Sunkist Growers, Incorporated is a citrus grower's non-stock membership cooperative composed of 6,000 members from California and Arizona. It is headquartered in the Sherman Oaks district of Los Angeles.-History:...

, the Fiesta Bowl had created the first title sponsorship of a bowl game, something that has become commonplace since.

This would be only the 21st time since 1936 that #1 would face #2, and only the 7th time in a Bowl game. It was only the fifth time in college football history that there had been two #1 vs #2 games in the same football season.

Pre-game buildup

This game, the most hyped game in college football up until then, has been called by many commentators as a battle between "Good versus Evil."

On the flight to the game the entire Miami Hurricane team changed into military-style fatigues to play into the "warfare" element of the contest. The game had been referred to as the "Duel in the Desert."

Reggie Taylor of the Cincinnati Bearcats
Cincinnati Bearcats
The Cincinnati Bearcats are the NCAA athletic teams representing the University of Cincinnati. Since July 1, 2005, the school's athletic teams have been members of the Big East Conference....

, who had played both teams said, "It's harder to run against Penn State. They're so disciplined you can't exploit their weaknesses as much." Defensive tackle Bob Leshnak said, "Miami 's center [Gregg Rakoczy] is the best I've faced. Our line moves a lot, and it gave Penn State problems." Cincinnati coach Dave Currey said, "The only place Miami has a big edge is quarterback. If Penn State can control the ball, it has less chance of beating itself. In a game like this, you've first got to not beat yourself."

The behavior of the players added to the atmosphere of the game. In one famous incident the Penn State players arrived to a pregame steak-fry in suits and ties, in stark contrast to the Miami football players attire of combat fatigues.

As part of Penn State's skit, John Bruno, Penn State's punter, dragged out a garbage can labeled with masking tape as "Jimmy Johnson's Hair Spray" and made a few jokes which the Miami players found offensive. This caused Jerome Brown, a defensive tackle for Miami, to stand up and unzip his sweat suit to reveal his fatigues. "Did the Japanese sit down and eat with Pearl Harbor before they bombed them?" he said. "No. Well, fellas let's go." Bruno replied with the snappy response, "Excuse me, but didn't the Japanese lose the war?" Brown immediately made an effort to leave, but Coach Johnson required him and the rest of the Canes to sit out the remainder of Penn State's routine before going. As the routine ended, the entire Miami team stood up and proceeded toward their buses.

Game summary

Penn State wore blue, home jerseys, while Miami wore their road white jerseys.

Miami vastly outgained Penn State on the field, 445 yards to 162, with 22 first downs compared to the Nittany Lions' 8. However, the Hurricanes were hampered by 7 turnovers, including 5 interceptions of the Heisman-winning Testaverde.

The majority of the game was a seesaw battle. Miami's only touchdown was the result of a John Shaffer fumble that the Hurricanes recovered at the Penn State 23. Miami then took four plays to score the go-ahead touchdown.

The Nittany Lions responded with their only sustained drive of the night, going 74 yards in 13 plays, culminating in Shaffer's 4-yard scamper into the end zone. The halftime score was a 7-7 tie.

After Miami scored a field goal to retake the lead, Shane Conlan grabbed his second interception of the night, returning it 39 yards to the Miami 5. The first Penn State snap was fumbled, but the Nittany Lions recovered. D.J. Dozier then followed with a 6-yard run for the go-ahead touchdown.

Miami still had over 8 minutes on the clock, but fumbled on their next possession. With Penn State unable to move the ball, Miami began their last drive on their own 23 with 3:07 left in the game. A 4th-down completion to Brian Blades went for 31 yards and moved Miami into Penn State territory. With a minute left, Testaverde hit Michael Irvin at the Penn State 10. The connection put the Hurricanes inside the 5 with 45 seconds left. Even with a national championship at stake, though, Penn State linebacker Pete Giftopoulos said the Penn State defense stayed calm. "We had some great leaders -- (seniors) Shane Conlan, Timmy Johnson, Bob White," he said. "They were key character people. To not see any fear in their eyes helped me as a junior and helped the other players to play the game. ... Nobody was losing it in the huddle, nobody was screaming. Everyone was like, 'Here's the play; let's do it.'"

On second-and-goal, Testaverde dropped back, but Tim Johnson broke free and sacked him. On third down, Testaverde threw incomplete into the flat. On fourth-and-goal, with 18 seconds left, Testaverde threw to the end zone, but was intercepted by Giftopoulos. The interception, Giftopoulos' second of the game (and Testaverde's fifth), ensured Penn State's second national title in five years.

Second quarter

  • Miami (Fla.) - Melvin Bratton 1-yard touchdown run (Cox kick good). (6:38) 7-0 Miami, Fla.
  • Penn State - John Shaffer 4-yard touchdown run (Manca kick good). (1:14) 7-7 Tie

Fourth quarter

  • Miami, Fla. - 38-yard field goal by Mark Seelig. (11:49) 10-7 Miami, Fla.
  • Penn State - 6-yard touchdown run by D.J. Dozier (Manca kick good). (8:13) 14-10 Penn State

Game's legacy

This was a game of many firsts:
  • The first bowl game to have title sponsorship
  • The highest ratings share of any college football game in history 24.9 share: 25.1% of households tuned in to watch the Fiesta Bowl, or over 70 million viewers.
  • NBC also had a live interview with President
    President of the United States
    The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

     Ronald Reagan
    Ronald Reagan
    Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

    during the halftime show.

External links