‘It’s the most talented team to ever play’: An oral history of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes
- ACC reporter.
- Joined ESPN.com in 2010.
- Graduate of the University of Florida.
- ACC reporter.
- Joined ESPN in 2012.
- Graduate of the University of Delaware.
When it came time for the 2001 Miami Hurricanes to do their summer workouts, they had one plan in mind: Make it as grueling as possible.
Nobody really wanted to work out at 1 p.m. in the scorching heat and high humidity in South Florida. But nobody wanted to waste the opportunity in front of them, either: A shot at the school’s first national championship in 20 years.
“They were the hardest workouts we ever did,” cornerback Mike Rumph said. “But it was crucial to never show how much pain we were in. We used to say that was the easiest workout and we would suck our fingers, like that was pie. It started as a joke first, but it just went to like, no matter what you put us through, we can’t be hurt. We’re tougher than you think.”
Twenty years later, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are widely regarded as one of the greatest college football teams of all time. Their roster was loaded with future first-round picks — from Andre Johnson to Jeremy Shockey to Vince Wilfork and at least one NFL Hall of Famer in Ed Reed. They dominated nearly everyone on their schedule, culminating in a resounding 37-14 win over Nebraska in the BCS National Championship Game in the Rose Bowl.
What players and coaches insist set this team apart was their camaraderie, accountability and willingness to do whatever it took to win a championship — especially those afternoon workouts. “It wasn’t about elite, starters, pecking orders, all that other great stuff,” center Brett Romberg said. “It was literally, you’re doing the same thing that I’m doing. You’re sweating, you’re bleeding, you’re laying everything on the line for the guy next to you, and there was no envy.” They were driven by the snub they all felt the previous year, after Florida State got into the BCS national title game instead of Miami — even though the Hurricanes won their regular-season matchup. From there, this iconic team started its journey toward greatness. In interviews with more than two dozen players, coaches and opposing coaches, here is the story of the 2001 season, told in their own words.
Adversity hit shortly after the calendar turned to 2001, when coach Butch Davis left to become head coach with the Cleveland Browns. Players lobbied then-athletic director Paul Dee to elevate offensive coordinator Larry Coker to become head coach.
Former coach Butch Davis
I’d agreed to a contract before Thanksgiving and my plan was to stay at the University of Miami for decades. But there were a few things in the contract we were having a difficult time agreeing on. … At the very end of January, [my family and I] ended up making the decision to leave. I wanted to be there. We’d been through so much pain. We had a player [backup LB Marlin Barnes] murdered on campus. We had 31 scholarships lost. We gave up the bowl in 1995. We’d just beaten Florida in the Sugar Bowl and gone 11-1. The deck was loaded. We’d signed a great class. It was like, this is going to be outstanding for the next three, four, five years.
OC Rob Chudzinski
Butch did a great job recruiting and developing and building the culture. And obviously you can point out all the talented guys on the team, but at the time, they weren’t the biggest recruits and the five-star guys. A lot of what we did, Butch should get credit for. It was a competitive culture and accountability was huge and he built a family environment.
CB Mike Rumph
When Butch left, we were kinda stuck, and I remember we all went upstairs to talk to Mr. Dee, myself, Bryant McKinnie, Ed Reed, Ken Dorsey and a couple more guys. There was a rumor that we were going to get that coach from Wisconsin, Barry Alvarez, and we were like, “We don’t want him. We want somebody from in-house who knows us, and that’s Coach Coker.” They listened to us.
Head coach Larry Coker
In my mind, I didn’t know if I’d get the job. The players coming to my backing was a big asset in me getting the job. It was a somewhat natural transition because I knew the players.
If Greg Schiano had not left and gone to Rutgers it would’ve been a potential for him to get the job, but I was glad for the staff and players that there wouldn’t be a blow-up. Because when Jimmy [Johnson] left after winning two national championships, they really changed the whole program, and I didn’t want that to happen to those kids.
C Brett Romberg
Larry Coker knew that once that baton got handed off, he wasn’t changing anything. We have the recipe, we have the tools, we have everything to be successful. We just hope that this train just doesn’t go off the track.
QB Ken Dorsey
He was the perfect coach for our team, and his personality just meshed with us.
OT Bryant McKinnie
We didn’t want to have to change and have to learn a new offense, defense, or anything. We liked what we had already, and we really wanted to just keep what we had. A lot of us were going into our senior year, and we didn’t want to have to risk playing a little slower, still trying to learn something.
Larry wasn’t a sexy hire at the time, and it’s rare the players have that kind of influence over who gets hired. Larry coming in, two new coordinators, there were a lot of questions. But Larry was a perfect fit for that team. There were a lot of expectations, and Larry took the pressure off of them. It really gave the players and the coaching staff somebody to rally behind.
S Ed Reed
We [were] truly a team. The individual’s put on the back burner for your brothers. I tried to display that my senior year, ’cause I could have left my junior year. I would have got drafted higher and everything. I knew this. But I wasn’t leaving these guys. I wanted to win the national championship — we wanted to win the national championship. And I felt like I was a chess piece to that.
We all felt that that Sugar Bowl game against Florida, we knew that we should have been playing for a national title.
The motivation of being upset and disappointed, that played a huge role in going to the Sugar Bowl and what we did against Florida to make a statement that we probably should’ve been the champs. The one newspaper that I still love to this day is the New York Times because they picked us as national champions at the end of the season.
So the following year was definitely a salt-in-the-wound, chip-on-the-shoulder type of season where we wanted to obviously take no prisoners and rectify what happened the year before.
CB Markese Fitzgerald
Randy Shannon told me, “If you come back to school, I’m not going to promise you or guarantee it, but there’s a good chance you will never lose another college football game.”
With Coker in place as head coach and key players like Reed and McKinnie returning for their senior seasons, the Hurricanes knew what was in front of them. They made sure their offseason workouts were the most intense of their lives.
It pushes you through those workouts and the offseason, and it was a huge motivator for me, because guys like Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss put their heart and soul into the program, to not be able to give them a national championship when you thought you could’ve — it’s one of those things that sticks with you. I think the next year, we had the mindset that, no matter what happens, we have to take care of business. Not a lot needed to be said. The guys before us set an expectation of how hard you had to work and what that standard was, and we knew we had to live up to that.
RBs coach Don Soldinger
They were all self-directed. They pushed each other to the limit, and the one thing that separates that group, they were super, super competitive. They hated to lose. They would challenge each other to sprints, or whatever it was, and they held each other accountable and would not accept mediocrity.
LB D.J. Williams
The heart and soul of that team was our strength coach, Andreu Swasey. He was the guy that really knew how to push our buttons, that knew how to challenge us. He was that father figure we were all afraid to disappoint.
Strength coach Andreu Swasey
I had to challenge them, because if not, they’re looking at you like, “What is this?” I had to make it tough tough. They embraced it, and that’s when I learned the great ones want to be driven. If you don’t drive them, you’re going to be in trouble.
OT Joaquin Gonzalez
It was a program that was meant to sink or swim guys. … When I look back at our workouts, and the pressure that we put on each other of not letting each other down, there was so much pressure that I would think twice about skipping a workout, I would think twice about skipping a rep, I would think twice about letting my brother down because there was so much invested into it.
DC Randy Shannon
The thing that was most impressive about that team is that, at any point in time, a younger player could take your position. It wasn’t something given. You had to work. Take Ed Reed. You had Sean Taylor behind him. You had Phillip Buchanon and Mike Rumph, and you had Antrel Rolle behind them. Everyone knew [Clinton] Portis, but you had Willis McGahee and Frank Gore. If you didn’t put in the work, there was somebody behind you ready to take over.
People were literally afraid to let the person next to them down. If you weren’t doing all the right things, if you weren’t going to class, making your grades, if you weren’t showing up to work out or something like that, you could easily be cast out.
As a true freshman coming in, I’m all smiles. Happy to be here, want to high-five everybody, and from the moment I walked into the locker room, it was you’re gonna work. You’re gonna to fight. You’re gonna communicate and you’re gonna stay together, or you’ve got to go. We’ve got one goal in mind. That’s to win the national championship. And if you’re not on board with this, you got to go.
DT Matt Walters
If I slacked off at all, I wasn’t going to play as much because Vince Wilfork is my backup. That goes for everybody. Does that mean I didn’t root for Vince? No. We were all each other’s biggest fans, but we all knew that if you went into the week, and you slacked or you wanted to hang out late on a Tuesday night, and didn’t bust your ass in practice, you ain’t going to be getting the reps.
CB Antrel Rolle
As one of the younger players on the team, that competition only made me better. The older guys took us under their wings and helped us. It was always like a family.
RB Najeh Davenport
It was the perfect storm for us. We knew we were good, and when we got out there and played on Saturdays, the people we went against were not as good as the guys we had on our scout team.
That 2001 season, it was like the season was already written. We just knew we were going to win it all. It didn’t matter who stood in the way, they didn’t stand a chance against us.
The season began on the road against Penn State, a matchup Miami viewed as a “statement game.”
It was my first game ever to be a head coach and it was against Joe Paterno. To go and win the game was quite an experience. It really set the stage — to not only win but be a dominant team like we were. It got a lot of attention.
The environment was pretty spectacular. The way we were able to play, come out firing on all cylinders, was huge. We spread the ball around to a lot of different guys because, at that time, Andre Johnson wasn’t a proven commodity — or Ethenic Sands or Kevin Beard. Shockey had been there and done that, but we had new guys stepping in who weren’t first-round draft picks yet. We thought we had a great team, but you don’t know until the bullets start flying.
We felt very disrespected, for the simple fact that we were coming into the season highly ranked, and they had a White Out game. And whenever you do stuff like that, you believe you’re going to win. Not only that, they were honoring one of their past players who got paralyzed, he was able to walk again so they were going to have him run out. I think they added extra bleachers so now they had the biggest stadium in college football. It was a bunch of these things that made us feel disrespected.
I went to a JUCO in Scranton, Penn. At the time, [Paterno] wasn’t taking JUCO transfers, and that was one of the schools I would’ve went to, so when I got a chance to play against them I said, “I’m gonna show him.”
We knew what we had on paper, but to see how we were dominating, and the energy we produced in such a hostile environment, it was like, “OK, wow, we are who we think we are.”
I remember thinking that it was going to be such a difficult game, and we over prepared ourselves so much that the game came easy.
We were just too big, strong and fast, and way too physical. We let the country know what this whole season was going to be about. We dominated those guys from start to finish, and Happy Valley wasn’t so happy.
The events of 9/11 caused a pause in college football, with games that weekend either being canceled or postponed, and Miami’s game against Washington would be rescheduled for later that season.
On Sept. 27, Miami returned to play at Pitt with a determination to press forward, resulting in a 43-21 win. Its game at Florida State on Oct. 13 took on even greater meaning after what happened in 2000. At halftime, Reed delivered his now famous, “I’m hurt, dog” speech and it was captured by a documentary film crew that was working on an all-access show for ESPN. Reed is seen shouting at his teammates, “I’m hurt dog! Don’t ask me if I’m alright. Hell, nah. Joaquin said dominate, and we’re not doing it! I put my heart in this (expletive) dog. Let’s go, man!”
“Dominate” had started the year before, breaking down the team before going into the locker room right before we came out for the game. If you dominate your responsibility and enough guys do that, then we’ll be OK. A lot of people don’t understand the context. Most people think that UM must have been losing, but no. We were winning, but we left a lot of points on the field. We let them drive right before the half and Ed Reed wasn’t in that drive because he had dinged up his shoulder. … It’s a really tight locker room, we’re getting ready to go out, and I absolutely remember it like it was yesterday, and I remember getting chills from hearing his battle cry, just like coming out in the second half, we’re putting this away.
Everything in Ed wanted to destroy Florida State for so many reasons. Our freshman year, we redshirted, but we would go on road trips and have our jerseys on with sweatpants on the sideline. They beat us 47-0, and I remember walking off the field and everyone was celebrating and he said, “As long as I have something to do with it, I will never be embarrassed by Florida State again.” And that kind of stuck with me. So a lot of times when I hear his voice, I can sense that disappointment that he felt with that being his last go around. He didn’t want it to be close. He didn’t want it to be close at all.
When he spoke, the team listened. And when he spoke, the coaches listened.
When we recruited him in high school, when I actually went to see him in person it was at a basketball game. He was leading stuff, telling guys what to do, up and down the court with the ball in his hands, and you could just see this guy had that magical feel for how to play team games. And then on the practice field, he had that voice. Ed was somebody that would really talk to players. He didn’t care about scolding players if they didn’t do their jobs. That’s what you love about great leaders is they respect their teammates, they love their teammates, but they’re going to hold their teammates accountable.
I was hurt before this game. My AC [joint] was sprained, and everybody came and asked me if I’m hurt. Yea I’ve been hurt. You know I’m hurt, yet we let them score two touchdowns. This team, who kept us out of the national championship, beat us our freshman year … slammed the quarterback in the goal post … that’s what that was all about.
Miami beat Florida State 49-27 to remain undefeated, but a bigger test awaited Nov. 10 on a cold day at Boston College.
For whatever reason, we always played them close in my four years there. They always had a good running back and good offensive line, and that is a hostile environment. As I remember, the fans are standing right over the bench and they were yelling at our coaches, and they were throwing Skittles at us. They kept telling us don’t listen to our coaches, because we’re getting our butts kicked.
We sucked on offense. We’re dead. We were bad that day. We didn’t do anything right. Our communication wasn’t good. Our physicality wasn’t good. I think they might have called us Michelin men because some of the guys when they first put clothes on, they literally look like the Michelin tire guy because they were loading up like they were going into a frickin’ blizzard. They’re wearing hoodies and sweatshirts and jackets all up underneath their shoulder pads and the coaches were like, “How are you going to function and play football?” That’s how comical it became.
It was one of those games. But I feel like if you look at the history, every team that’s won a national title has had a game like that, where it comes down to the last minute and if you lose, your season’s over. Every team has to go through that, because that’s how you get calloused to know that no matter what happens, you’re going to find a way to win. It’s one of those weird ones you can’t explain, but you’ve got to get through.
Kenny was the perfect guy. The intangibles he had. The intelligence he had. The leadership. The ability to handle situations and adversity. The toughness, the mental toughness. Guys rallied behind him. I’ll never forget the year before, we beat Florida State and guys were celebrating, and Ed Reed told Dorsey to stand up and told everyone to start cheering for Ken Dorsey. He basically announced to everybody, “This is our guy.”
I remember when I recruited him, his coach told me, “You don’t really know what you’re getting.” He was right. Kenny didn’t have the strongest arm in football, but he was just a tremendous leader and just a playmaker. He made things happen. He made good decisions and he made everyone around him better. He had the respect of those players. They knew he was the straw that stirred the drink.
We all loved Dorsey, but we knew we had other skill sets and talent on that team. If we needed to win it on defense, let’s go win it on defense. They had confidence. But there was never any pressure on anybody because they always thought they were going to get it done.
Miami led 12-7 with under a minute to play, but BC had first-and-goal at the Miami 9-yard line.
They’re driving to win, the whole stadium thought they were about to win. We knew that was going to be a tough game. It was always tough.
We knew what route was coming on that play. It wasn’t a surprise. We line up, and Ed goes, “Mike, here comes the slant. Jump inside of it. I got you over the top.” Sure enough, they run a slant, I go in to pick it off, and I spread my fingertips, and had my hands below my knee. My knee went between my hands, and hit the tip of the ball and it flipped to Matt Walters.
I just remember on that play that the offensive lineman tried to cut my knees, and I remember finally getting it right. Coach had taught me for four years to get my hands down, get on his helmet and push his head down on the ground so that he doesn’t get to your legs. And I did that, and I was like, “Oh, man, that felt good.” I turned around, and the next thing you know, the ball is floating to me in slow motion. I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, do not drop this.” When I caught it, I wasn’t thinking about running it back for a touchdown. I was tired. I was thinking in my mind, “There’s not a lot of time left in this game. I’m gonna run out of bounds.” I started running at an angle toward the sideline. I remember Ed coming up next to me. Ed was definitely yelling my name, “Matt! Matt! It’s Ed!”
If you look at the film, at the last second as he’s falling to the ground, he looks up to see if it’s Ed, and he lets the ball go.
That truly goes to show how much trust we had, for him to hear my voice and give me the ball. That’s how much we’ve been around each other.
I remember four or five guys jumped on me and next thing you know I’m looking at the ground and by the time I roll over and look up, I see Ed going.
I was chasing Ed, and Ed did some little backyard football by running zig zags in order not to get caught, and then he spikes the ball to put the emphasis on that play.
At that point, euphoric adrenaline runs over you. I couldn’t get off the ground fast enough to go give him a hug. It didn’t really hit me until afterward. You look back on it, and man, that was a great play by Mike, by me, by Ed. They could have scored a touchdown or kicked a field goal and that season has an asterisk next to it.
I told Mike they ought to bronze your knee and put it in the Hall of Fame, because if that didn’t happen, we wouldn’t have played for a national championship.
To win a national championship, you have to win some you’re not supposed to win. BC was certainly a good team, and it looked like we weren’t supposed to win it, but somehow we did.
Two weeks later, the game everybody in the locker room had circled on the calendar had finally arrived: Washington. The year before, Miami lost at Washington 34-29 — and that loss ultimately kept the Hurricanes out of the national title game they felt they deserved. As cliche as it sounds, Miami wanted revenge.
As a coach and players, you don’t want to talk about it too much, but it’s hard not to.
We were pissed. I don’t know a single person that wasn’t pissed headed into that game.
That game solidified our quest to dominate. That atmosphere was crazy. There’s something about a night game in the Orange Bowl, there’s something about that mystique. … A lot of us came back just for this game.
Washington coach Rick Neuheisel
Our team was beat up and tired and the kids wanted to go home for Thanksgiving, and now we’re having to go to Miami, a team that I knew was gonna want revenge. I said to our athletic director Barbara Hodges, “Let’s reschedule that game for another year,” and she was like, “No, We have to go.” I don’t know how General Custer felt, but I felt like General Custer.
We wanted to beat them for two reasons, right? We lost the year before, and it kept us out of the national championship game. We knew, we got them out here, with the weather, the physicality, they weren’t going to be ready for that. It was one of those games where the score just got run up. They should have gone back to high school where they do the running clock. We probably could have scored 80 points. The atmosphere was too much for them. They’ve never seen an atmosphere like that. I’m talking about the energy, the heat. You could feel the crowd; you could feel the anger that we had, and how bad we wanted to beat them.
Miami needed one more win to clinch an undefeated regular season and a spot in the BCS national championship game: On the road, against Big East rival Virginia Tech. The Hokies, ranked No. 14, proved to be a formidable opponent. After a blocked punt returned for a touchdown cut Miami’s lead to 26-24, Virginia Tech lined up for a 2-point conversion to tie the game. But Ernest Wilford dropped it.
A lot of people don’t realize the rivalry between Miami and Virginia Tech. Every one of those games was a physical, physical affair. You were getting into a street fight when you went and played those guys. There’s going to be some tremendous 3- or 4-yard runs. There will be unsung heroes picking up blitzes. That’s how it goes in those games. A lot of people talk about the struggles against Florida State, but we had those struggles against Virginia Tech.
OL Joel Rodriguez
Oh, absolutely I was scared. At that point, it was like, all right, the last game then we’re going to ship. That was the first time, for a portion of the game at least, we let our gaze get to the horizon and not on the task at hand.
It was intense. The loudest game. It was so scary. We didn’t know it was going to come down to a 2-point conversion, but the football Gods were with us on that day, and that kid dropped that ball.
I mean, he was pretty much automatic for them. When he dropped the two-point conversion, I was like, I need some prayer right now. He was probably the most hated guy in all of Blacksburg that night, but at the same time thank you so much, because you just kind of saved us some heartache.
There were moments in that season that we felt we deserved to win those close games, because we outworked those teams in that offseason. Like you knew in your bones that we were going to pull it out. Because we had that extra whatever. It took that extra X Factor. We had it in us, and we knew we had it in us. We were confident. We never got worried.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer
We blocked a kick and a punt and blocked a field goal that day. That gave us a chance. But when you play a team like that, you can’t turn the ball over, and I think we ended up throwing four interceptions. That [last] interception was by Ed Reed. And we went into the Hall of Fame together this past year. I’ll never forget, he said he really liked our team. Anybody who could block kicks like that, he was a fan of.
I don’t know if this ever got released to the media, but Kenny [Dorsey] got hit and took a hard shot to the ribs. He almost had to come out of the game. I remember the doctor saying he couldn’t really throw the ball. And they had a great defense. It was a challenge to figure out how to get through the rest of that game. A lot of people don’t know how close that was, but he was a huge leader for us, and he wasn’t coming out of that game. It was grit and toughness for him, and it was important he was in there the whole time.
Going into the locker room after the win at Virginia Tech, it was special. You go into the locker room and everybody is just elated. To solidify going to a national championship without having to worry about if somebody else was going to lose — that was special. I think it was kind of a weight off everybody’s shoulders at the end.
Miami clinched a spot in the national title game against Nebraska at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and felt confident this game would be its crowning achievement.
One of the things that happened in practice, we caught a few guys in the stadium trying to record our practices, seeing how we were going to stop the triple option. We saw a guy in the 55th row laying down with a camera, and we started pointing him out, and he gets up and runs to one of the exits. It happened twice in the Coliseum.
Sometimes the practices in the bowl games get a little stale or tired. But I remember a few days before the game we did a two-minute drill, our No. 1 offense against the No. 1 defense. I’ll never forget the speed and tempo and competitiveness. Shockey was diving for balls, Ed Reed was coming up full-speed, full-tackle. And as a coach, you almost never want that — guys on the ground, just a couple days before the game. But these guys wanted to win that two-minute drill as bad as they wanted to win the Rose Bowl. That’s always what Miami had been about, and what set it apart in my mind.
LB Jonathan Vilma
Randy Shannon is giving us every way to run this option, and I was frankly frustrated because it was hard to process it all. And he comes to me when we’re in Pasadena, he’s like, “Look, don’t worry, it’s gonna be easier in the game.”
Before we even went to the game, we made “Ballin Boys.” We made a song like the Super Bowl Shuffle, letting them know, “We’re going to whoop y’all.” Years later in the NFL, I’m hearing people like, “Man, I listened to that song.”
I played with Richie Incognito with the Rams, and he told me when they saw us get off the bus at Disney [during the week], they started laughing. They thought that we looked like a high school team. They were big boys, all positions, not just the offensive line. They were cracking jokes at us, and they thought that they were gonna just drag us all over the football field and just pound us.
Everybody’s fired up. We’re intense, pulling up on the buses. And I’ll never forget seeing the wave of red of Nebraska fans pulling up that seemed like it went for miles. And we’re in the buses going right through this wave of red, and it seemed like they all flipped us off in unison. And I’ll never forget, everybody’s fired up, and Larry gets up in front of the bus, and said, “Men, don’t worry about that. They’re just telling us we’re No. 1.”
The first quarter, we’d always said, once we got the speed of the option down, we’d get it done.
The first series, we line up, they run their option, and for as fast as it went for us in practice, it was like they were in sand. We go to the sideline, and Randy Shannon, after the first series he’s like, “Hey, how do they look?” I was like, “Coach, call whatever you want, we’re gonna win.” He was like, “You serious?” I said, “Coach, they’re slow as hell.”
I’d been at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State for years and we’d never beaten [Nebraska]. To me, it was special, and I knew it was going to be a tough game. I never expected it to be a blowout. They were a good team. But we were a great team.
When Vince Wilfork took their All-American guard Toniu Fonoti and threw him five yards in the backfield and made a tackle for a loss, their whole sideline s— their pants, and then all of a sudden Vilma started decapitating tight ends, and it became a whole different animal, and they weren’t aware, used to it, privy to, they literally thought they were going to come in there and mop the floor with us. Incognito told me at halftime, their coach basically said, “Guys let’s just try to keep this thing close,” and he said that right in front of the athletic director.
They had no chance of winning that game. Like, literally none. I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but we were five steps faster than them, 10 pounds hungrier, much more violent, which is a different style of football. I think also, what rattled them was how much fun we had while being violent and being intense. A lot of people doubted if they should have made the championship. I say five minutes into the game, they knew in their hearts that they were going to be outclassed and outmatched.
The fourth quarter was fun for us, because at that point, the game was kind of in hand, and everybody got to enjoy and be part of it: first, second, third string guys, everybody was getting in and getting to play. That felt good for all of us.
Miami took a 34-0 halftime lead before cruising to a 37-14 victory, winning the school’s fifth national championship.
It was unreal, just to see the trophy come out.
Being from California, playing in the Rose Bowl was special for me. I had so many friends from high school who were there to support me, guys I grew up with and loved and had always been there for me. You grow up with the Rose Bowl and watching the parade and those games. And to stand up at the podium with guys like Andre Johnson, who was my suite mate since my freshman year, and hold up that trophy — that was special.
It was one of those things where it was kind of like inevitable for us, you know what I mean? Everything that we put into this, everything lined up when it needed to.
We were exhausted. Because that whole season, our mind was set on one goal, and you really don’t understand how exhausting something can be when you’re in pursuit of it.
We win, and we’re in that locker room, and when you work for something for so long, and you achieve it, there’s a certain sadness. We all had our careers that take off from there, but from my eyes, I was like, “What now?” I wanted to play more.
That was the first time I was ever a champion of anything, so I just wanted to stay in the locker room. I never experienced that, just to sit there and say, “I’m the best, and that was a product of all our work.” I remember just sitting there like, “Damn.”
I didn’t know at the time that this would be talked about as one of the best teams in college football. I knew we’d have a good team, but there were a lot of questions because of the coaching changes. We hadn’t been there. It wasn’t like we were living at the top of the AP poll. But I did have the feeling that we were going to win the national championship and we were going to do whatever it took to make it happen.
In the years since Miami’s 2001 championship, the team’s reputation has only grown. In 2002, Miami again played for a national title, losing in overtime to Ohio State. Chudzinski, Shannon and defensive backs coach Mark Stoops all went on to head-coaching jobs. The 2001 team featured six All-Americans, and Dorsey was a Heisman Trophy finalist. In all, 17 players from the team became first-round draft picks, and 38 players would be drafted, with stars like Vilma, Reed, Shockey, Wilfork and Portis earning multiple Pro Bowl bids. The dominance of the team during its 2001 campaign combined with the legacy those players left — both in college and the pros — makes a strong argument that this is the best college football team ever assembled.
I’d feel good about our team against anybody. It’s a fun debate, but at the same time, the competitor in you has no doubt about where we stood.
You can make the argument it’s the most talented team to ever play. Maybe Alabama last year. But the number of great players, first-round draft choices and players who got drafted, it’s amazing really. Vince Wilfork, Frank Gore, Kellen Winslow, Sean Taylor — they were all NFL first-rounders and they were all back-ups on that team. How good is that?
When the team takes ownership of its success, you know you have a championship culture. We knew when I was there, but in 2001, it became reality. Ed Reed, Kenny Dorsey — they took ownership of everything: Lifting, the workouts in the summer, coming in to watch film.
What set those guys apart was what was inside of them — in their heads and in their hearts, how they competed and how they prepared and how they loved and how they were passionate about playing the game. It’s not the individual talent. These guys were special people. As I went to the NFL, we’d always find those Miami guys on the other team and you knew they were going to be the most competitive guys. I’d smile every time when I’d see them before the game and say, “Yeah, we’re going to go at it.”
David M. Hale contributed to this story.
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