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Loren Smith’s column on the life of Howard Schnellenberger

In 1983 when Georgia played without Herschel Walker in the

backfield for the first time, I became involved with a special assignment for

the Orange Bowl Committee, which allowed for an opportunity to become

acquainted with Howard Schnellenberger, whose Miami teams had pretty much ended the talk about the Hurricanes giving up football.

Conversations began to take place with Schnellenberger, an All-

America end who played for Kentucky during a time when the Wildcats

went through a period (49-55) of not playing Georgia. Nonetheless, he was

well versed with regard to the Bulldogs’ Wallace Butts and the Bulldog coach’s penchant for the passing game.

Schnellenberger, who died last week, played for Bear Bryant and

Blanton Collier in Lexington, becoming a fundamentally sound coach who

developed a productive passing game as an NFL assistant with the

Dolphins and as head coach at Miami; and a couple of other places. He

earned a reputation for turning programs around at Louisville and Florida

Atlantic, but the stars never aligned for him as well as they did when he left

the Miami Dolphins to take over the Miami program.

One day in his office at Florida Atlantic, as his career was winding

down, Schnellenberger sketched out an outline of the state of Florida on a

sheet of computer paper. He drew a line across the page from Florida’s

West coast thru Orlando to the Atlantic Ocean. “When I became the head

coach at Miami, I knew how great the talent was in South Florida.

Everything south of Orlando we considered the ‘State of Miami,’” he said.

 

With homegrown talent, Schnellenberger built his program into

national prominence, bringing Miami the first of five national championship teams in 1983.

The Hurricanes had to get help from Georgia to win that first

championship with the Bulldogs beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl in the

afternoon of Jan. 2, 1984. All Georgia fans remember the 10-9 victory over

the Longhorns, which has remained a forgettable moment in Texas football

history.

As the Cotton Bowl was winding down, I was not sure if I would be

able to see the final couple of minutes of play with Gil Brandt, Vice-

President of the Cowboys anxious to get ahead of the traffic in order to get

me to the airport to catch a flight to Miami for the Hurricanes-Cornhuskers

nighttime clash, the last bowl game on New Year’s Day for years.

Brandt is yelling, “Let’s go,” and I am lagging behind when Texas

fumbles a punt and the Bulldogs are poised for one last shot to score the winning touchdown.

With John Lastinger scoring the winning touchdown, Texas’ hopes for

a national championship were dashed. I barely made the flight to Miami.

On the way to my destination, I wondered how the Orange Bowl game

would be impacted by what happened in Dallas.

Two days later, Schnellenberger told me from his campus office, that Georgia’s upset “electrified” his Hurricane team. Steaks were flying off the

cafeteria wall, he said. “I don’t think anybody finished their pre-game

meal. We were not afraid of Nebraska, but Georgia’s victory sent us over

the top. I had watched Nebraska on film and knew we could compete with

them. There was talk that Nebraska was the team of the century. I really

liked that and was hoping that they were impressed with all the talk. We were ready for them.”

I got to the Orange Bowl with about five minutes of the game having elapsed. Immediately, I could tell that the emotions of the crowd, which were overwhelmingly in favor of the local team, were as frenzied as I have ever seen.

Miami got out front 17-0 in the first quarter and led 31-l7 at the start of

the final quarter. Nebraska scored two touchdowns in the final period and

only needed to convert a two-point conversion attempt to win. A dedicated

rush, which included linebacker Willie Martinez, who would later coach for

Mark Richt in Athens, caused Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill’s rushed

pass to be tipped away.

 

On several other occasions, I enjoyed football conversations with

Schnellenberger. He was always imbued with supreme confidence. He felt his offense could score on anybody. He thought Louisville could become a

powerhouse. He believed he could make Oklahoma fans forget the days of

Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer. More often than not, he was right, because his players believed.