1987 Fiesta Bowl: Wikis


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1987 Sunkist Fiesta Bowl
1 2 3 4 Total
Miami 0 7 0 3 10
Penn State 0 7 0 7 14
Date January 2, 1987
Season 1986
Stadium Sun Devil Stadium
Location Tempe, Arizona
MVP D.J. Dozier, Shane Conlan
Favorite Miami
National anthem Penn State Blue Band
Halftime show Band of the Hour, Penn State Blue Band
Attendance 73,098
United States TV coverage
Network NBC
Announcers Charlie Jones, Bob Griese, Jimmy Cefalo, Bob Costas (pregame), Ahmad Rashad (sideline)
Nielsen Ratings 24.9
Fiesta Bowl
 < 1986  1988

The 1987 Sunkist Fiesta Bowl was a college football bowl game sponsored by Sunkist. It was part of the bowl season of the 1986 NCAA Division I-A football season. The game was the 16th edition of the Fiesta Bowl, played annually since 1971. The 1987 game was played on January 2, 1987, at the Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. The game pitted the #1 Miami Hurricanes against the #2 Penn State Nittany Lions and was televised on NBC. 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 had to pit the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs, the Orange Bowl was obligated to take the Big 8 champion, and the Sugar Bowl was always hosted by the Southeastern Conference champion. This left the Fiesta Bowl and 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.[1] This game brought the Fiesta Bowl into national prominence, and such prominence led to its selection as an Bowl Alliance 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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 scrambled to put Chip Lohmiller in position to get the winning field goal.[4] The Gophers took home the Little Brown Jug 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 their only loss during the fourth week of the season. The 1986 Heisman Trophy winner, Vinny Testaverde starred at quarterback, All-Americans Jerome Brown and Bennie Blades on defense, and future NFL star Michael Irvin at wide receiver.

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), defensive tackle (Tim Johnson), running back (D.J. Dozier) and offensive tackle (Chris Conlin). "We were a team that couldn't be intimidated, and that's what Miami liked to do to other players," linebacker Pete Giftopoulos observed recently. "How are you going to intimidate a bunch of steel-town kids from Pittsburgh, Ohio, Pennsylvania? You just can't do that." [5]

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.[6] 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 game, as the winner would go to the 1987 Rose Bowl. 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[7] 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.[1] The Rose Bowl paid $6 million per team.[2] By signing a contract with Sunkist, 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."[7]

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, 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."[8]

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. We're outta here." 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.[7]

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.[9] 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.[7]

Scoring summary

First quarter

  • None

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

Third quarter

  • None

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 Ronald Reagan during the halftime show.


  1. ^ a b Looney, Douglas S. - College Football. Sports Illustrated, November 17, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Looney, Douglas S. - A Midseason Run For Respect. Penn State made believers out of 'Bama and gave two minor bowls major hopes for New Year's Day. Sports Illustrated, November 3, 1986.
  3. ^ Reilly, Rick - It Only Hurts For A Little While. Just ask Cincinnati or any number of other college football have-nots who, week after week, are willing to serve as fodder for powerhouses like Miami and Penn State, most of whom have discovered that a prerequisite for a trip to the top of the polls—and into a major bowl game—is a cream-puff schedule. Sports Illustrated, November 24, 1986
  4. ^ a b Neff, Craig - Bo Tries On A Tie, Gets A Boot. Sports Illustrated, November 24, 1986
  5. ^ Dan O'Sullivan, 1987 - Penn State 14, Miami 10
  6. ^ Reilly, Rick - Coming Out Of The Desert Darkness With The Sun Devils. Sports Illustrated, November 17, 1986
  7. ^ a b c d Michael Weinreb, The Night College Football Went To Hell
  8. ^ Hersch, Hank - A Struggle For Visibility And Credibility. Sports Illustrated, November 24, 1986
  9. ^ a b Penn State 2005 Football Media Guide

External links


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