What happened tonight in Tampa Stadium left a lot of the 72,813 here to see it a little changed in the very way they breathe.
What happened was this: Miami, last year's national college football champion, beat Florida, 32-20, coming on to score with seven seconds left in the game and win against a team that had only seconds before taken the lead and seemed certain of victory.
The Hurricanes, with just four days to shake off the bruises of their 20-18 victory over No. 1 ranked Auburn and prepare to take on the team that last beat them (28-3 in last year's opener), were on the verge of having the nation's longest winning streak ended at 12 games.
The winning drive, brilliantly orchestrated by quarterback Bernie Kosar, took only 29 seconds to realize. In five plays, he moved the finely honed offense 72 yards and ended the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Brown, who had run a flag pattern and received the ball without breaking stride.
The final play made the final score deceivingly decisive, though certainly marked with high drama. Miami cornerback Tolbert Bain intercepted a desperate pass by Kerwin Bell, the Gator quarterback making his college debut tonight and completing 15 of 30 for 159 yards. Bain raced 59 yards for the touchdown that made for a 12-point margin.
This 46th meeting of the schools seemed to have been won by Florida when Bell completed a five-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Neal with 41 seconds to go and the extra point by kicker Bobby Raymond put Florida ahead, 20-19.
Even as the Florida crowd celebrated, Kosar, who completed a remarkable 25 of 33 passes for 300 yards, went to work and stole apparent victory from the heart and hands of his state rival.
So it ended with a Miami team prayer in the end zone, but will never end for many of those who witnessed this wonderful game.
Dave Heffernan, the Miami offensive right tackle, said, "There was no question we had the confidence we needed to score. I had no doubt we could do it. Character makes this team special, and Bernie Kosar performs miracles."
Brown described the game-winning play: "We'd been working on it all week; it was a great call. I was double-covered and it was a little hard to get upfield, but Bernie laid it up nice and sweet. I had faked inside and had to get outside real quick, and Bernie was all over it. It was perfect, beautiful. Wonderful."
Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson said, "Bernie came over and we discussed it. It was a unanimous decision of the staff, and we felt we could get the touchdown. I told him if it's there, take it, if not, don't take a loss and we can still go for the field goal."
Florida, which had 341 total yards compared to the 402 amassed by Miami, showed great spirit, and if moral victories could possibly serve as any kind of satisfaction to the loser of this bitter state rivalry, there would be much joy in Gainesville tonight. Gator Coach Charley Pell resigned early in the week (effective after this season) under pressure from a 20-month investigation, and this, combined with the season's-eve knee injury to starting senior quarterback Dale Dorminey, gave Florida ample cause to play inspired football.
Pell said, "I was so proud of our team. To come from behind as they did and go ahead of a great Miami team with so few seconds to go . . . Gosh, that was something. Kerwin Bell played a courageous game. He's going to be a great player over the next four years."
There were many heroes this night, and the list includes Greg Cox, a Miami freshman who kicked field goals of 29, 20, 27 and 25 yards. Another was Willie Smith, the Hurricane tight end who caught 11 passes for 152 yards.
"So many of them were so good," Pell said. "We just couldn't stop them all. And that's what the game came down to. We just couldn't stop all of them."
For Florida, Raymond made field goals of 44 and 30 yards, although he missed an important attempt from 46 yards with 6:09 left in the fourth quarter. Lorenzo Hampton ran 64 yards for a touchdown with 13:41 left in the second quarter, putting the Gators ahead, 10-3, in the early going and giving them much-needed confidence.
The Florida defense, led by nose guard Tim Newton with eight tackles, was exceptional, spoiling Miami drives deep in Gator territory, stopping the prolific Kosar once at the seven and another time at the three in first-half goal-line stands. The four field goals by Cox, matching a team record, were the direct result of the stubborn defense unwilling to surrender precious turf.
Pell said, "Our defense showed flashes of the kind of play that leads me to believe we'll have a fine defensive team. But Miami is a great team."
Kosar completed 14 of 19 passes for 172 yards in the first half, including 11 of 12 in the second quarter. He helped Miami build a 16-10 halftime lead that grew to 19-10 before Florida rallied.
Darryl Oliver scored the other Miami touchdown on a quick-pitch around end with 6:37 left in the second period. He followed a big block by Alonzo Highsmith, a fellow running back, and went 21 yards.
Rookie Bell moved Florida to the Miami three-yard line late in the first quarter, and while clipping and illegal procedure penalties killed any early touchdown dreams for the Gators, Raymond's 44-yard field goal tied the score as time ran out in the quarter.
The Florida drive stunned much of the crowd dressed in green and orange, for there was much speculation as to whether the inexperienced quarterback could generate any offense. Bell dispelled the doubts of the Miami cynics, and he gained confidence and momentum, at times showing great poise while setting up and firing from the pocket.
Johnson, now 2-0 as Howard Schnellenberger's successor, said, "They (his Hurricanes) were physically and mentally drained after the Auburn game, but we were bound and determined to win this game. Florida battled us for the entirety of it, but it did not matter how many points they scored, our players knew they would come back and win."