After four straight days of rain, the sun finally shone briefly on Miami this morning, just long enough to dry the roads, dry the field at the Orange Bowl, even dry the tears; for tears, after all, are only temporary. Now, all that remains for the Miami players from what may have been the greatest college football game ever played are the memories; misty, water-color memories of the way it was.
"When we scored with 28 seconds left, I thought we had it won. We all did. We were going wild on the bench, celebrating like crazy," Ian Sinclair, Miami's center, said today, the day after his team lost to Boston College, 47-45, in a game that ended so surrealistically it might as well have been painted by Salvador Dali. "All game long I felt like the last team with the ball would win, but I just couldn't see them going 80 yards in 28 seconds. I was especially confident with six seconds left. Okay, you knew they were gonna go with the Hail Mary. But how many times do you see it work?"
Sinclair smiled at the irony.
He's seen it work once now. That's more than enough.
As Sinclair watched helplessly from the sideline, Doug Flutie, the Boston College wunderkind quarterback, went with the Hail Mary, straight into a 30-mile-per-hour wind. Taking the snap with six seconds left, Flutie threw a prayer from 60 yards out, with no time on the clock and no margin for error, in the direction of his roommate, Gerard Phelan, who had gotten behind the coverage and was standing alone in the end zone.
"I saw their guy behind our guys," Sinclair said. "But I couldn't believe Flutie could throw it that far. Not on the run. Not against that wind."
Could, and did. Touchdown.
"I was in shock," Sinclair said, looking back not in anger, but in utter amazement. "Paul O'Connor, one of our reserve guards, and I stood there and looked at each other. We saw it, but we didn't want to believe it. Our jaws must have dropped to our knees. It was like being on an elevator that had fallen from the top floor and crashed in the basement."
Melvin Bratton, who had scored what appeared to be the winning touchdown -- his fourth of the game -- with 28 seconds left, also was on the sideline watching. Unlike Sinclair, Bratton had not joined in on what, in retrospect, was a premature celebration. "I played in a game like this in high school," Bratton said today. "My team scored on a 50-yard screen pass on the last play; the horn had gone off and our guy was still running for the end zone. So even after I scored yesterday, I told somebody, 'It's not over.' I had a bad vibe, I guess."
But like Sinclair, Bratton, too, didn't think Flutie could throw the ball that far. He, too, saw it, and couldn't believe it. "I had to laugh," he said. "I walked directly to the scoreboard, looked up and laughed. Unbelievable. Unbelievable."
In its last two games, Miami, the defending national champion, has scored 85 points -- 40 against Maryland, 45 against Boston College -- and lost both, giving up 89 points in 90 minutes. Had time not expired and BC been allowed to kick the point after touchdown, it could be 90 in 90. A point-a-minute defense.
"I think we have the best offense in the country," Jimmy Johnson, Miami's coach, said today. "But it's very disappointing that our defense hasn't been good enough to complement it."
As great as Flutie was -- 34 completions in 46 attempts for 472 yards and three touchdowns -- he was only marginally greater than his Miami counterpart, Bernie Kosar, who went 25 for 38 for 447 yards and two touchdowns. After the game, Johnson sought out Kosar, hugged him, and said, "Bernie, you're a great player. You deserve better than this."
"You kind of think if you score 45 points, you should win," Sinclair said, stupefied by the results. "One week, 40, the next week, 45. I've been asking myself, 'What do we have to do to win?' I don't know anything about pass coverage, but I don't know how Phelan got behind our men." The winning BC play was called the "Flood Tip." Three wide receivers are sent down field, into the end zone, to await the pass. Their instructions are simple: If one can't catch it, he should tip it to another who can. "We normally practice it on Thursday," said Barry Gallup, the receivers coach. "But this Thursday it rained, so we didn't get a chance to work on it." BC has tried it four times in the last two years, and it has worked twice, once against Temple, earlier this season at the close of the first half, and now against Miami. Both times, Phelan caught the touchdown pass. "We hardly ever complete it in practice," Gallup said. "That's the funny thing."
You'll please excuse Miami for not laughing.
With Flutie throwing a desperation pass, Miami was in its prevent defense, with three defensive backs -- sophomore Reggie Sutton and freshmen Tolbert Bain and Darrell Fullington -- assigned to the end zone. Maybe they, too, thought Flutie couldn't get it that far, because they let Phelan slip behind them. When the pass went up, Fullington, who made the mistake of watching Flutie instead of the receivers, scrambled to recover, and in so doing, collided with Sutton. All three defenders leaped for the ball, but fell short. So it went.
"We have nothing to be ashamed of," said Johnson. "It just wasn't meant to be."
Undoubtedly, in Boston today there is joyful exultation. Here in Miami, sorrowful disappointment. "If you're asking me how I feel," Johnson said, "I feel empty."
You run a risk every time you keep score. So even in the greatest college game ever played there must be one winner and one loser. Taking the long view, Johnson said, "It's a great thrill to have participated in a game like this." Then, taking the short view, he added, "But it could have been even greater -- with six less seconds."
And now? "Now we go on," Johnson said.
"You've got to let bygones be bygones," Bratton said. "No sense drooling on this one."
As they like to say here, the sun will come up tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow, there'll be sun.