There is some discrepancy as to exactly when the conversation took place -- whether it was a few days before or a few days after the Jan. 1 Fiesta Bowl -- but there's no disagreement on what was said. While a small group of University of Miami football players were talking quietly in his room, Bernie Kosar, the incumbent starting quarterback, walked cautiously toward his erstwhile backup, Vinny Testaverde, to say he was seriously considering forgoing his two remaining seasons of college eligibility to turn professional. "I don't know what you're thinking of doing," Kosar told Testaverde. "But if I was you, I'd wait and see what I do."
In truth, Testaverde was thinking of transferring away from Miami. To where, he wasn't sure; he hadn't even made out a list of possibilities yet. And it bothered him to have to leave, because he really liked Miami. But it was out of the question he'd stay where he was, on the bench behind Kosar, for his own remaining two seasons of eligibility. It wasn't that Testaverde begrudged Kosar's success, not at all; he just wanted to play. So this tip from Kosar, this was very interesting. But because Testaverde was afraid to appear too hopeful, and maybe too grateful, he didn't grin; he didn't hug Kosar or high-five him. He simply thanked Kosar for telling him, and wished Kosar well on his final decision. From then on, all Testaverde could do was wait to see which way Kosar went. "Whatever Bernie finally did," Testaverde said, acknowledging his predicament, "I would do the opposite."
By now we know that it ended happily for both. Kosar, after much maneuvering, achieved his uncommon ambition, to play for the Cleveland Browns, and Testaverde stepped in comfortably as the Miami quarterback. Just how comfortably is a little surprising, though, considering that all-America wide receiver Eddie Brown and four starting interior linemen graduated. The latest Division I stats ranked Testaverde fourth in total offense, third in passing efficiency. Through eight games Testaverde has 151 completions, 2,339 yards and 18 touchdowns. Those numbers are better than the ones Kosar put up through the first eight games of either of his two seasons at Miami. And bear in mind that had Kosar stayed here for four seasons he'd have been odds-on to break Doug Flutie's NCAA passing yardage record of 10,579. Obviously, Testaverde has been more than just good. As they say in the granddaddy of them all, the Cereal Bowl, he's been grrrrrreat.
Although Testaverde's sudden and stunning success has surely confounded most people, there are a few who can say, "I told you so," most prominent among them, Testaverde. "I haven't been nervous, not even for a second," he said earlier this week, before Miami left for its Saturday game against Maryland. "I always said I could do just as good a job as Bernie, if not better." If that reads cocky, it shouldn't, because Testaverde does not have the kind of outgoing personality that lends itself to cockiness. He is a quiet sort, absent of flair. "But anyone who saw them practice together would tell you that Vinny Testaverde had as much, or more, potential to be an outstanding quarterback as Bernie Kosar," said Marc Trestman, now a coach with the Vikings, but recently the quarterback coach at Miami. "The thing you question with anyone is: Can he do it on the field? Bernie could. Vinny looks like he can, too." Jimmy Johnson, who may not have seen many good quarterbacks in his years coaching at Iowa State, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Pitt and Oklahoma State, but had a jewel last year in Miami, said flatly (and, some might argue, managerially) that Testaverde "is the best I've ever been around."
And so one asks not why Kosar was the incumbent over Testaverde -- that was set in type Jan. 2, 1984, when Kosar passed Miami to a 31-30 Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska -- but how Kosar beat out Testaverde in September 1983, when that national championship season was just beginning? And the answer, from Trestman, who supervised the Kosar-Testaverde competition, is: "After 20 days of spring practice it was too close to call. After 10 more days of fall practice Bernie graded out just two or three percentage points higher than Vinny. But there was no question among the coaches that Bernie was more ready to handle the entire offense than Vinny was." Which is another way of saying, as coaches will, that Kosar was smarter, football-wise. "He learned everything quicker than I did," Testaverde admitted unequivocally. "At the time I wasn't ready."
Testaverde then found himself in the horribly ambivalent position of being part of a national champion yet knowing he had no realistic chance of quarterbacking as long as Kosar was around. How ironic that these two young men who were so similar, sharing the same age, 21, height, 6 feet 5, and weight, 210 pounds, even the same general appearance -- Testaverde, though coarser looking occasionally still is called "Bernie," (which is a lot easier to laugh off now that he's playing) -- should have separated out, like the white and the yolk, so quickly.
Kosar became mythic.
"It was real tough, you know," Testaverde said. "I was depressed, I went through that. I was angry, yeah, angry, frustrated, mad, sad -- all those things." None of which he ever told Kosar.
"I'm sure he knew," Testaverde said softly. Then, respectful of Kosar's intelligence and character, Testaverde said, "I'm sure when he made his decision to go pro, somewhere in the back of his mind he had me in there, too. As a matter of fact, when Bernie did turn pro, his family sent me a card congratulating me on being the quarterback, wishing me well."
The official declaration of Kosar's intention came on March 14. That night Testaverde was at home having dinner with his family on Long Island. Perhaps in fiction one of the Testaverdes would have raised a glass of wine and proposed a toast: Here's to Bernie. In real life, they raised glasses of champagne and toasted their own, saying, "Here's to Vinny."