Nobody knows better than the University of Miami's football team that being an overwhelming favorite on New Year's Day is no bargain.
Two years ago, Miami won the national championship by beating an overconfident Nebraska team in one of the most memorable upsets in the Orange Bowl. But tonight, the heavily favored and second-ranked Hurricanes were stunned by one of the great defensive games in Sugar Bowl history, as Tennessee scored a 35-7 upset before 77,432 in the Louisiana Superdome.
Miami (10-2) had moved the ball and scored spectacularly all season, until tonight, when quarterback Vinny Testaverde had his ears boxed. The Tennessee defense, which blitzed at least 70 percent of the time, sacked him seven times and forced him into throwing three interceptions and fumbling once.
The Hurricanes had loved to boast of their 18-3 record on the road the last three years. But tonight's crowd, at least 80 percent of which was partisan to Tennessee, made so much noise when Miami had the ball that the Hurricanes couldn't hear Testaverde's audible calls, and failed to pick up the blitzing Volunteers.
Several of the Tennessee players said that they were fired up by what they perceived as Miami's pregame arrogance. "We felt like Miami learned a good lesson tonight," Tennessee tailback Jeff Powell said.
"They took us lightly. The whole country took us lightly. We saw the Miami players around town this week. They were cocky. They didn't respect us."
And Tennessee defensive tackle Mark Hovanic added, "They talked a lot of garbage this week. Now it's our turn."
No team that had been as big an underdog as eighth-ranked Tennessee ever had won the Sugar Bowl. But after falling behind, 7-0, in the first four minutes of the game, the Southeastern Conference champions (9-1-2) scored five straight touchdowns, including 14 points in a two-minute stretch of the third quarter.
For Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors it was a third successful trip to the Sugar Bowl -- one as quarterback of these Volunteers in 1956, and another as coach of national champion Pittsburgh in 1977.
Tonight, Majors' offense was formidable enough, with quarterback Daryl Dickey effectively running the ball-control passing game, and tailback Powell running for a 60-yard touchdown to make the score 28-7 midway through the third quarter.
But the Volunteers' defense, which had recorded three shutouts in the last five games of the regular season, left Miami forlorn and forgotten.
Testaverde, who averaged 318 yards per game passing through the first 11 games, never approached that form tonight after throwing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Mike Irvin early in the game.
"Their coverage was very tight," Testaverde understated. "Our guys just couldn't get open."
One of his interceptions, an electrifying one-hand grab and 68-yard return by Tennessee all-America safety Chris White, set up the final score, a six-yard run by Charles Wilson with seven minutes left.
The Hurricanes were penalized a Sugar Bowl-record 15 times for 120 yards. In fact, Miami's most effective offensive play was a fake punt run, which set up the Hurricanes' touchdown.
Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson acknowledged that his team played poorly, but knew that the Tennessee defense was part of the reason. "They only gave up a couple of meaningful touchdowns the entire second half of the season," Johnson said. "Their blitzes obviously bothered us."
The Hurricanes came into the game knowing that if they won and Penn State lost in the Orange Bowl, they could be No. 1 in the rankings for the second time in three years. Instead, they left with their worst loss in 19 games.
After Testaverde's touchdown pass made it 7-0, Dickey -- voted the game's most valuable player -- threw a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Smith for a tie late in the first quarter.
Tennessee called passing plays for the first 13 plays and eventually set up Miami for the running game, a pretty slick, new-wave ploy for Majors, a man from the old school ("run to set up the pass").
After all that passing, Majors let Powell go for nine yards (plus a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct), four more yards, 16 yards to the nine, and eight yards to the one before he fumbled into the end zone. Even then, Tim McGee recovered for the touchdown that made it 14-7, a lead that stood to halftime.
Miami got inside the 20 four times but couldn't score. Testaverde being sacked took the Hurricanes out of field goal position several times.
Testaverde swore: "They didn't do anything we didn't expect."
Tennessee linebacker Darrin Miller started the second half, appropriately enough, by sacking Testaverde on second down and forcing third and 16.
When Testaverde tried to avoid the pressure on third down, the Volunteers got him anyway and forced a fumble that Miller recovered at Miami's 31.
Six plays later, 250-pound fullback Sam Henderson made a one-yard touchdown run for a 21-7 lead with nine minutes left in the third quarter.
After a three-and-out series, Tennessee made it 28-7 on Powell's 60-yard run up the middle. It was the Volunteers' longest run this season and the longest run against Miami.
Miami's players on offense said they felt they were still in the game at that point.
"I know we can score three touchdowns in a quarter," tight end Willie Smith said. But they spent the rest of the night just trying to hear Testaverde's calls.
"Our guys couldn't always hear the audibles," Testaverde said. "People were coming in free because we couldn't pick up the audibles to block it."
The more trouble he had, the louder the Tennessee faithful got.
"Usually, that stuff gets us fired up as much as anything," Testaverde said. "But it was so loud, I had to ask the tackle what the audible was. I'd just wait for the snap of the ball and run. We just weren't picking up the blitzes."
He was blitzed into throwing another interception after a first down at the 16, and the game was to all intents over.
Certainly, all the Volunteers were happy with this first Sugar Bowl victory since 1969, but none could have been more content than Powell.
"Miami should have paid more attention to the game they were playing than to the Orange Bowl," he said. "Because they beat Oklahoma (earlier this season) they felt they were the best team in the nation and they should be national champions.
"There was only one problem: they hadn't beaten us yet. And we took that personally. They didn't even practice that hard from what we understood.
"Yeah, they took us lightly. We were nine points from an undefeated season. We won the SEC, and we feel that's the best conference in the country. I guess they're pretty quiet over there right now."