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Thursday, September 6, 2001
Rumph fired up for rematch with Lions
By Marc Connolly
ABC Sports Online
Bill Buckner could have been replaced by Dave Stapleton in the late innings, as was the case most of the season. Steve Fisher could have screamed "WE HAVE NO TIMEOUTS LEFT!" until his face turned maize and blue in the Michigan huddle after their last TO was called. Mitch Williams could've -- well, maybe that was his fault.
Whatever scenarios have produced what we like to repeatedly call goats -- Fred Brown also comes to mind, as does Scott Norwood -- it's often not as cut-and-dry as the media might portray it the next day, or in fans' exaggerated recollections as years go by.
Such is the case heading into Saturday night's delicious non-conference matchup between the traditional college football kingpins of the University of Miami and Penn State (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Mention Penn State's improbable 27-23 victory over Miami at the Orange Bowl from Sept. 18, 1999 to fans of both teams and you're more than likely to get two names thrown back at you:
Chafie Fields, the electric receiver who scored the winning 79-yard TD with 1:41 to go in the game, and Mike Rumph, the Miami cornerback who "gave it up."
The fact that Miami's offense failed to convert on a third-and-1 from the Penn State 21 and then went for it on fourth-and-2 rather than attempt a 39-yard field goal moments earlier isn't as easily recalled. Nor is safety Ed Reed's whereabouts once Fields took off down the left sideline of that soggy turf.
Though that game is something that Rumph, now a senior, says he only thinks about "now and then," it's a play he still remembers clearly, even though he has refused to watch the tape since viewing the horror flick 10 times the day after it transpired.
He remembers being right up on Fields after the ball was snapped, since they were in three-deep coverage with their linebackers blitzing. Greg Schiano, the defensive coordinator at the time, wanted to go for the jugular right off the bat, and sent his All-American linebacker Dan Morgan in after the quarterback. But just seconds before Morgan was to make the sack, Kevin Thompson unleashed a quick dart out to his left towards his star wideout.
"I didn't think he was going to catch the ball," recalled Reed, who was playing safety on Rumph's side. "I thought Mike Rumph had great coverage on the guy, but he just happened to come up on top. I was like, Ooooh, man."
As Fields took off down the field, all Rumph can remember is a lot of "swiping and missing, swiping and missing," as he told the Miami Herald.
Rumph had no help on the play, either, as Miami's usually dependable as daylight safety was nowhere to be found.
"I kind of took the play off," admitted Reed, in a conference call earlier this week. "I thought Mike would make the play. I shouldn't have taken the play off anyway. It happens to the best of them.
"If that play was to happen Saturday, I think Mike Rumph would be there."
Most would agree, but it wasn't like that loss to then-third-ranked Penn State just came and went. Reed was benched the next game, in another disappointing loss to East Carolina. The Hurricanes just couldn't block that last two minutes out of their minds.
First-year head coach Larry Coker believes the blame that day should be put on his shoulders, as he says the four-minute offense was the big failure of the game. He was also the one who made the call to go for it on fourth down. He's gone back over that call several times since that fateful day wondering what might have happened had Andy Crosland trotted out onto the field and split the uprights rather than give it to workhorse tailback James Jackson.
So he looks back at that game with the same sort of mindset, and remembers how it haunted the team afterwards.
"That was a devastating loss for us," said Coker, who was the team's offensive coordinator at the time. "It's a win we had and like we should've won and could've won."
"It was like a dagger in our heart," said Reed. "We were young and we really didn't know what to do with it."
Both Rumph, who sparingly talked to the media this week, and Reed look back now and say that the gaffe against the Nittany Lions helped them concentrate in each and every play. Even in practice.
"It made me pay attention more to the details and the little things that I do," said Reed. "To make sure I give as much effort as I can each play and to never take a play off."
"It's something I learned from," said Rumph. "I've pretty much forgotten about that."
He hasn't, though, because he's had to talk about it all week.
But what he has done is turn himself into one of the top corners in the nation since then. He went on to lead the team with four interceptions and made 75 tackles (fourth on the team) en route to All-Big East second-team honors in that same sophomore season. Last year, he moved up to the first team on the conference's all-star squad by making 41 tackles (31 solo), breaking up 10 passes (second on the team) and returning an interception 45 yards for a touchdown against Rutgers.
Coming into this season, he's been put on the Thorpe Watch List for college football's top DB and named as a Preseason Third-Team All-American by Athlon magazine.
"I've been really impressed with Mike in how hard he works and how dedicated he is," said new secondary coach Mark Stoops, who was at Houston last year. "That's how important it is for him to be successful. He's a guy that puts in a lot of time. He stays after practice to work on things. He's just been a great leader for us."
Rumph's sleek 6-foot-2, 190-pound frame, 4.47 40 speed and basketball-like coverage skills has the attention of many a pro scout. So much so that the Delray Beach, Fla., native took out a $750,000 insurance policy before the start of the season in case he gets injured.
Draft expert extraordinaire Mel Kiper listed Rumph as the third top cornerback prospect for next spring's NFL draft behind only Quentin Jammer (Texas) and Mike Echols (Wisconsin).
"I would think Mike would play for a long, long time in the NFL," said Stoops. "He's definitely what you're looking for. He's got long arms, he's tall, runs well, has good feet and runs well. He's got all the intangibles you're looking for. And he's got the right attitude."
Coker believes so, as well.
"Mike's a physical corner with range and he plays with a lot of confidence," he said. "He's an excellent coverage man."
Rumph has been waiting nearly two years to show such attributes to the Penn State faithful, who watched Fields get the best of him the last time the two juggernauts faced off. He'll surely hear all about it when he walks into the Lions Den that'll be filled with more than 106,000 crazies on Saturday night.
"When you first walk into that stadium and see all those fans and all the blue and white, it's kind of intimidating," said Rumph. "Once you get out there, it's gone."
He acknowledges that they might have something else on their minds, too, with former DB Adam Taliaferro leading the team onto the field after doctors told him he may not walk again after breaking his neck while making a tackle in a game at Ohio State.
"They're going to be real emotional," said Rumph. "They've got their guy coming back and leading them out onto the field. They're going to win the emotional part. We have no emotional battle with them.
"But they still got to come out there and play us."
No matter what happens on Saturday night, he knows his name will always be brought up when the Penn State-Miami rivalry is discussed. Yet, he also knows that he'll have a chance to make NFL fans remember his name for something besides a play he made when he was 19 years old.
Something that a guy named Chafie Fields has never been able to do on Sundays.
Marc Connolly is a senior writer for ABC Sports Online. He can be reached at Marc.Connolly@abc.com
|Mike Rumph jumps over some players during the game against Washington last September. The Huskies defeated the Miami Hurricanes 34-29.||