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Tuesday, January 1
First impressions not always right

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN The Magazine

PASADENA, Calif. -- His wrists are as wide as shoestrings. The rest of his arm would faint if it ever saw a bicep. His neck is straight out of the Ichabod Crane catalog. And that's now. You should have seen Ken Dorsey in the summer of 1999, when he first arrived on the Miami campus.

"We both came in early," says 6-9, 336-pound offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, whose ear lobes have more muscle definition than all of Dorsey combined. "We were staying in a frat house. . . it was July and I asked him, 'What position you play?'

"He said, 'Quarterback.'

Ken Dorsey is Miami's career leader in TD passes with 58.
"I'm thinking, 'I know you ain't playing quarterback.' But he had that playbook, and he was studying it. But I'm thinking, 'You need to put on some weight..' He was, like, tall, skinny. You'd look at him and think, 'If he gets hit, that's over."'

Offensive tackle Joaquin Gonzalez saw Dorsey and immediately considered a nourishment plan. "I thought to myself, 'I better take him over to my house and get him some Cuban food."'

Cornerback Phillip Buchanon remembers seeing the stickman Dorsey at the Hurricanes' practice field. "I thought we weren't going to make it with Dorsey," he says. "It was like, 'Man, what the coaches thinking when they got him?"'

Wide receiver Daryl Jones thought a mistake had been made. "The guy was so tall and so skinny that I'm wondering, 'Is that the same guy I saw on film?"' says Jones, who had been shown tape of Dorsey's high school games by Miami coaches. "I saw him and I was kind of nervous."

Or as tailback Clinton Portis assessed the decision to sign Dorsey: "Man, we trippin'."

Dorsey looked like the Before photo for a Bowflex ad. Three seasons later he still does, what with his 6-5 frame barely nudging the weight scale to 200, if that. Someone at Mayberry cuts his hair. And if he were any more polite you'd want to scream.

But here he is, the spaghetti strand with a helmet, leading the Hurricanes to the national championship game. Not only that, but he has a Maxwell Award, a third place finish in the Heisman Trophy balloting and a growing list of UM passing records and near records.

His teammates never had a doubt.

"He's tough," says McKinnie, the all-America protector.

"You see him play and he's tight," says Buchanon. "We can work with that."

"He's a lot tougher and a lot more elusive than people think," says Jones.

"Dorsey's my homeboy," says Portis, who will only play on Dorsey's team in pickup basketball games. "Me and Dorsey cool."

Dorsey is the anti-hype. He has thrown a Miami career-record 58 touchdown passes, but would happily take each one back if it meant a win in return. The invitation to the Heisman ceremony? Nice. . . an honor, but he'd rather have a ring than a stiff-arming statuette. In fact, he has spent most of the Rose Bowl week telling reporters that there couldn't have been a more deserving Heisman winner than Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch. And he means it.

Twenty years ago (oh. . . my. . . gawd) I sat on a couch inside UM's Hecht Athletic Center, waiting to interview then-Hurricanes coach Howard Schnellenberger. As I waited, in walked the school's sports information director and two freshmen players.

One of the players looked as if he had been shaving since he was 6. He was as solid as a steel I-beam. When he shook my hand I checked for permanent nerve damage. The other guy was tall, wispy, thoroughly unimpressive.

"I want you to meet two of our quarterbacks," said the SID. He gestured toward the first player. "This is Vinny Testaverde." Then he nodded to the second player. "And this is Bernie Kosar."

I remember thinking that Kosar would have a wonderful career holding a clipboard on the sideline. Instead, Schnellenberger made the redshirt freshman his starting quarterback in 1983 and Miami won its first national championship.

Dorsey is Kosar 20 seasons later. He makes plays. He is unselfish. "Ever since high school, the only thing I worry about is winning," Dorsey said not long ago. "I'll just hand the ball off all game and be happy." He isn't into personal legacies. "I really don't care. I don't think people believe me, but that's just me."

It isn't a coincidence that Dorsey and Kosar are friends. It isn't a coincidence that Portis sometimes blows off running a curl pattern out of the backfield, just so he can block for his buddy Dorsey. Or that Gonzalez still tries to stuff him with Cuban food. Or that a defender has never slipped past McKinnie for a sack. Or that UM all-America safety Ed Reed, as close to a Hurricanes spokesman as there is, made it clear nearly two months who is the centerpiece of the program.

"He understands this is his team," said Reed after Dorsey's four interceptions against Boston College almost cost Miami its Rose Bowl appearance. "He controls its destiny."

Controls it, but in a good way. Sure, he looks like a human icicle, but muscle mass is overrated. What matters is that Miami's players believe in him. And if we can't see what they see in Dorsey, then the Hurricanes only have one response.

We trippin'.

Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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