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Saturday, January 4
After 34 straight wins, losing baffles Miami

By Bruce Feldman
ESPN The Magazine

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Just like with everything else that is Hurricane football, the story was told by the old guys.

They all stood right there in a cluster at the 30-yard line, the Hurricanes Emeritus: Darrin Smith, Jessie Armstead, Clinton Portis, Warren Sapp in his triple-XL technicolor Coogie sweater and even honorary 'Cane Gary Sheffield. They sweated every snap out and shouted out to their little Hurricane brothers -- Keep fighting! Hurricane football. Don't quit.

Former UM star wideout Lamar Thomas, he of the miraculous Sugar Bowl strip against Alabama, couldn't even watch. He just kneeled on a towel in his green wool suit and kept pumping his fist, looking like an expectant father. A squeamish expectant father.

They all have been here so many times before. These are the ones FSU always loses and Miami always wins. Always. So they all believed. Believed that Miami's D would shut down OSU late in the fourth quarter. And then UM did. They believed that freshman burner Roscoe Parrish would take the punt back. And then he did. Right into field goal range. They believed Todd Sievers -- despite Ohio State freezing him with timeouts -- would do a Vinatieri from 40 yards out. And guess what? Then he did. And when OSU looked like it misfired on a fourth-and-3 and the stadium shot off the fireworks, they raced onto the field. Sapp jumped up so high, a chunk of dip flopped out of his mouth and off the belly of that sweater. That's the way Miami wins, right?

They always pull it out. But not this time. Once again, invincible Miami ended up beaten in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl: Ohio State 31, Miami 24. In two overtimes. And with this loss goes UM's fabled 34-game winning streak.

The 'Canes in uniform didn't quite know how to react to defeat. Many of them had never lost a college game. So some just stood there in disbelief as they watched wide-eyed Buckeyes jump all over each other at midfield. Other 'Canes sulked and stomped off the field. Jon Vilma, the affable Academic all-American middle linebacker, glared at a photographer who tried to snap a picture. Sievers' eyes filled up as he shook his head before Kellen Winslow Sr. consoled him and told him how proud they should be about the effort they gave.

In the locker room, Jerome McDougle, Miami's senior defensive end, spoke up. He glanced around the room. He saw most of his teammates with their heads bowed, between their knees and remembered something like this. Only this pain felt 10 times worse. That last loss, three years ago up at Washington, was before the Hurricane Machine had gotten truly revved up. Losing occasionally happened back then. Just like it did to Oklahoma and Florida and Tennessee. But Miami wasn't like that anymore.

They had taken the program even higher than the old guys had it.

McDougle looked at all the freshmen wide receivers and all the freshmen DBs, the guys redshirting and the guys who were warned earlier this season by Brett Romberg and the other upperclassmen about not knowing what it's like to lose. Not knowing how much it burns. "Remember this feeling," McDougle began. "You don't ever wanna feel like this again. We win as a team and we lose as a team. Don't point any fingers at no one. Just remember how terrible this feeling is. You can't do nothing about it. Just suck it up."

For some, like Kellen Winslow II, one of the kids who had never lost as a 'Cane, the taste was especially bitter. "They didn't beat us," he said. "We beat ourselves. We're the best team in the country. They're not. We just beat ourselves. We didn't execute."

"Right now, I feel numb inside," said linebacker DJ Williams, a guy who has lost only once in seven years.

Jarrett Payton confessed that at Miami losing really isn't an option. It may sound cliche, he says, but it never happens. Never, "so nobody really thinks about it," he said softly, pondering both the gravity of the streak and its ending. "I think it probably does hurt a lot more being that it happened in the big dance. That wasn't just another Big East game. This was for all the marbles. I think that's what makes it hurt the most. And, this will make us work harder."

Time to start working toward starting a new streak.

Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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