MSN Rewind: Miami 1973
The Mountaineers have not fared well here, going 2-11 in their 13 prior trips to the “Cruise Capital of the World.” However, West Virginia will get another crack at improving that record on Wednesday night, Jan. 4, against Clemson in the 2012 Discover Orange Bowl.
The guy involved in both WVU wins, assistant coach Steve Dunlap - one coming as a player in 1973 and the other happening during his first tour of duty coaching the Mountaineers in 1997 - are so memorable to him that he couldn’t recall much about either game. I suppose that’s understandable since he’s been involved in hundreds of them over the last 30-some years.
But fortunately for us, there are others we can turn to for help, especially that first West Virginia victory 38 years ago in Miami’s ancient Orange Bowl on a steamy Friday November night in 1973.
WVU went into that contest 14-point underdogs after dropping consecutive games to Indiana, Pitt, Richmond and Penn State as coach Bobby Bowden lost one starting quarterback after another. West Virginia was beaten so horrendously at Penn State (62-14) the week prior that a completely demoralized Bowden considered quitting right there on the spot.
The late Bill Smith once told me he saw the bubbly Bowden slumped over in a chair in the locker room more depressed than he’d ever seen him That was the game Penn State Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti famously said that he would score four touchdowns for his kid brother Joey, who was dying of leukemia, which was later dramatized in the movie Something for Joey. Unfortunately for West Virginia, Cappelletti kept his word and could have likely scored more had Joe Paterno not chosen to call off the dogs.
Informed of this later, a gracious Bowden said that had he known that he wished Cappelletti would have scored even more touchdowns for his dying brother.
At any rate, by the time the Miami game arrived on the schedule the wolves were beginning to howl for Bowden, who was down to his No. 3 quarterback, Ben Williams, a 5-11, 172-pound sophomore who also happened to be the first black starting quarterback in school history – a player really decades ahead of his time.
African-Americans starting at quarterback seemed to be the hot topic of conversation in sports that year, particularly in this area when Joe Gilliam became the starter for the Pittsburgh Steelers when No. 1 Terry Bradshaw, and then No. 2 Terry Hanratty, went down with injuries.
Williams was thrown to the Lions up at Penn State, although he did complete a school record 96-yard touchdown pass to Danny Buggs in the loss.
Against Miami, Bowden’s offensive coordinator, Frank Cignetti, chose to play things close to the vest and not put too much pressure on his young quarterback. Cignetti called one running play after another until finally Bowden had had enough.
“I’ll never forget, we’re running the football against Miami and he gets on the phone and he says, ‘Frank, don’t you have faith in your quarterback? Let him throw the football!’” Cignetti recalled.
Cignetti’s conservative plan was actually working pretty well. One of the few passes Williams was allowed to throw went for a 12-yard touchdown to Buggs. The speedy QB also used his feet by scampering 50 yards for one run and later taking the ball into the end zone when he faked a flanker reverse to Buggs for a 4-yard score.
After the game, Bowden hinted that he would have preferred his quarterback give the ball to Buggs instead.
“He was supposed to hand it off to Buggs but he scored, so it was a heads-up play,” Bowden said, adding, “If he hadn’t scored, well, we won’t talk about that.”
Still, West Virginia was trailing 14-13 (the Mountaineers missed a PAT following their second touchdown) after Miami got a go-ahead score in the second half and was driving to add a field goal late in the game. The defense, which turned back the Hurricanes three times inside their own 15, came up with another big play when Jack Eastwood correctly diagnosed a fake field goal pass by holder Bruce Wohleb and intercepted it, giving the ball back to the Mountaineers at their own 5 with just 1:50 left in the game.
From there, Williams engineered a terrific game-winning drive that featured eight passes, completing four, including the game-clinching score to Marshall Mills with 22 seconds left on the clock.
With West Virginia getting into range to kick a game-winning field goal, Cignetti decided to finally heed Bowden’s advice and take a shot down the field before attempting a less-than-certain field goal try.
“Frank made that call from the press box,” recalled West Virginia’s defensive coordinator Chuck Klausing.
Williams’ 32-yard pass to Mills gave West Virginia a sorely needed victory over a pretty good Miami team that had upset Texas and lost by only four points to powerful Oklahoma that season.
What Klausing remembers most about that game was the deal he swung with the Miami Dolphins equipment manager during the team’s walk-through at the Orange Bowl the night before.
“We were practicing and we’re slipping all over the place (on the Orange Bowl Astroturf),” Klausing recalled. “We had turf shoes, but not the special turf shoe the Dolphins were using. I had discussed it with the Dolphins’ equipment manager and he said he would rent me the shoes for whatever the price was at the time.
“I had to put up an extra thousand dollars as collateral to return the shoes,” Klausing said. “He wanted to make a fast buck, but he also wanted the security, so I had to go to one of our coal operators (who had made the trip down to Miami) to borrow the money to put up and the kids did a good job of returning the shoes.”
The shoes did the trick.
Because the game was so late in the evening, the team returned to their hotel before flying back to Morgantown the next day. Back at the hotel, excited players grabbed each coach and threw them into the pool with all of their clothes on.
The last one left was Bowden, who was still decked out in his coaching gear. When he realized the inevitable, Bowden calmly emptied his pockets, took off his wrist watch, and jumped in with the rest of them.
Now how could have Dunlap forgotten that?
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