The 1987 Miami Hurricanes: Jimmy Johnson’s Title

Howard Schnellenberger built up the Miami Hurricanes football program and shocked the nation by beating previously thought unbeatable top ranked Nebraska. Then, Schnellenberger took off for the short lived USFL leaving a highly desirable job opening for anyone wanting to follow up with Schnellenberger’s work.

That fellow wanting to follow up was the up and coming Oklahoma State coach, Jimmy Johnson.

Although Jimmy Johnson hadn’t accomplished all that much at Oklahoma State, the 1984 season at Miami was still a huge disappointment for him and the Canes. The Canes were 8-2 until the bottom fell out and they lost their last 3 games all by exactly 2 points.

The Maryland and Boston College losses were particularly humiliating and embarrassing. They had

Maryland beaten with a 31-0 lead at half time. Quarterback Frank Reich threw 6 second half Touchdowns to bring the Terrapins all the way from behind for a 40-42 Maryland win. It was the greatest comeback in college football history, at least at the time.

The following week was maybe the most famous college football play of all time, with Doug Flutie throwing his Hail Mary pass with no time left to beat the Hurricanes 45-47.

The Fiesta Bowl came down to the same thing, a 37-39 loss to the UCLA Bruins.

The 8-5 season was such a let down for the Hurricanes.

Bernie Kosar left for the money of the NFL, and Vinny Testaverde stepped up for the 1985 season. 10-2 results on the field was much better, however, a 7-35 loss to Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl showed that there was some work to be done, yet.

Testaverde won the Heisman Trophy in 1986 and the Hurricanes were ranked #1 for most of the season. But, then they were shocked in the Fiesta Bowl by Joe Paterno and Penn State and that national title would elude Jimmy Johnson for another year. Miami finished the 1986 season with an 11-1 record and plenty of reason to fight back. They were the far superior football team to the Penn State Nittany Lions, but Paterno’s team was the won to walk away with the national title.

Steve Walsh would step up and replace Vinny Testaverde after he graduated and the team didn’t skip a beat in 1987.

They were brash. They were cocky. Some people loved them, but a lot more hated them. Say whatever you like about them, but one thing they were for sure and that was good. They knew it, too.

Miami started the 1987 season ranked 10th, because of the loss of Testaverde. Replacement

Quarterback Steve Walsh wasn’t the star like Testaverde, but he was steady and dependable and he was a winner.

They opened up with 20th ranked Florida and they spanked the Gators, 31 to 4. Suddenly, they were the 5th rated team in the nation. 10th ranked Arkansas, from the old Southwest Conference was ranked 10th and the Hurricanes had to travel to the Ozarks for what should have been a great game. It wasn’t.

The Canes jumped all over the Hogs early and often and crushed them in front of their own people, 51-7. It was ugly, but it demonstrated what these Hurricanes were capable of doing.

Next was the game of the year and the hated Seminoles of Florida State eagerly awaited. Miami was now ranked 3rd and Florida State was 4th and it was one for the ages. Miami won when they batted down a pass from Nole Quarterback Danny McManus on the 2 point conversion to preserve a 1 point victory, 26-25. going for the win

The Hurricanes crushed their next 4 opponents and they made sure there was no comeback when they beat up Maryland this time.

Virginia Tech and their Beamer Ball was the next big test for the Hurricanes, but Jimmy Johnson’s gang came through, 27-13.

Shockingly, Toledo of the MAC gave them a tough time in their next game, but the 3rd ranked Seminoles were clearly looking ahead to the Notre Dame game.

This was the year before the famous Catholics vs Convicts game and the buildup was not quite as intense, but Notre Dame is Notre Dame and when they come to town there is always plenty of


Miami pounded the Irish, 24-0, which just added more fuel to the fire for later.

The Hurricanes finished at home with the 8th ranked Gamecocks of South Carolina. Other than Florida State, this was their tightest game of the season. The Canes won, 20-16 and finished the season unbeaten for the second straight season.

An Orange Bowl showdown remained and it was against Big 8 champion Oklahoma. It would be one of those classic number 1 versus number 2 games with the Sooners coming in as the top ranked team. This was the third season in a row that Oklahoma would play Miami. The Hurricanes had won the previous two games and Oklahoma was looking for answers to beat Miami.

They would get no answers as the Hurricanes beat them once again, 20-14 and were crowned national champions.

I will never forget Jimmy Johnson being lifted into the air by his players who clearly loved him. Johnson was doing double fist pumps into the steamy night sky in Miami. He had led his team to the national championship and it was the night of his life.

There would be more championships in Jimmy Johnson’s life. After one more season in Miami, Johnson was hired by his old college buddy, Jerry Jones to become the second coach in Dallas Cowboy history after Jones had purchased the team and fired Dallas icon, Tom Landry.

The once proud Cowboys were way down and Johnson built them into a powerhouse while he was there.

Johnson was not only a great football coach, but he was an excellent talent evaluator and that’s what made him great at the college level and probably more so in the NFL.

As a college coach, the fiery Johnson had posted an 81-34-3 and that would have been better without his 5 seasons in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Johnson coached Miami to their second national title in 5 years and after Johnson, they would win 3 more under different coaches.

He did not build Miami, that was done by Lou Saban and Howard Schnellenberger.

2 thoughts on “The 1987 Miami Hurricanes: Jimmy Johnson’s Title

  1. Bert

    I had forgotten how badly they smoked Florida and Arkansas (at the Hogs’ place even) early in the season.
    Pretty obvious how powerful they were at that point.

    Big fan of Jimmy Johnson. Maybe not so much as a person from what I’ve gathered (could be wrong, but…), but certainly as a head coach. I was disappointed how badly overall things went with the Dolphins.
    Think he should have picked Tampa Bay due to all the youth and draft choices instead of an aging team that he was kind of stuck with largely leaving intact, but he desired to be in Miami again, closer to his home in the Keys he at least used to have.

    At any rate, ‘Canes were amazing, winning four natty’s in just nine years.

    1. Brad Post author

      I liked Jimmy Johnson, too, still do on Sunday with the NFL broadcast. He definitely knew talent and his Hurricane teams were just loaded. I didn’t follow him that much with the Dolphins, but I know it was disappointing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *