Celebrating a Championship Legacy

Celebrating a Championship Legacy

by Christy Cabrera Chirinos

CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Bill Hawkins had options. Plenty of options.

As an All-American at South Broward High School, he’d earned attention from some of the biggest names in college football, many of whom were clamoring to add him to their rosters.

But it was a magical championship night at the Orange Bowl that helped decide his fate.

“When I was a senior in high school, I went to the national title game [Miami] had against Nebraska and I remember saying to myself ‘There’s just something special here,’” Hawkins recalled. “It was that intangible, that 13th man or 12th man, whatever it was.

“I knew this place was special.”

Hawkins joined the Hurricanes not much later. Eventually, he became a national champion.

This weekend, the former defensive lineman – an eventual first-round NFL draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams and a member of the UM Sports Hall of Fame – will have the opportunity to reconnect with many of his teammates as Miami celebrates the 35th anniversary of the Hurricanes’ 1987 national championship.

Memories and laughs were shared at a Friday reunion. Stories and hugs will be exchanged. And on Saturday, the team – which posted a perfect 12-0 record during its run to the national title – will be honored during halftime of Miami’s ACC opener against North Carolina at Hard Rock Stadium.

It’s a celebration more than a few members of the 1987 Hurricanes say they can’t wait to enjoy.

“I think the thing that makes it special for all of us that come back, of course, is that the tall tales get taller as the years go on,” laughed former Hurricanes defensive back Bennie Blades, who had five interceptions and was the Jim Thorpe Award winner that season. “But it’s just nice to see the guys you competed with. People think about that 12-0 season, but we think about those practices on Greentree, where we were made to compete. Those are the things that fans and people outside the Hecht Center and outside of that box won’t ever know. We joke and laugh about a lot of the things that went on just that season.”

Added Warren Williams, who led the ’87 team with 673 rushing yards, “I can’t really put into words what it was like to be a part of that team. It was nice. It was nice representing the University of Miami and doing the things we did. A lot of people remember we did things as a team. A lot of teams now, there’s a lot of individualism instead of togetherness. That’s where our success came from at the University of Miami, playing together and believing in each other.”

For each of them, the memories of that time are different.

Williams laughs when he recalls how he, fullback Melvin Bratton, tight end Alfredo Roberts and several other players huddled together under a tarp to stay warm during a chilly October game at Cincinnati.

Cold or not, the Hurricanes went on to win that game 48-10.

And Blades says it was Miami’s hard-fought 26-25 comeback win over rival Florida State in Tallahassee that he’ll never forget.

He suspects many of his teammates haven’t forgotten it either, especially given the stakes when the two rivals, both ranked in the top five of the AP Top 25 poll, met.

“If you talk to any of the starting 22, and you ask them about that Florida State game, we knew it was a pivotal point in our season,” Blades said. “Yeah, we were down. We were in the locker room. A lot of guys were hurting, cramping. But we truly knew…I knew, when that ball was mishandled and it just by fate or ordained destiny, rolled right to me and I made that [fumble] recovery and we scored two plays later, we knew of all the moments, that catapulted us to winning the rest of the season.”

After that win at No. 4 Florida State, Miami went on to notch wins over Maryland, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Miami (OH), Virginia Tech, and Toledo. The Hurricanes then shut out No. 10 Notre Dame and edged No. 8 South Carolina before facing top-ranked Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

The Sooners, who had been averaging 429 rushing yards per game, were held to just 179 yards on the ground, while Hurricanes quarterback Steve Walsh completed 18 of 30 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Miami offense.

The Hurricanes capped their perfect season off with a 20-14 win over the Sooners and with it, gave head coach Jimmy Johnson his first national title at Miami.

“The domination though at the end of the year when we met Oklahoma…the score doesn’t reflect how we shut them down,” Hawkins said. “They didn’t know what to think of what happened…The Florida State game, I can think back to Mike [Irvin] racing down the sideline there. I think I actually got a game ball because I had like 15 tackles or something in that game. I probably should have had an IV, because I was done. I put everything I had into that game. But that was the lesson for all the younger guys that were there. You don’t give up because you just never know. We always had that offense that could score in a second. We just had to keep fighting…It wasn’t really about individuals. It was just about all of us coming together and just taking it to everybody we played.”

Memories like those will, no doubt, be relived this weekend.

But there will be an eye toward the future, too.

Hawkins played a season alongside current Miami head coach Mario Cristobal. Like many of their teammates, he is eager to see how Cristobal reshapes the Miami program, not just this season but in the future.

“I get fired up when I listen to Mario talking. I’m ready to go,” Hawkins said. “It’s going to happen…He’s going to light that fire, that’s for sure.”

Added Williams, “He’s a good example of what a coach should be.”