The Miami Hurricanes: 10 Greatest 'Canes of All Time

Case O'DonnellContributor IIOctober 5, 2012

The Miami Hurricanes: 10 Greatest 'Canes of All Time

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    The University of Miami may not have the most storied football history of all schools, but it definitely produced a plethora of entertaining games. 

    From the time Howard Schnellenberger took over and brought the Hurricanes' football program from worst to first, all the way until the historic 2001 season, the 'Canes played smashmouth football.  It wasn't about how bad they could beat you, it's how good they were while beating you. 

    It's hard to boil down the list to 10 players, especially because there were dozens of key players that were responsible for Miami's dominance over a period of two decades, both offensively and defensively.

    In ascending order, I will list whom I think the 10 greatest Miami Hurricanes players in the history of the program were.  Obviously there will be some names that didn't find their way onto this list, but by no means is that implying they weren't important or didn't make an impact.

No. 10: Steve Walsh

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    Steve Walsh spent his first year as a Hurricane being a redshirt freshman and his first eligible year after that as a backup to Vinny Testaverde. 

    When he finally got the job as starting quarterback in 1987 he made his presence known, throwing for 2,249 yards, 20 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. 

    With Brian Blades and Michael Irvin as his two primary receivers, Walsh took the 'Canes to the national title game, where he was 18-of-30 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns, helping the team beat the powerhouse Oklahoma Sooners 20-14 for the national title.

    Walsh played one more season for the Hurricanes before declaring early for the draft, but his legacy as a 'Cane was solidified.  In his two seasons playing for the Hurricanes, Walsh passed for 5,364 yards and 49 touchdowns (a school record at that time), had an astounding 23-1 record and led Miami to its second national title.

No. 9: Ken Dorsey

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    Ken Dorsey was the field general for what a majority of sportswriters and historians believe to be the best college football team ever in 2001. 

    The offensive and defensive depth charts were stacked with players that would go on and become superstars in the NFL, which made Dorsey's job that much easier.  After having a great season as a sophomore (his first season as a starter), he became a Hurricane legend for what he did in his junior year with the loaded depth chart that will be forever remembered.

    As a junior in 2001, Dorsey threw for 2,652 yards, 23 touchdowns and only nine interceptions while only playing an entire game twice; the 'Canes defense allowed him to leave in the third quarter almost routinely. 

    In the national title game against Nebraska, Dorsey threw for 362 yards and three touchdowns on 22-of-35 passing in a 37-14 rout, sharing MVP honors with receiver Andre Johnson.

    In 2002, Dorsey again led the 'Canes to the national title game, losing in what many refer to as one of the best bowl games ever.  In double overtime, a pass interference call that never really occurred was called on cornerback Glenn Sharpe, leading to an undeserved Ohio State win for the national title.

    Dorsey set school records for passing yards (9,565), touchdowns (86) and total offense (9,165) while compiling an amazing record of 38-2.  He remains the winningest quarterback in Miami Hurricanes history, and a legend in the minds of all 'Canes fans.

No. 8: Clinton Portis

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    One of the many great running backs that made Miami known as "Running Back U.," Clinton Portis' time as a 'Cane was full of amazing runs that are highlight reel material. 

    As a true freshman in 1999, Portis rushed for 838 yards on 143 attempts for eight touchdowns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.  His sophomore year saw decreases in stats across the board due to him splitting time with Willis McGahee, but he still rushed for 485 yards and two touchdowns.

    Portis would go out on a high note in 2001 as a part of the greatest college team ever assembled, becoming the second-greatest running back in school history.  He rushed for an even 1,200 yards on 220 carries, scoring 10 touchdowns and averaging 5.5 yards per carry. 

    In the national title game against Nebraska, Portis rushed for 104 yards and one touchdown in Miami's 34-17 victory that sealed its fifth title.

No. 7: Bernie Kosar

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    Upon Howard Schnellenberger's red-carpet arrival, the Hurricanes started running a more pass-oriented offense, which appealed to Bernie Kosar. 

    After being redshirted in 1982, Bernie was given the starting quarterback role in 1983 he led the 'Canes all the way to the national title game against Nebraska.  He threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns, leading Miami to its first-ever national title in a 31-30 nail-biter.

    While he didn't shatter or set any records for the school, Bernie Kosar established the Hurricanes as contenders by leading the team to its first national championship in the history of the program.  Were it not for Kosar, the winning tradition that the 'Canes became known for would likely have never existed.

No. 6: Warren Sapp

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    No one made opposing quarterbacks more paranoid after the ball was snapped than Warren Sapp, who was a defensive juggernaut during his three years as a defensive tackle. 

    He was the leader on a 1994 Hurricanes defense that led the nation in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense.  Sapp led the team in sacks as a junior in '94 with 10.5 sacks, tallied 84 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two fumbles caused and two fumbles recovered. 

    With those stats that year (his final year before declaring for the draft), Sapp cleaned house in terms of awards: Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Trophy, Bill Willis award, Big East Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year (nationally) as voted by the Football Writers Association of America. 

    Needless to say, Sapp's dominance on the field was infectious and elevated the entire defensive unit to the level of untouchable.

No. 5: Edgerrin James

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    There's no arguing the fact that Edgerrin James was the best running back ever to have played for the Miami Hurricanes.

    After a relatively average freshman year, Edge exploded in his sophomore season when he rushed for 1,098 yards on only 184 carries, scoring 13 touchdowns and averaging six yards per carry. 

    His last and final year as a junior in 1997 was his best, and Edge left on a high note: 1,416 yards rushing on 242 carries, scoring 17 touchdowns while averaging 5.9 yards per carry. 

    Watching him on the field was a spectacle in and of itself, as he had the speed to burst through even the smallest of holes and the power to break numerous tackles in order to get those extra yards.  Edgerrin James was a well-balanced running back, and his success as a Hurricane translated into a stellar career in the NFL.

No. 4: Ray Lewis

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    What else can be said about Ray Lewis that hasn't already been mentioned at least a dozen times? 

    He was labeled as being "too small" by college coaches (even NFL scouts said he was undersized for a linebacker), and took all the doubt and negativity out on opposing teams' offenses. 

    As a true freshman, Lewis was an immediate contributor, recording 81 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for losses and deflecting four passes.  His sophomore and junior (final year) years were almost identical: He averaged 156 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and one touchdown. 

    Consequently, Lewis won the Butkus award his junior year and left the school ranking fifth all-time in tackles even though he only played for three years. 

    In a word: unstoppable.

No. 3: Ed Reed

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    If the "honey badger" title had been around during Ed Reed's day, he would be the original honey badger; he set the standard as to how a ball-hawking safety should play. 

    E-Reed stayed for four years, unlike others on this list, compiling stats that no future Hurricanes safety will likely reach in the next 20 or so years.  As a player on the "best team in the history of college football" in 2001, Reed led the nation with nine interceptions, amassing 209 yards on those interceptions while returning three of them for touchdowns. 

    The play that he will forever be known for came in 2001 against Boston College, when he ripped the ball from Matt Walters (who had just intercepted the pass) and ran it back 80 yards for a touchdown.  Reed finished his career with a school-record 21 interceptions and five interceptions returned for touchdowns. 

    No safety owned the secondary as well as Ed Reed did, and his school records are a testament to that.

No. 2: Jerome Brown

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    I'll probably catch some flack for this one, but I believe Jerome Brown did more for the Hurricanes' football program than many give him credit for. 

    Yes, he wasn't as physically dominating as Warren Sapp was, but Jerome Brown gave the 'Canes an image that people both hated and feared at the same time.  This "bad boy" image he gave the 'Canes is what helped fuel the team's fire, as the harsh criticism they received gave them even more reason to act a fool on the field. 

    The exchange of words at the coin toss on national TV between Miami's three captains and the Oklahoma Sooners' captains essentially proves my point: They took no mouth from anyone.  Brown was a catalyst defensively, leading the Hurricanes to a national title in his final year in 1987. 

    After being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles as the ninth overall pick in the '87 draft, Brown was selected to two Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro in 1990 and 1991.  He died at the age of 27 after losing control of his Corvette in Brooksville, Florida.

No. 1: Michael Irvin

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    If a single Hurricanes player gave the country a reason to hate the team more than Jerome Brown, it was Michael Irvin. 

    When the Playmaker was on the field, you could rest assured anytime the offense scored a touchdown, a show would immediately follow.  Irvin talked trash, wore gaudy necklaces and other accessories which were clearly fake, and his touchdown celebrations were nothing short of being over-the-top. 

    In doing this, he was revered by fans because he was able to back up his childlike behavior with unparalleled output on the field.  Despite playing for only three years at The U, Irvin set numerous records, including: most career catches (149), receiving yards (2,423 but would later be broken by Santana Moss) and touchdown receptions (26). 

    Without a doubt, Michael Irvin's brash behavior and antics on the field translated into amazing numbers offensively, which is why I believe he is the greatest Miami Hurricane player of all time.

     

    Honorable mentions: Sean Taylor, Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, Jim Kelly, Willis McGahee, Bryant McKinnie, Kellen Winslow, Vinny Testaverde, Gino Toretta.