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The night BYU, Ty Detmer brought mighty Miami down to earth

The lead up to BYU’s 1990 win over Miami was one for the ages, plenty of smack, lots of buildup, a confident champion and a hungry Cougar team.

Ty Detmer sets to pass during BYU’s 1990 home opener against No. 1 Miami. 
Courtesy BYU Athletics

Editor’s note: Fourth in a series of columns on Ty Detmer.

PROVO — Ten years after BYU defeated defending national champion Miami, Ty Detmer found himself a teammate with former Hurricanes cornerback Ryan McNeil with the Cleveland Browns. The former Miami corner gave Detmer his props for the 28-21 win Sept. 8, 1990, in Cougar Stadium.

McNeil became an All-American at Miami in 1992 and led the NFL in interceptions in 1997. He made the Pro Bowl in 2001 the year after he and Detmer were with Cleveland.

“He was kind of a cocky corner and he was saying, ‘Man, you guys are just all over the place, guys coming from everywhere, I couldn’t believe we lost,’” said Detmer of the conversation as he remembered. “It was kind of fun to hear things like that.”

But back in 1990, before kickoff of that game in which Detmer rattled the Hurricane defense and BYU’s defense did a number on Craig Erickson and his receivers, the Cougars were caught smack in the vortex of University of Miami confidence.

It started the week leading up to the game in the press.

Hurricanes defensive end Shane Curry opened the one-way dialog the week of the game by telling reporters what he thought of Detmer. “I don’t think he is better than Craig (Erickson) or smarter than Steve Walsh. We face a guy like him every day. We plan on hitting him a lot. We want to be in his face a lot.”

In an Associated Press story Wednesday before the game, Miami All-American defensive end Russell Maryland declared, “We are going to try and see if we can rattle him, see if he’s worthy of being a Heisman Trophy candidate.”

Defensive end Anthony Hamlet explained how Miami would get to Detmer. “Get sacks and put pressure on him. Hit him a couple of times from the blind side. Get him a little roughed up, there, you know.”

Erickson, the quarterback, said, “He’s a better golfer than I am. That’s about as far as I’ll go.”

Safety Darryl Williams added, “He (Detmer) is a long way from being great.”

When Miami coach Dennis Erickson heard about Williams’ quote, he ordered players to shut it down. They’d said enough. “It’s just gas on the fire. See how you like it when you stand right next to it. I don’t think you’ll get too many more quotes like that from now on.”

On the Tuesday before the game, the Provo Daily Herald hired a freelance writer to find Williams and see if he meant for his quote to make it to Provo. “I hope they find out about them,” said Williams. “I want them (BYU) to prove how good they are. I don’t want them to get by on any kind of reputation. They may be ranked No. 16 now, but they probably won’t look like they belong in the top 60 after Saturday.”

This confidence was one of Miami’s strengths. They loved to intimidate. Linebacker Jessie Armstead was quoted in an August 1990 feature story comparing Miami’s team to comic book superheroes.

“We may be small but we’re not afraid of anyone. It’s like this ... we each have a special power. If someone runs past Batman, the Flash will chase them down. If someone runs over Superman, then Batman will be there with his gadgets. And if we all have a big problem, we all come together.”

What Miami’s bravado did, in fact, was fire up BYU.

Receiver Andy Boyce read some of this stuff. It was circulated around the team. It made Boyce mad and motivated. The night before the game, Boyce felt something inside of him he was not used to feeling inside his normally balanced, even-keel heart.

“I thought to myself, you know, that was one of the only games in really my entire career that I thought, you know I’m gonna go out there and kind of get out by myself a little bit.”

And he did.

That night Boyce caught nine passes for 96 yards, an average of just over 10.6 yards per catch.

That night Matt Bellini caught 10 passes for 111 yards, an average of 11.1 yards per catch.

That night tight end Chris Smith hauled in seven passes for 90 yards, an average of 12.8 yards.

That night Miami pass rushers hit Detmer and knocked him down. Slashed his chin with a helmet hit. He got back up. He finished 38 of 54 for 406 yards and two touchdown passes. He averaged 10.6 yards per completion and a 71% completion rate.

Batman got tangled in his gadgets. Superman met Kryptonite. Flash had a blowout.

In fact, on Miami’s sideline, members of the chain gang holding the down markers said later that Miami players were arguing with each other. Receivers wouldn’t speak to QB Erickson. There was helmet throwing, bowed heads, turf kicking, swearing, coaches in disarray. The defending national champions were in chaos. They were in the middle of guzzling down a barrel of humility.

Detmer, now 53, says the players never noticed those things during the game, they were too busy administering hurt on the visitors. But over the years he has watched the game in snippets, and Miami’s sideline demeanor was clearly visible.

“And you could see the frustration on their faces and they were on the sideline and receivers wouldn’t talk to Erickson and, you know, they’re throwing fits over there,” said Detmer. “And so, you know, defensive linemen are coming off with their hands on their hips like … ‘What just happened,’ and they weren’t used to that. And it’s fun to watch because you know when you play a good team, you want to have them frustrated and mad. It was their first game of the year too so I’m sure they were trying hard to work the kinks out.”

Even today, Detmer is kind and gives Miami a little bit of an out to save face, it was their first game of the season. Ahhhem.

Miami gave Detmer a scar on his chin, he gave them their first loss of 1990.

Fair trade.

Next: It was a game that defined him.