2001 happened under the most improbable of situations. The University of Miami was in deep decline after losing 31 scholarships, climaxing in a rare losing season in 1997. However, under then–head coach Butch Davis, the Hurricanes recovered to the point that in 2000, the team only lost one game. The decision by the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) to deny Miami a slot in the 2000 National Championship Game lit a fire under the team for the 2001 season, leading to a perfect season and the national championship.
The concentration of talent amassed by Davis and exploited by 2001 head coach Larry Coker from a mixture of in-depth field analysis and “creative” recruiting – such as awarding star players track and field scholarships and then having them “walk on” to the football team – had never been seen in a college team and has yet to be duplicated. The 2001 Hurricanes saw 38 players drafted into the NFL, 17 of whom went in the first round of the Draft. With 46 Pro Bowl appearances, 13 Super Bowl appearances, and seven Super Bowl wins, the 2001 Hurricanes arguably are the best team ever to play in the Rose Bowl.
Measuring Greatness; Miami Hurricanes
To assess the success of the 2001 Hurricanes in the NFL, look no further than the quarterback, Ken Dorsey. The two-time Heisman Trophy finalist and current quarterback coach for the Carolina Panthers – the NFL’s only undefeated team as of Week 15 – Dorsey made 13 starts for the San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns and completed 214 of 408 passes for 2,082 yards and eight touchdowns.
By the numbers, the 2001 team was exceptional. The combined tenure of the 2001 Hurricanes in the NFL was 247 years. The team produced 32,151 NFL rushing yards from the line of scrimmage and 33,956 receiving yards. They produced 429 league touchdowns, including 27 defensive scores and seven kickoff returns. The team’s bench, which included Willis McGahee, Vince Wilfork, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle, Frank Gore, and Kellen Winslow II, had 18 Pro Bowl appearances among the six players listed alone.
While there will always be an open debate about whether the 2001 Hurricanes or the 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers were the best college football team of all time, no one can deny that the Hurricanes are a contender. The team’s 37-14 win over Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl introduced the world to a team that outscored their opponents 512-117, beat Syracuse and Washington back to back for the largest margin of victory against two ranked teams (124-7), and yielded the best point differential of any national champion (+395).
Heads of the Class
In a constellation of stars, it is difficult at times to point out the brightest. But some of the 2001 Hurricanes had stronger NFL careers than others. Take, for example, safety Ed Reed. In his 12-years career that saw him play for the Baltimore Ravens, the New York Jets, and the Houston Texans, Reed collected 531 tackles and 64 interceptions – making him seventh on the list of all-time interception leaders. With nine Pro Bowl appearances and nine defensive touchdowns, Reed is one of the best defensive players to have played in the league.
Miami reserve running back Frank Gore is still lighting up the scoreboard, with four touchdowns and 762 rushing yards this season. With 11,775 total rushing yards – 15th on the all-time records – and 68 touchdowns, the five-time Pro Bowler and first-year Indianapolis Colt (previously, he played for the 49ers) is seeing rushing stats at par for his career average. Wide receiver Andre Johnson – also a Colt – is the eighth all-time receptions leader at 1,040 with 13,964 career receiving yards, the 10th-most in league history.
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, reflecting on his time with the Hurricanes to Fox Sports, said, “There may have been a USC team that came close. I don’t think any of the other teams come close, from every perspective; point differential, number of guys drafted into the league, the length of the careers of guys in the league once they got there, whatever you want to compare it to. I don’t know anybody out there that would even come close.”
Considering that the team was cobbled together from the ruins of the NCAA sanctions that rocked the University of Miami in the mid-1990s, the 2001 Hurricanes were an extraordinary example of recognizing hidden talents and maximizing resources. While there may be arguably better BCS teams, none had to overcome so much to get as far as they did. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this squad would find success in anything they desired, including conquering the NFL.