Michael Weinreb of the Worldwide Leader checks in with the fascinating story of the 1987 Fiesta Bowl: The Night College Football Went To Hell. We're treated to the story of how the Fiesta Bowl became the bellwether for all future bowl activity by pulling off a dream matchup of two very contrasting teams and styles. First bowl sponsorship? 1987 Sunkist Fiesta Bowl. First time a bowl had been played after January 1st? Same game.
There's the story of Don Meyers, chairman of the Fiesta Bowl selection committee, who turned what was once a liability in attracting marquee schools to the bowl into an asset by taking advantage of the fact that #1 Miami and #2 Penn State were both independents at the time. After Paterno and the Nittany Lions were in, it was Meyers that deftly leaked word to the press that Jimmy didn't want to play Paterno on a neutral field, thereby sealing the deal.
The two teams that were to meet in that game couldn't have been any more different. Penn State had survived close calls with Cincinnati and Maryland and many of the players were portrayed as choir boys in the press. On the other side, you had those renegade Hurricanes: Testaverde, Irvin, Blades and others. Combat fatigues, cut jerseys and a season of impressive victories. The squad was a walking quote factory as evidenced by this gem from Miami defensive end Daniel Stubbs:
"While we were out there, we visited some Army base in the mountains and we bought me some medals. I was a 17-star general, because I had 17 sacks that season."
The game would go on to score a network rating share not seen before or since and in the end "good" would prevail over "evil". The game would also serve as the springboard in prestige as the Fiesta moved past the Cotton Bowl.
Where Weinreb sees the decline of a sport, we see the birth of the hugeness that it is today. Can college football ever have enough matchups like the one witnessed that Friday night in January 1987?