Loren Smith’s column on the life of Howard Schnellenberger
In 1983 when Georgia played without Herschel Walker in the
backfield for the first time, I became involved with a special assignment for
the Orange Bowl Committee, which allowed for an opportunity to become
acquainted with Howard Schnellenberger, whose Miami teams had pretty much ended the talk about the Hurricanes giving up football.
Conversations began to take place with Schnellenberger, an All-
America end who played for Kentucky during a time when the Wildcats
went through a period (49-55) of not playing Georgia. Nonetheless, he was
well versed with regard to the Bulldogs’ Wallace Butts and the Bulldog coach’s penchant for the passing game.
Schnellenberger, who died last week, played for Bear Bryant and
Blanton Collier in Lexington, becoming a fundamentally sound coach who
developed a productive passing game as an NFL assistant with the
Dolphins and as head coach at Miami; and a couple of other places. He
earned a reputation for turning programs around at Louisville and Florida
Atlantic, but the stars never aligned for him as well as they did when he left
the Miami Dolphins to take over the Miami program.
One day in his office at Florida Atlantic, as his career was winding
down, Schnellenberger sketched out an outline of the state of Florida on a
sheet of computer paper. He drew a line across the page from Florida’s
West coast thru Orlando to the Atlantic Ocean. “When I became the head
coach at Miami, I knew how great the talent was in South Florida.
Everything south of Orlando we considered the ‘State of Miami,’” he said.
With homegrown talent, Schnellenberger built his program into
national prominence, bringing Miami the first of five national championship teams in 1983.
The Hurricanes had to get help from Georgia to win that first
championship with the Bulldogs beating Texas in the Cotton Bowl in the
afternoon of Jan. 2, 1984. All Georgia fans remember the 10-9 victory over
the Longhorns, which has remained a forgettable moment in Texas football
As the Cotton Bowl was winding down, I was not sure if I would be
able to see the final couple of minutes of play with Gil Brandt, Vice-
President of the Cowboys anxious to get ahead of the traffic in order to get
me to the airport to catch a flight to Miami for the Hurricanes-Cornhuskers
nighttime clash, the last bowl game on New Year’s Day for years.
Brandt is yelling, “Let’s go,” and I am lagging behind when Texas
fumbles a punt and the Bulldogs are poised for one last shot to score the winning touchdown.
With John Lastinger scoring the winning touchdown, Texas’ hopes for
a national championship were dashed. I barely made the flight to Miami.
On the way to my destination, I wondered how the Orange Bowl game
would be impacted by what happened in Dallas.
Two days later, Schnellenberger told me from his campus office, that Georgia’s upset “electrified” his Hurricane team. Steaks were flying off the
cafeteria wall, he said. “I don’t think anybody finished their pre-game
meal. We were not afraid of Nebraska, but Georgia’s victory sent us over
the top. I had watched Nebraska on film and knew we could compete with
them. There was talk that Nebraska was the team of the century. I really
liked that and was hoping that they were impressed with all the talk. We were ready for them.”
I got to the Orange Bowl with about five minutes of the game having elapsed. Immediately, I could tell that the emotions of the crowd, which were overwhelmingly in favor of the local team, were as frenzied as I have ever seen.
Miami got out front 17-0 in the first quarter and led 31-l7 at the start of
the final quarter. Nebraska scored two touchdowns in the final period and
only needed to convert a two-point conversion attempt to win. A dedicated
rush, which included linebacker Willie Martinez, who would later coach for
Mark Richt in Athens, caused Nebraska quarterback Turner Gill’s rushed
pass to be tipped away.
On several other occasions, I enjoyed football conversations with
Schnellenberger. He was always imbued with supreme confidence. He felt his offense could score on anybody. He thought Louisville could become a
powerhouse. He believed he could make Oklahoma fans forget the days of
Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer. More often than not, he was right, because his players believed.