Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Gators

Miyagi’s wisdom, Kerwin Bell’s fearlessness highlighted memorable day

Hooper: A spontaneous decision led to witnessing a helluva game between Miami and Florida 35 years ago.
Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, left, celebrates the Hurricanes' 13th win in a row with quarterback Bernie Kosar after Miami beat the Florida Gators 32-20 at Tampa Stadium on Sept. 1, 1984.  (AP Photo/Joe Skipper) [AP]
Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, left, celebrates the Hurricanes' 13th win in a row with quarterback Bernie Kosar after Miami beat the Florida Gators 32-20 at Tampa Stadium on Sept. 1, 1984. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper) [AP]
Published Aug. 21
Updated Aug. 22

A Plymouth Champ, Bernie Kosar, Noriyuki Morita, Kerwin Bell and thunderous cheers in a mall highlight one of the most memorable sports days of my life.

Every time the University of Florida plays the University of Miami, my mind returns to the end zone seats at Tampa Stadium and relives the awe as a little-known quarterback making his first start almost upended the defending national champions.

That my two UF friends — Collist and Big Mike — joined me to witness the Sept. 1, 1984, game is almost as miraculous as Bell’s rise to prominence in his first collegiate game.

MORE GATORS: Kerwin Bell, last Gators QB to play Miami every year, reflects on rivalry

It started the night before with a question that ignites many a college student’s adventure: What are we doing tomorrow? In an inexplicable development, we actually had enough cash to invest in something beyond driving to Dairy Queen in Alachua or going dorm hopping and foraging for food from culinary female chefs in the lounges.

“Let’s go to Tampa for the game.”

“Okay.”

Had we ever been to Tampa? No. Did we have tickets for the game? No. Did we have enough money for a hotel? No.

Did we care? No.

All we knew is that injuries pressed a true freshman from the tiny town of Mayo into the starting quarterback role, and Miami entered the season after an epic 31-30 Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska that gave the Hurricanes their first national title in 1983.

Collist grew up in Gainesville and always cheered for the Gators. Big Mike, a Miami native, wanted nothing more than to see Florida upset the ’Canes. Plus, he had a friendly wager on the game with a guy back home.

So, it was settled.

MORE GATORS: Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators need football games badly

We woke up with little sleep and left early, eager to find someone selling tickets. I remember driving across the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge, looking at the UT minarets for the first time and feeling good about the day.

Somehow — you know a 35-year memory can be a little foggy — we ended up at the Marriott on West Shore and found some Miami fans who sold us three tickets. Great, right? Just one problem. It was 11 a.m. and kickoff wasn’t until 7:30 for the first night college football game televised live on ESPN.

So, we went to every mall in Tampa. It didn’t take as long as you might imagine. Tired and sleepy, we came up with the idea of buying tickets to a movie and napping in the theater. One problem: We picked the wrong movie.

The Karate Kid sounded boring but of course, Daniel and Mr. Miyagi had us on the edge of our seats. Wax on, wax off.

Actor Pat Morita was known for his portrayl of the wise and dry-witted Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid," which earned him an Oscar nomination. (AP Photo/FILE) [AP]

After the movie, still a bit bleary eyed, we parked at Tampa Bay Center next to the stadium, got pizza somewhere in there and watched as Gator Nation took over the mall. “Orange!” “Blue!” The cheers echoed on both floors.

In hindsight, the wisdom dispensed by Mr. Miyagi proved applicable to the challenge facing Bell and the Gators.

“You trust the quality of what you know, not quantity.”

Bell found his quality in the closing minutes of the game, completing a 5-yard scoring pass to Frankie Neal with 41 seconds left to give the Gators a 20-19 lead. Kosar brought Miami right back and threw a touchdown to Eddie Brown to put the ’Canes up 26-20 with six seconds remaining.

Big Mike didn’t care. He had Florida plus seven points in that bet he had made. He was good. Until his high school classmate, defensive back Tolbert Bain, returned a Bell pass for a touchdown as time expired and a 32-20 Miami victory.

MORE GATORS: Kerwin Bell’s three biggest tormentors

Mike stood in the stands with his mouth agape. We literally had to drag him out of Tampa Stadium. I started yelling at Miami fans that it didn’t matter because we could beat them in golf.

They just smiled.

I laughed, too, because I knew Florida didn’t wilt despite the odds.

Said Miyagi: “It’s okay to lose to opponent. It’s never okay to lose to fear.”

I’ll always appreciate that the Gators, and especially Bell, showed no fear.

The Plymouth Champ, my beloved first car, took us home, and today I crave the spontaneity that delivered that day. It seems like I have too many responsibilities, too many obligations, too much work to just take off on a random Saturday.

But maybe I’ve still got one more trip in me. After all, “Balance is key. Balance good, karate good.”

That’s all I’m saying.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Florida coach Dan Mullen watches his team take the field for pregame warmups before facing Georgia at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville on Nov. 2. The recruiting class so far for the Gators gives him plenty of reasons to be giddy. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    With the early signing period looming, UF is recruiting at a championship level.
  2. Assistant Attorney General Brian Benzkowski announces charges against ten former National Football League (NFL) players who are accused of defrauding an NFL health care program, at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. [CLIFF OWEN  |  AP]
    Former Jefferson High star and former Florida Gator, Donald “Reche” Caldwell is among two others who could be charged.
  3. LSU players celebrate after the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game against Georgia, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Atlanta. LSU won 37-10. [JOHN BAZEMORE  |  AP]
    “Members of Congress care about college sports. They recognize how important it is to American society."
  4. Running back DeeJay Dallas (13) and Miami will spend bowl season in Shreveport, La., for the Independence Bowl. [MARK WALLHEISER  |  AP]
    Starting Dec. 20, there is almost a full month of couch potato fun ahead if you love college football.
  5. Florida coach Dan Mullen has led the Gators to consecutive New Year's Six bowl appearances. [JEFF ROBERSON  |  AP]
    This will be UF’s first Orange appearance since Steve Spurrier’s final game
  6. LSU head coach Ed Orgeron celebrates after the Southeastern Conference championship against Georgia on in Atlanta. LSU won 37-10. [JOHN AMIS  |  AP]
    LSU slides up to No. 1 in the final rankings of the season.
  7. Florida guard Ques Glover tries to drive on Butler forward Bryce Golden during the first half in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. [MICHAEL CONROY  |  AP]
    UF sees its four-game winning streak come to an end on the road.
  8. Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin celebrates his team's final touchdown in its victory over UAB in the Conference USA championship game on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019, in Boca Raton. [MIKE STOCKER  |  AP]
    After leading the Owls to victory in the Conference USA title game on Saturday, the coach announces he’s leaving for the Rebels.
  9. Florida Gators defensive back CJ Henderson wags his finger after breaking up a pass during a game against Miami in August at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Henderson is forgoing his senior season, entering the NFL draft and skipping the team’s bowl game. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Henderson’s elite speed could help his draft stock. His interview skills could be another story.
  10. In this 2007 file photo, coach Billy Donovan cuts down the net after Florida defeated South Carolina to win at least a share of the SEC regular-season championship. [BRIAN CASSELLA  |  St. Petersburg Times]
    The formal introduction will take place on Feb. 15.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement