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Testaverde: Humble Beginnings To Hall Of Fame

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Quarterback Vinny Testaverde piloted a loaded Miami roster to some great seasons after some oft-forgotten struggles as a teenager. Mandatory Credit: Allsport.
Quarterback Vinny Testaverde piloted a loaded Miami roster to some great seasons after some oft-forgotten struggles as a teenager. Mandatory Credit: Allsport.

Despite never being the first choice in high school or college, Vinny Testaverde is now in the college football Hall of Fame.

It’s quite the story, really. After an unspectacular high school career, part of which was spent at wide receiver, Testaverde was forced to attend Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy as a postgraduate in an attempt to get his grades up and get more notice on the gridiron. The experience helped him both on and off the field, eventually paving the way to a scholarship offer from the Miami Hurricanes in 1982.

The road blocks were far from over, however. Testaverde was forced to sit on the bench for most of his first three years on campus as Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar were ahead of him on the depth chart. The decision to go with Kosar over Testaverde in 1983 is a hot topic for debate. Although Kosar led the Hurricanes to the National Championship, his performance for most of the season was mediocre given the talent on both sides of the ball.

Testaverde finally took the reins in 1985 after Kosar bolted to the NFL. Testaverde had an embarrassment of riches on offense, playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the country to go along with a plethora of weapons. At wideout, Michael Irvin, Willie Smith and Brian Blades were all outstanding playmakers that could take any catch to the house on any given play.

In the backfield, Alonzo Highsmith, Warren Williams and Melvin Bratton all averaged more than four yards per carry. Each had their own style of running that kept opposing defenses off balance. The trio combined for 1,221 yards with 15 touchdowns, plus another six receiving, in 1986.

Although Testaverde’s college numbers do not jump off the page by today’s standards, they compare quite nicely to his peers. Testaverde’s quarterback ratings of 149.8 in 1985 and 165.8 in 1986 were good for fifth and first overall in FBS. His maturity (he was 22 in 1985) and leadership was a major asset to a team that was known more for its swagger than its poise. Testaverde took home the Heisman Trophy in 1986.

Just when it seemed Testaverde had the world at his feet, he delivered one of the most disappointing performances any quarterback has ever had in a big game. Miami took on Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl in a highly-anticipated No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup that was built — yet again — as a good vs. evil struggle. That seems a bit ironic now.

Either way, it was the Hurricanes who were the overwhelming favorites. Despite outgaining the Nittany Lions by more than 300 yards, Miami continuously hurt themselves with turnovers and fell 14-10. Testaverde threw five crucial interceptions, including one at the end of the game with Miami threatening to take the lead. Overall, Testaverde went 26-of-50 for 285 yards with the five picks and has to take the blame for the Hurricanes not bringing home a national championship with, by far, the more talented roster.

Despite the nightmarish outing, Testaverde was still selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1987 NFL draft. The New York native would spend 21 seasons on seven different teams with plenty of ups and downs along the way. He made two Pro Bowls and threw for more than 46,000 yards, but is more remembered for being a journeyman that turned in disappointing performances in the playoffs for Cleveland (1994) and the New York Jets (1998).

And that sums up Testaverde’s career: with flashes of brilliance and consistency came maddening moments in the biggest stages. While that was enough to get him into the college football Hall of Fame, and by their standards deservedly so, you always expected a little more from him.

But considering where he came from, maybe that’s the wrong approach.