MIAMI -- It has not been an easy few weeks for University of Miami football fans. Just when they had rallied behind gung-ho coach Al Golden and were wearing their Canes gear with pride again, along came disgraced former booster Nevin Shapiro to spoil the party.
Now the program is under a cloud of suspicion and in the midst of an NCAA investigation. But Hurricanes fans still have something to brag about as the NFL season gets under way this week, something that could take the sting off the recent burn. Miami alums in the NFL are riding a remarkable streak that might be unmatched in college football history.
At least one former Cane has scored a touchdown for 139 consecutive NFL regular-season weekends, dating almost nine years to Week 15 of the 2002 season. The streak, which was discovered by ProCanes.com and dissected in great detail by The Miami Herald, includes 613 touchdowns scored by 33 alums.
Clinton Portis leads with 70 touchdowns, followed by Reggie Wayne (69), Willis McGahee (59), Andre Johnson (50), Santana Moss (50), Edgerrin James (49) and Frank Gore (40).
There were long ones -- an NFL-record 108-yard interception return by Baltimore Raven Ed Reed. And lots of short ones. There were joyous end-zone celebrations -- a gymnastics routine by Arizona Cardinal Antrel Rolle after two interceptions returned for touchdowns. And somber ones -- Portis lifting his t-shirt to reveal a memorial to his former Miami and Redskins teammate Sean Taylor, who was murdered the week before the game.
Week after week, in stadiums all over America, former Canes find the end zone.
"When you turn on 'SportsCenter' every night, you don't want to be the one Hurricane left out," Portis said. "It seems like there is always at least one highlight, if not all of them, that involves a UM player. With so many stars in the NFL, it's almost impossible for this streak not to happen. One guy can have an off day, but what are the odds all of us will? Not likely. I think the streak can go on for a long time. Why not?"
Reed, who is responsible for 11 of the touchdowns, said: "We knew when we chose UM that it was the gateway to the NFL. We were competing against future pros every day at practice and working out with NFL guys in the offseason. We all pay attention when a UM guy scores. If you're not playing one, you're playing against one, or seeing one on the TV highlights. There are a lot of us out there."
Dec. 15, 2002: The Streak Begins
Denver Broncos rookie running back Clinton Portis was battling the flu, but didn't tell his coaches. He was eager to make his mark against the rival Kansas City Chiefs, and did. He had touchdown runs of 51 and 3 yards in the first half, but fumbled twice inside the 20.
"I told him at halftime, 'You had two balls on the ground, but we're going to count on you. This team is going to go as far as you take us, and we're going to keep giving you the ball,"' said quarterback Brian Griese. "He responded."
Portis scored on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter and had a dazzling 66-yard touchdown catch late in the third to give Denver a 28-7 lead.
"It was a short pass out to the flats, and then one of the best runs in open field I've ever made," Portis recounted nine years later. "I shook off one guy, went straight up the sideline, broke a couple more tackles and dove into the stands behind the end zone."
Portis tied a team record with four touchdowns as the Broncos beat the Chiefs, 31-24, to keep their playoff hopes alive. He became the youngest player in NFL history (21 years, 105 days) to score four touchdowns in a game. Also, unbeknownst to Portis, he had just started the Miami alumni scoring streak that lives on to this day.
Dec. 22, 2002: The Unlikeliest Hero
Cincinnati was 1-13 entering the game against New Orleans and hadn't won at home all season. The stadium has half-empty, fans wore bags on their heads. Enter Nick Luchey, a little-known Bengals running back who didn't carry the ball the first 14 games. He spent most of his time on the scout team, and had changed his surname from Williams three months earlier to honor his biological father.
"I've never been Nick Luchey," he said that day. "I was Deuce (McAllister) this week, Jerome Bettis a few weeks ago, and everybody down the line. I've been them."
He was so unknown the PA announcer mispronounced his name. When Corey Dillon left the game with an elbow injury, Luchey stepped in. He had 59 yards on 12 carries in the fourth quarter and two touchdowns, including a 3-yard run with 1:46 to play.
Luchey wound up playing for four teams for six seasons. He never scored again.
Sept. 29, 2003: Streak Stays Alive ... Barely!
The Miami streak would have lasted only seven weeks had it not been for Bubba Franks. No former Cane scored all weekend, but the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears were still to play Monday night at the newly renovated Soldier Field. One quarter went by. No Miami touchdown. Second quarter, still nothing. Third quarter, uh-oh. Streak in jeopardy. Fourth quarter, 4:21 to go, B-I-N-G-O! Franks, the Packers' trusty tight end, catches a 1-yard pass from Brett Favre to make it 38-16. Whew!
Dec. 7, 2003: The Championship Belt
Portis was so sure he'd upstage Kansas City's Priest Holmes that he asked rapper friend Pastor Troy to bring Portis' gaudy gold wrestling-style championship belt to the stadium. Five touchdowns and a 45-27 Broncos victory later, Portis was parading around the field in his belt. He became the fifth player in NFL history to score five touchdowns in a regular-season game.
"I told Pastor Troy, bring me the belt," Portis said. "I had that feeling. I just knew that would be my day."
Week 6, 2005: Canes Fest
Hurricanes scored 10 touchdowns on this weekend, the most during the streak. Three for Edgerrin James, two for Moss and Vinny Testaverde, one each for McGahee, Wayne, and Jeremy Shockey.
Nov. 6, 2005: Redemption
Only 11 Giants remained from one of the team's most infamous collapses, and Jeremy Shockey was one of them. On Jan. 5, 2003, New York let San Francisco come back from a 24-point second-half deficit to win a 39-38 wild-card game. It was the second-worst collapse in league history. Shockey dropped an end-zone pass in that game. This time, he caught a crucial 32-yard touchdown pass 13 seconds before halftime.
"It was wide open, and there was no one there," Shockey said of the catch. "I have never seen that look in my whole career, and I probably will never see it again. It was a completely busted coverage."
Christmas Eve, 2005: Santana Claus
Redskins kicker John Hall walked into the locker room in a full Santa Claus costume. "Santana Claus," he joked, a reference to his teammate, Santana Moss, who had scored three touchdowns that Saturday in a 35-20 win over the Giants. One of them was a spectacular 72-yard catch.
"If there's anybody that's got better long-ball reaction than that guy -- he turned around and snatched that thing from I don't know where," coach Joe Gibbs said.
Portis, who also scored in that game, said Moss honed his skills at Miami by playing Frisbee with a dog.
"He used to catch that Frisbee all the time," Portis said. "He'd outrun the dog, jump up and catch the Frisbee."
Oct. 1, 2006: A Hat Trick
Moss made a career of highlight-reel scores, and he recorded three dazzling touchdowns in one game early in 2006. In his third career three-TD game, Moss helped lead Washington to a 36-30 defeat of Jacksonville. In the first quarter, Moss caught a long pass from Mark Brunell, darted down the sideline and pulled off a spin move that left Jaguars safety Deon Grant wondering what had happened, sprawled on the ground at the 11-yard line. After halftime, Moss caught a quick hitter from Brunell, making cornerback Brian Williams whiff. And then in overtime, Moss caught a 68-yard bomb down the left sideline, beating both Grant and Williams for the game-winning score.
Dec. 10, 2006: Mr. Electricity
Through 13 weeks of the NFL season, the word was out about rookie sensation Devin Hester: If you kick the ball to him, he will make you pay for it. Hester did it twice against the Rams, who apparently hadn't gotten the memo. Hester recorded a 94-yard runback in the second quarter, then outdid himself with a 96-yard kick return in the fourth quarter, powering the Bears to a 42-27 victory that clinched the NFC North and a playoff bye. At the end of each one, he high-stepped into the end zone as a salute to friend Deion Sanders. After the game, Hester appropriately said: "It's like the gates of Heaven opening up for me."
Sept. 16, 2007: In Memory of Mom
Grieving the loss of his mother, Frank Gore turned in a strong performance in San Francisco's 17-16 defeat of St. Louis. Gore rushed 20 times for 81 yards and two touchdowns, pointing to the sky after each of the score as a gesture for his late mother, Liz, who had passed earlier in the week. On the highlight run of the day, Gore was stopped in his tracks by the Rams' defense on a fourth-and-1 inside run attempt, but Gore kept his feet moving, bounced the ball outside and scampered 43 yards for the score. He slammed one in earlier from 1 yard out.
Week 13 2007: In Memory of Sean
Playing with a heavy heart after friend, Redskins teammate and fellow Miami star Sean Taylor was killed earlier in the week, Clinton Portis didn't have a great day, rushing 25 times for 50 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Buffalo. But in a touching moment, Portis honored the slain safety after his scoring run, pulling up his jersey to show a t-shirt he was wearing underneath, which displayed Taylor's face. Portis hooked his hands together and waved them in the wind like a bird's wings, signifying an angel in heaven."That is, without question, the most meaningful touchdown of my career," Portis said. "We lost the game, but that touchdown was needed to ease the tension and the tears. It was a huge release for me. I flapped my wings for him. It was a very important moment."
Nov. 23, 2008: The Longest Touchdown
Ed Reed one-upped himself and kept the streak alive all in one play, scoring the only alumni touchdown of the week. Reed already held the record for the longest interception return (106 yards) in NFL history, before he stepped in front of Kevin Kolb's pass in the end zone and sprinted down the right sideline for 108 yards midway through the fourth quarter. Reed set a new mark, breaking four tackles along the way. Reed also intercepted Donovan McNabb earlier in the game, returning that one 43 yards to Philadelphia's 6. Reed's pair of interception returns went for 151 yards, more than the total passing yardage of both Eagles quarterbacks.
"The quarterback was late on his throw, and I just got in front of the tight end and started running," Reed said this week. "I was deep in the corner of the end zone, but I thought I could score from there. I always think that. I juked a few guys along the way, and got away."
Sept. 20, 2009: Making History
Posting the second 200-plus-yard rushing game of his career, Frank Gore notched nearly three-quarters of his ground gained on a pair of runs against Seattle. Gore ripped off touchdown trots of 79 and 80 yards, both setting a career high, and he went virtually untouched on each of the scampers. Gore became only the second player in NFL history to have two TD runs of 79 or more yards in the same game, joining Barry Sanders, who had runs of 80 and 82 yards at Tampa Bay in 1997.
Sept. 19, 2010: High Jump Champion
In a game that produced 1,000 yards of offense, Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans outleaped Redskins safety Reed Doughty on a fourth-and-10 play to catch a 34-yard Matt Schaub pass to tie the game at 27 with 2:30 to go in regulation. Houston went on to win 30-27 in overtime.
"The one to Andre was fourth down, and he had two guys on him. I don't even know how he caught it," Schaub said.
Jan. 2, 2011: The Streak Lives on in 2011
Jimmy Graham, the former Miami basketball player-turned-tight end, grabs a 4-yard touchdown pass from Drew Brees against the Bucs. The Saints lost, but the Miami alumni streak lives on.