Berlin makes 'Canes fans writhe in pain, joy

Updated: October 15, 2004, 8:22 AM ET
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Brock Berlin, human cliffhanger, has done it again.

The Miami Hurricanes quarterback plucked another victory out of a fire he helped start. Rode to the rescue from 17 down in the second half to beat legit-as-can-be Louisville 41-38. Threw for 308 yards and three touchdowns -- 211 yards in the second half alone -- to turn Orange Bowl boos into euphoria in the final minute.

Berlin, human thrill ride, has now engineered four Elway-esque comebacks as a Hurricane: over Florida and West Virginia last year, and over Florida State and the game Cardinals this year.

Brock Berlin
Berlin again calmly engineered a 'Canes victory just when it appeared all was lost.
But Berlin, human adrenaline rush, should see the effect he's having on his people.

Central nervous systems are fraying all over the Orange Bowl. Cheerleaders are too tense to even watch key plays. (One stared at her shoes on fourth-and-four from the Louisville 8-yard line, less than two minutes to play and the 'Canes down four. She waited for the roars to tell her Miami had gotten the first down -- by about a foot -- and the game was still on.)

And look at your own family, Brock. Look what you're doing to them.

Your father, Rick, bent over double afterward and said, only half-joking, "We can't take much more of this."

Your mother stuck out her right hand to show off her trembling fingers.

Even your coach, Larry Coker, who just a couple of weeks ago was talking about benching you, is wrung out.

"Anybody want to take my pulse?" Coker said in the postgame interview room.

Then, looking over at Berlin, human melodrama, Coker said, "His is normal."

Maybe, but there is nothing normal about the way Berlin, human palm sweat, plays quarterback.

He's shaky. He's lucky. He's hurt. He's erratic. He's been called Miami's biggest impediment to a national title. And then, just when it appears that the day is lost and the call goes up again for freshman hotshot Kyle Wright to quarterback the 'Canes, he's brilliant.

He's Brock Berlin, action hero.

"There are a lot of guys who can go out and throw the ball really hard in the backyard," Coker said. "But put in a few thousand people and the game's on the line, and he can get it done."

But here's the catch: He's almost too dramatic for himself to stand.

"Shoot, I don't like 'em," Berlin said of the serial wire jobs. "They feel good after you win. ... Now, it's a great feeling."

It's becoming a routine feeling. Some quarterbacks have a knack for this Captain Comeback thing, and clearly Berlin is one of them. When Miami shucks its normal offense, sticks Berlin in the shotgun and goes no-huddle, the guy transforms from iffy to incredible.

Especially when defeat appears imminent.

"He has done this before," Rick Berlin said. "These kids know when they look in his eyes that there's a want-to, and a belief. It's going to happen."

That's why Rick Berlin shouted to some booing fans during the game, "You gotta believe! You can't give up!"

They wanted to give up when Berlin threw an interception into the belly of Louisville safety Kerry Rhodes in the first quarter, setting up a short Cards field-goal drive -- part of a stunning 24-point Louisville run after Miami took a 7-0 lead.

They figured Berlin might give up after being slammed painfully to the turf in the second quarter, bruising his right collarbone. Coker considered turning to Wright, but the hyper-competitive Berlin wouldn't hear of it.

"I never considered coming out of the game," he said. "I was hurting pretty good, but I wanted to stay in the football game."

He stayed in and led Miami back. But even on the last of five straight second-half scoring drives, Berlin needed a stick save from Lady Luck to pull this one out.

On second-and-10 from the Louisville 45 with 3 minutes to play, Berlin dropped back, planted his back foot, fired -- and missed Roscoe Parrish by a mile. The ball sailed past him and struck Rhodes so squarely in the chest that you could clearly hear the thwack on the raucous stadium floor.

The ball bounced off and hit the turf, as egregious a dropped interception as you'll see all season. Next play, Berlin threw a bullet to Lance Leggett for 26 yards. Six plays later, Miami scored the winning touchdown with 53 seconds left.

This was just one of the plays Louisville will chafe about for the next decade or two. With a delectably live chance to pull off the biggest victory in school history, the Cardinals dropped that interception and also fumbled a snap on their own 22 to gift-wrap a fourth-quarter field goal for the 'Canes.

That and a mystifying special-teams strategy, which called for kicking the ball to pyrotechnic return man Devin Hester, undid a phenomenal Louisville effort. Hester busted a kickoff return for a touchdown but it was called back to start the third quarter. He returned a punt 78 yards for a TD midway through the fourth and it stood up.

For most of the night, the Cardinals outschemed, outflanked and outsmarted the Hurricanes. Bobby Petrino's inspired gameplan routed the No. 1 scoring defense in America, behind spectacular quarterbacking by starter Stefan LeFors and, after he suffered a concussion, supernaturally mature freshman Brian Brohm.

At times it seemed preposterous: Could Louisville really have two quarterbacks better than lordly Miami had one?

But then came winning time. And then Berlin went to work.

Once again, as in several other comebacks, he looked much more comfortable parked in the shotgun and improvising in a hurry-up setting.

"It just seems like he's so composed when we're in no-huddle," offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "He's just real calm and keeps on making completions."

Despite that, Werner said Miami would "never" make that its base offense. But it's sure a nice fall-back strategy to have -- at least when Berlin is running it.

"He knows this [season] is it for him," Werner said. "He's got to play good. He's the guy to lead us to the Promised Land."

Only problem is, you know that his path to the Promised Land is the one that goes across a rickety bridge over a chasm. But that's where Brock Berlin, human heart palpitation, does his finest work.

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.

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