If you Google “The Miracle in Miami” or “The Miami Miracle” the first thing that comes up is the Dolphins last second victory over the Patriots in December of 2018.
Trailing by five points with seven seconds to go, the fish had the ball at their own 31-yard line. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a pass over the middle to wide receiver Kenny Stills, who lateraled the ball to DeVante Parker at midfield. Parker then tossed the ball to running back Kenyan Drake, who ran the ball 52 yards, past a diving Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown to win the game 34–33.
You will also come across “see Hail Flutie,” which was a play from a November game in Miami at The Orange Bowl back in 1984.
It was an iconic moment in college football lore, a Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game that Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie slung almost 70 yards in the air that was caught in the end zone by wide receiver and Archbishop Carroll’s Gerald Phelan.
That play gave B.C. a 47-45 win over the Hurricanes and solidified the Heisman trophy that year for the undersized Flutie.
But, in Penn State Football circles when you hear “Miracle in Miami” you think of one name; Chafie Fields.
Fields was a highly recruited standout wide receiver for the Nittany Lions in the late 90s who had a knack for the big play and a style all of his own. This past week marked the 24 year anniversary of that magical moment from that ominous September day back in 1999 on a rain soaked field at The Orange Bowl in Miami.
Chafie Fields’ Place in Penn State Football Lore
Let me set the stage because the Miami-Penn State rivalry, while not extensive, has had national championship implications every time the two teams squared off dating back to the 1981 season.
That season saw the Lions lose a close one to the Hurricanes 17-14 in Miami. It was one of just two losses that year for Penn State but one that cost them a National Championship as they finished No. 3 in the AP poll that season.
The following year the Nits would go 11-1, capping their season with a 27-23 over Herschel Walkers top ranked Georgia Bulldogs and would finish No. 1 in the AP poll to capture their first National Championship.
The most memorable battle came in the 1986 season when the No. 2 Nittany Lions pulled off a major upset in the Fiesta Bowl beating the No. 1 ranked and heavily favored Hurricanes, 14-10, to capture their second National Title in Tempe, Arizona.
The game was most remembered for the sideshow antics leading up to it. (#Fatigues, #Steak-fry, #JeromeBrown, #PearlHarbor, #BadKarma, oh and the seven Miami turnovers didn’t help either).
The two storied programs didn’t meet again until 1991 when they played the first of a home and home series in back to back years, both contests were won by Miami in games that came down to the wire.
The 1991 Miami victory was part of an undefeated season that culminated in their fourth National Title.
The following year Miami’s 17-14 victory in Happy Valley was part of another undefeated run to the National Championship game where the Canes ultimately met their untimely demise in a Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama costing them a fifth National Title at that time.
Finally, the last time the two teams played was the season opener in Happy Valley back on September 1, 2001. Best known as the “Adam Taliaferro” game, the Hurricanes overwhelmed the Nits 33-7 en route to a perfect season and the program’s elusive fifth National Title.
Prior to that game, we have to go back two years to the 1999 season, the first of another home and home series with a year off in between.
Miami was just coming off of a three year probationary period (shocking right?) and were in the process of rebuilding under the guise of head coach Butch Davis. It was a good, not great Miami team who were ranked No. 8 heading into the game and just two years shy of their aforementioned fifth National Championship.
Penn State, on the other hand, were legit contenders that year, ranked No. 3 in the country heading into the game and boasting a roster with the likes of Eric McCoo, Eddie Drummond, Lavar Arrington, Brian Johnson, Courtney Brown, Larry Johnson, Tony Stewart, Omar Easy and of course, the aforementioned star of this piece, one Chafie Fields.
From a Miami standpoint the game was a flat-out first half disaster. Under the leadership of quarterback Kenny Kelly, who left to pursue a baseball career following the season, the Canes didn’t complete a pass or get a first down until their eighth series and Kelly was 0-6 on his first six attempts with two interceptions.
Midway through the second quarter Miami had amassed minus two yards of total offense.
It was a miracle in and of itself that the Canes trailed Penn State by just seven points, 10-3 at the half.
The Nits extended their lead to 17-3 on the first drive of the second half as running back Eric McCoo capped off a short drive with a two yard run around the right end. But the momentum abruptly shifted after that as Miami seemed to get their act together, outscoring Penn State 20-3 from that point to take a 23-20 lead with time winding down.
Fields’ heroics would not have been possible though if Penn State’s defense didn’t come up with a huge stop on a 4th and two from the Lions’ 22 yard line. The Canes came up about a half yard short with 1:52 left in the game setting the stage for the epic “miracle” that would ensue.
Head Coach Joe Paterno used two quarterbacks in this particular game. Backup Rashard Casey had played throughout the game and threw a touchdown pass in the first quarter to Fields, who had an off the hook game.
It was Fields’ first of two touchdowns to go along with five catches for an eye popping 177 yards on the day.
On this series though, Paterno went back to starter Kevin Thompson. As Fields broke the huddle on first down from the Penn State 21 yard line the wide receiver made eye contact with his quarterback and both knew what it meant.
“Here’s the irony,” Fields told Nittany Central this week, during a wide-ranging conversation on the anniversary of the play. “Man, it’s a lot that happened in the game and my recollection is different from what actually happened because I never watched that game until about maybe four or five months ago believe it or not. I never watched it.
“It was literally on to the next game. But when I went back like it never dawned on me, I thought that we were up the whole game into the 4th quarter. I didn’t realize that we were ever down, no kidding.
“Yep, I never realized it. My memory, I felt like offensively we handled them. But I don’t remember it going down to the end of the game. Something else I don’t remember is that it rained that day. Apparently it rained the whole game and I had no recollection of that at all. “
The former Mastbaum star is now a Super Agent and living in Miami with his wife and three kids.
On the anniversary of one of the greatest moments in Penn State Football history, Fields sat down with NittanyCentral to share some personal recollections (or not) of that game, that play, and so much more that were beyond enlightening when it comes to his life, the Nittany Lions’ program, and more.
Chafie Fields Talks Penn State Football with NittanyCentral
Nittany Central: Is that normal to not remember things that happened in a game, especially a moment that big in a game, or did you have a concussion?
Chafie Fields: “You know what it is man and I tell people this. I was actually speaking to a buddy of mine the other day. I play basketball with Rasheed Wallace. You may remember him.
“He was talking about it, and sometimes when you get into a game you get into the mold and you don’t hear the fans, you don’t hear the crowd. He was just talking about how sometimes man when you get into that mold where the basket, it’s almost like you’re throwing a ball into the garage, like you can’t miss and I told him it’s the same way.
“There’s a hundred thousand people in the stands and you don’t hear anybody, you don’t see anything that’s going on. You’re just locked into the play and what you’ve got going on.
“I’m not surprised that I don’t remember but when I went back I laughed because there’s so much that went on in that game that I don’t remember.”
You were just in one of those zones that day, weren’t you?
“I remember before the game, I remember warm-ups. I remember when we came out and I remember when they came out but it was like once the game started … The reason why I remember the warm-ups is because during warm-ups man for me personally I would always generally like to watch the other team. I like to watch the other team’s defense. I want to kind of size guys up, see how they move, see what kind of movement skills they might or might not have, see how big or small the guys are.
“You know, that was just kind of my thing and so I remember before the game they had a linebacker …”
“It was Nate Webster. He was a ball player dude. A tough little guy. But long story short he came and ran through our warm-ups.”
Ha! Sounds about right.
“I’m like this is one disrespectful dude. What’s going on with this dude?
“So, we get into a little shoving match so then he goes to his side and for the rest of the time I’m just watching them warm up.
“It would drive my coaches crazy because I didn’t like to warm up. I liked to focus on my opponents and so I remember we came out and then they came out of the smoke and watching them come out of the smoke made me excited for the game.
“But, once the game got going – wait I’m lying. I remember one thing, After my first touchdown I remember OJ McDuffie was standing on the sideline and he came up to me and said ‘I need another one, I need another one ‘ and I can remember it vividly like it happened yesterday.
“He said ‘I need another one, I need another one’ and when I scored the second touchdown I went looking for him and he was gone because he was playing for the Dolphins at that time and he had a game the next day and had meetings to go to.
“I remember saying ‘where’s OJ, where’s OJ?’ But he was gone. But the reason that meant so much to me is that that (precious) off-season I went down to Miami to train and he and Kijana Carter really looked out for me so it was like a big deal for me to put on a show for those guys.”
Okay, so back to the play. You guys are down 3 points late and Miami has a 4th and two at the 22 and they go for it but your defense makes a huge stop about 8 inches short. So you get the ball back. Now, you used two quarterbacks that day. Rashard Casey and Kevin Thompson. Coach Paterno sent out Thompson for this series …
“I think Kevin came in for that particular series because he was the veteran and coach had a little more confidence in Kevin at that time to put together a two minute drive.”
So under two minutes left you ran a straight go right by cornerback and by future first round pick of the 49ers Mike Rumph and then you outran future hall of fame safety Ed Reed who was a little late getting over. 79 yards to the house with 1:41 left on the clock. Hence the sobriquet “miracle.”
“So I do remember the play. I remember every play. But here’s the thing that people don’t know. That wasn’t the play call.
“Me and Kev when we were in the huddle decided that’s what we were gonna do. Kev said ‘look, if they give us man take him.’
“I’m like ‘I got him’. So they gave us man. If you look back at the tape I gave Kev a little head nod”
Do you remember what the original play call was?
“The play was supposed to be a five yard out or if they play man it converts into a hitch on both sides.
“But, at this point I’m like ‘no, we can’t run that because if they’re in man they’re sitting on it. You gotta go up top.’ The safeties were cheating the whole game, they were cheating up to stop the run the whole game and even early on the fade ball that I caught was the same thing – man to man with no safety help.
“It was just pitch and catch. So on this particular play (Mike) Rumph has a cast on his hand so he can’t jam me so I’m just going to run right by him and then it’s just a foot race.
“So, Kev gets hammered by Dan Morgan but throws it up. Ed Reed cheats like he was doing the whole game and it couldn’t have been a better pass, it was a perfect pass.”
Yeah Ed Reed got benched the following week for that. So the play worked and everybody’s excited and loves the play but what did the head coach think of you guys changing the play? Did he give you guys any autonomy to do that once in a while?
“No. No. I had something called “awareness training” where I had to be in the weight room the next day at 5 am.”
So you got punished for that?
“I got punished.”
“You’re kidding me? So you flew back to Penn state and had to be at “awareness training” at five AM?”
“5 am – and coach Paterno, he was ecstatic about it you know, me and coach had a unique relationship. He liked that I did stuff like that you know what I mean? But the offensive coordinator (Fran Ganter), he didn’t like it so much.”
Did Kevin Thompson get the same thing?
“No just me because they, you know they knew who …”
They knew who the culprit was?
“Yeah knew who the culprit was and I was never going to throw Kev under the bus or anybody else to take anything because it was me that was usually changing the play.”
That’s phenomenal stuff, man. Okay so how come four or five months ago you finally decided to watch the game? What circumstances led you to watch it for the first time?
“It was a buddy of mine who lives here and was born and raised in Miami. He was on that team – Rod Mack. He played linebacker for them. You know we’ve become pretty close since me moving here and our families have become really close too.
“It was after we watched his son’s high school game and we just went back to the house. I think another football game was coming on and he was like man you remember this? And he had the old VHS and we started to watch the game.”
So I recall that you guys were like 8-0 that year but then ran into a Minnesota team at home later in the year.
“9-0, and we lost to a Minnesota team on homecoming, believe it not.”
Yeah, they made some crazy catch like on fourth and forever.
“Two crazy catches.”
That’s right and then a kid named Danny Nystrom kicked the game-winning field goal with no time on the clock.
“Two crazy catches. They threw two Hail Mary’s. Caught ‘em both and then kicked a field goal.”
You remember that tough loss pretty well.
“I remember every loss I ever took in my life.”
And you had already beaten Miami.
“Not only that we had already beaten Ohio State, we had beaten Miami and we beat Arizona. You know we beat three top ten teams.”
So you were National Championship bound …
“We had shirts made up and everything already.”
“I remember like it was yesterday because we should never have been in that game with those guys quite frankly.”
They say losing hurts more than winning feels good. How did the highs from those three big wins contrast with the lows you experienced in that loss to Minnesota?
“The loss was way more memorable for me.”
I would think so. You guys were ranked No. 2 in the country heading into that game.
“It was way more memorable for me because again for me that game (laughs), it had gotten to the point that you know they (the coaching staff) had put the fear of death in the minds of our quarterbacks so even when I would try to change a play they wouldn’t do it.
“They wouldn’t do it man and like it was so bad because the corners were literally playing like a full yard inside. They weren’t trying to press at the line of scrimmage and we could have gotten anything we wanted outside and we were trying to force the run and it was a really frustrating day for me.”
So why do you think (the coaching staff) was trying to force the run? You guys were a very talented bunch.
“Good question. It was myself, Bryant Johnson, Eddie Drummond. We had a hell of a group but for whatever reason they insisted on running the football man.
“That Minnesota team, they had a safety Tyrone Carter who was a hell of a football player, he was actually playing like an extra linebacker. The corners were playing one on one. They had a good corner, a kid named Willie Middlebrooks I remember, but they were playing inside and they didn’t have help so they just basically didn’t want to give away anything inside.
“They didn’t have help so they were giving up anything outside. They were giving up the fade, they were giving up anything down field and we just for whatever reason man I don’t know. It’s frustrating for me to even think about right now.”
Who exactly was it that put that fear in the quarterbacks?
How did you get along with him?
“We had a unique, interesting relationship. He didn’t, like again, he didn’t like my aggressive nature to change the play that was called. You know what I’m saying and all and I mean he wanted to do it his way even if it wasn’t working.”
Yeah that’s all ego. Coaches can be very controlling … Let me ask you this, did Joe ever step in and say hey, this isn’t working. Let’s try this?
“He did it all the time so if you remember the reverse against Texas.”
Sure, in the Fiesta Bowl.
“Yeah that was Joe’s call, absolutely, if you remember the first reverse in the Arizona game that same season that was Joe. It was Joe you know – if you remember the year before that we played Temple he gave me two reverses. That was Joe.
“In the Michigan game that same year to start the game, at the half, I had like 6 for 108 – that was all Joe. Joe would chime in when he felt like he had to. He wanted to let Fran do it his way but if he felt like…”
It wasn’t happening …
“He would step in and call plays.”
How was your relationship with Joe Paterno?
“Amazing. Amazing. He was a very influential person in my life, personally, not just in football but in life.
“He opened up my eyes to the world and he broadened my horizons on how the world works outside of sports. Even in sports he humble me. He kicked me out of my first practice.”
Wait, timeout. You got kicked out of your very first practice? Sorry I don’t mean to laugh but that’s pretty funny.
“Yeah, my very first practice. I make a play and I’m running down the sideline and score a touchdown and one of the DBs was chasing me and if he would have stopped chasing me I would have stopped running. But, he kept chasing me so I’m like I have to score and I have to show him that he can’t catch me.
“So, while I’m running, telling him you can’t catch me so stop running, Joe’s there watching the whole thing happen at mid-field and as I’m running back to the huddle he calls me over and he says (in a very high pitched voice imitation), he says ‘We don’t do that here. We don’t do that here.
“We’re not gonna have that here. We don’t do that here. Take it into the showers.’”
That’s an awesome Joe imitation by the way.
“So, I laughed and I’m thinking that he’s joking so I laugh and go back to the huddle and he comes running over and says, ‘No, no! Get out of here’. I’m like what did I do? So then Kenny Jackson says to me ‘Hey take it in’. I’m like what did I do? He said ‘I’ll talk to you later about it. Go ahead on in.’
“I didn’t know what I did wrong. I scored a touchdown and I got kicked out of practice. I couldn’t understand it.” (laughs)
Interesting. More trouble for scoring a touchdown.
“But, after that man you know me and coach we have had several one on one conversations because I think that it was important for me that he took the time to get to know me and understand me and why I did some of the things that I did and the way that I did them and he became one of my biggest advocates and was extremely supportive of myself and my family, my mother and stuff that she had going on.
“He was extremely supportive of us man and i respect him and I appreciate him to this day.
“I mean I’m in my office right now and there’s a picture of Joe Paterno overlooking Beaver stadium and that picture is overlooking my desk so it’s like I always have him overlooking me.”
Love it. So, the biggest play of your career?
“I’m gonna say the second catch at Miami the the one we’re talking about. That has to be the most memorable moment for me.
“In college that was my most memorable. But the most memorable play for me all-time was my sophomore year in high school and my brother, my older brother was the quarterback at that time.
“We were playing against a team that had won the championship the year before and the play call comes in and my brother tells me as we break the huddle ‘Hey,no, don’t go that way, run back against the grain. And he throws it, we score, we win the game and well, that was the first time that me and my brother were in the paper together.
“We beat Frankford High school, where Blair Thomas went. That was the most memorable moment maybe.
“That meant so much to me because as a young kid playing varsity football my brother had trusted me even at that young stage to win the game for us man, and that meant a lot to me at that time and it still does.”
Okay full disclosure. I grew up as a huge Miami Hurricane fan and every year I still remember the date, September 18 because I was at a wedding. I wasn’t working that day and me and the boys sort of snuck out of the reception to watch the game and I don’t think I have to tell you how the rest of my day went after went for 79 with 1:41 to play. So every time September 18 rolls around I text my buddy to wish him a happy anny and he usually just texts back, ‘Chafie Fields?’. I’m like how the Hell else would I remember your anniversary? So you’ve been quite the “trigger” for me all these years.
But, now I cover Penn State for NittanyCentral.com and I couldn’t in good conscience let it go this year without offering to do a look back story on the “Miracle” and hey maybe I’ll even make some peace with it, you know just joking around with my editor and he’s like hey give it a shot and we’ll see what you come up with. So I’m really glad I got to do this story with you man. This was a lot of fun for me.
“Well here’s the irony in that – take a wild guess who my brother’s favorite college football team is.”
Umm … the U?
You’re kidding … ?
“Can’t make it up. So, the guy who introduced me to the game – guess what his favorite college team is.”
I’ll take another stab. The U?
“Can’t make it up.”
So is your older brother still a fan?
“Both of them, yeah man.”
So, you must have had a little fun strutting around after that signature win.
“Well here’s a thing … I would say some know, but a lot of people don’t know. Yeah at that time there was a coach on that staff his name was Art Kehoe.”
Sure, he was there forever.
“FOREVER! Well he did a great job recruiting me and you know the only reason why I didn’ take my visit to Miami and go there is because I just I just felt like I wouldn’t have been able to focus in the city of Miami.”
Wow, that’s very smart and really mature for someone at that age.
“ I just didn’t think I would have been able to balance.”
I don’t know how anyone gets any work done down there.
“No man, I just felt like I wouldn’t be able to balance but I wanted to go but when it came down to it I told coach Kehoe
“I was going to take my visit and then when it came time I said you know coach I’m not gonna waste your time or mine. There’s just no way I would be able to make it down. It won’t happen.”
That was really mature and very self-aware because I’ve got to be honest a lot of kids would be like Hell yeah I’m going there. There’s all kinds of shiny objects down there to play with.
“Yes there are.”
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