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Cleveland Gary Says Poor Call Cost 'Canes A Title, And Him millions.

Updated: Jul 30, 2023


One of the greatest and most powerful running backs in University of Miami history, Cleveland Gary, spoke with College Football Dawgs last week to reminisce about, among other things, the infamous fumble in the 1988 game at Notre Dame Stadium that was billed in South Bend as the "Catholics vs. Convicts".

This season will be the 35th anniversary of the epic contest that ultimately decided the national championship as the Luck of the Irish won out and secured the national title for head coach Lou Holtz.


Let me set the stage. The date was October 15, 1988. Miami was ranked number one in the nation and The Fighting Irish were ranked fourth. Miami was a four-point favorite at kickoff. With 45 seconds left to play in the game, Miami trailed by one and was banging the door to score the winning touchdown.


Then, all hell broke loose. Gary caught the ball at the goal line and scored an apparent touchdown. However, the ball popped out, Gary says, after he scored and was recovered by linebacker Mike Stonebricker.


The alleged fumble by Gary, at the Notre Dame goal line preserved a 31-30 victory for the Golden Domers and propelled them to the National Championship. The loss by Miami denied them a second straight shot at a national title.


There were three possible solutions on the play and at the end of the game, Miami was on the short end of the stick.

First, the play could have been called a first down and goal at the one-yard line for Miami. Second, it could have been called a touchdown because Gary crossed the goal line with the ball. Finally, it could have been called a fumble, and coach Jimmy Johnson would go ballistic on the sideline tugging at his wind-tunnel-tested hairdo of the 1980s.


It was ultimately ruled a fumble and Miami's season was crushed.


Johnson was arguing that it was a first down and that Miami should have had possession on the one-yard line.


Gary, who would go on to be inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame, stood on the sidelines with a different theory.


"If you look at that play in slow motion, my knee did not touch before the ball hit the goal line it was clearly a touchdown," Gary said. "I know my knee was not down. It was a touchdown period.


"It was not a first down, it was a touchdown. I clearly set it up that I did not leave anything in the referee's hands, "Gary stated with all positivity. "I scored a touchdown."


Gary caught a pass in the flat from Steve Walsh, which was a little behind him. He had to turn his body into a weird position to just catch the ball.


Had the ill-timed throw been on time, Gary would still be running for daylight. He was like a freight train coming out of the backfield as a receiver. He remains the greatest pass-catching running back in team history.


"The pass was a little behind me, but there is no doubt, I scored a touchdown. There was no chance for a fumble or a first down, because I know I scored," Gary told the Dawgs. "I am a student of the game. No one can tell me otherwise. I know that the ground cannot cause a fumble and there was no fumble on the play."


Gary would go on to be selected in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams as the 26th pick. He firmly believes that he would have gone higher in the first round if the play was properly called a touchdown and Miami won their second straight championship.


"Had we won that game, and went on to win the championship, I would have either gone seventh to the Pittsburgh Steelers or ninth to the Miami Dolphins," Gary said. "That call, that play cost me millions of dollars in signing bonus money."


"It would have been a dream to play in Miami with Dan Marino and coach Don Shula," Gary said as he let himself go back in time. "It just was not to be."


Gary maintains his belief that the botched call costs him millions. He is not laughing about it now, and it was clearly no joke at that time.


"The NFL scouts want players that know how to win, to win championships," Gary stated. "Had we won a second straight title and gone back to back, I would have gone higher in the draft."



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