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B1G Historical Perspective: Frank Reich’s First Comeback

Eight years before bringing the Buffalo Bills back from a 35-3 deficit against the Houston Oilers, Frank Reich brought the Maryland Terrapins back from a 31-0 hole against the Miami Hurricanes

Frank Reich in action versus Clemson
University of Maryland Archives

Indianapolis Colts (edit) head coach Frank Reich will forever be associated with The Comeback: bringing the Buffalo Bills back from a 35-3 third-quarter deficit against the Houston Oilers in the 1992-93 NFL Playoffs. However, this wasn’t the first time Reich brought his team back from a greater-than-thirty point deficit. On a November afternoon at Miami’s Orange Bowl in 1984, Frank Reich came off the bench to lead the Maryland Terrapins to a 42-40 victory over the Miami Hurricanes; overcoming a 31-0 halftime deficit.

The 1984 football season for the Maryland Terrapins was in and of itself a comeback of sorts. After dropping their first two games at home versus Vanderbilt and Syracuse, Maryland won their next 2 games at #18 West Virginia and at home against Wake Forest. However, starting quarterback Frank Reich suffered a separated shoulder in the Wake Forest game. The next week Maryland traveled to State College and suffered a heartbreaking 25-24 loss to #11 Penn State.

Following this 2-3 start, Bobby Ross’ Terps won three straight conference games versus North Carolina, at Duke, and at North Carolina. The next game on Maryland’s schedule was a trip to the Orange Bowl to take on Jimmy Johnson’s #6 Miami Hurricanes. Maryland stood at 5-3, while Miami was 8-2 (the Hurricanes played 12 games prior to the bowl season, as they defeated #1 Auburn in the 1984 Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium).

To say the first half went Miami’s way would be an understatement. Owning the best college football home record over the previous six seasons (27-3), the Hurricanes held Maryland to just 53 yards in the first half and jumped out to a 31-0 halftime lead behind four Bernie Kozar touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing). And as was the case with ‘The U’ there was some trash talking, with Miami players telling their Terrapin counterparts ‘Come on, Maryland, at least make it close.’

At halftime, Maryland head coach Bobby Ross made 2 decisions that prompted Maryland’s improbable comeback. He replaced starting quarterback Stan Gelbaugh with Frank Reich; and he somewhat calmly (given the situation) gave the Terrapins something to think about. If they didn’t start playing better, Ross would schedule a practice at 9:30 pm that night - after Maryland got back to College Park after this game!

Maryland came out for the second half like a ball of fire, outscoring the Hurricanes 21-3 to cut the lead to 13. A key play in the third quarter was Maryland defensive back Keeta Covington chasing down Miami tailback Melvin Bratton after a long run, keeping him out of the end zone. This kept the Hurricanes out of the end zone, as they settled for a field goal. Following this, the Terrapins cut the lead to 6 on a 14 yard touchdown run by Tommy Neal. Then, Maryland took the lead 35-34 on this 68 yard touchdown pass from Frank Reich to Greg Hill:

The Hurricanes fumbled the ensuing kickoff on their own 5 yard line. Maryland recovered and fullback Rick Badanjek scored two plays later to put the Terrapins up 42-34. Miami wasn’t finished, though. Maryland’s punter muffed a snap and was tackled for a fourth down loss, giving the ball back to the Hurricanes with prime field position. Bernie Kosar then hit Eddie Brown with a short touchdown pass to cut the lead to 42-40. Jimmy Johnson went for the 2-point conversion; however, Keeta Covington made his second big play against Melvin Bratton. Covington tackled Bratton short of the end zone on the 2-point conversion to keep the score at 42-40. Maryland recovered Miami’s onside kick and held on for the most improbable comeback victory.

The would be the first of back-to-back heartbreaking losses for the Hurricanes. Just under 2 weeks later (on the Friday after Thanksgiving) Doug Flutie capped off his Heisman Trophy winning season by tossing a hail Mary at the gun as Boston College upset Miami 47-45 at the Orange Bowl. The Hurricanes then lost the Fiesta Bowl to UCLA, and their 1985 season opener to Florida at home. Following this, Jimmy Johnson’s Hurricanes would only lose 3 more games until he took over the Dallas Cowboys following the 1988 season (the 1986 Sugar Bowl to Tennessee, the 1987 Fiesta Bowl to Penn State, and the 1988 ‘Catholics versus Convicts’ game at Notre Dame).

Maryland finished off the 1984 season defeating Clemson in Baltimore, winning at Virginia, and earning payback for the 1983 Florida Citrus Bowl loss by defeating Tennessee in the 1984 Sun Bowl 28-27. Interestingly, Maryland came back from a 21-0 halftime deficit in El Paso to defeat the Volunteers in the Sun Bowl. As it turned out, both the regular season game at Miami and the Sun Bowl set the stage for Frank Reich being forever known as Captain Comeback nearly a decade later for the Buffalo Bills.

Frank Reich orchestrating The Comeback versus the Houston Oilers
John Hickey, AP

Historical Perspectives

Northwestern - The Upset

Purdue - The Forward Pass Comes to the Midwest

Indiana - The Real Game of the Century

Nebraska - Surrender Whites

Michigan State - Earning a Rematch

Rutgers - A Program-Changing Season

Illinois - Running the Table