University of Miami

1976 - 83 Hurricanes "Jim Kelly"
(Authentic Reproduction)




With conditions barely improving, Selmer knew that '76 would be another struggle. Despite the 918 rushing yards from the powerful thighs of O.J. Anderson, the opening day 47-0 massacre of rival Florida State, and the steady play of three-year starting RB Woody Bennett, all of which contributed to a new school total offense record, 1976 ended with a dismal 3-8 mark and Selmer had had enough. If there was a lasting highlight to the 1976 season, it was Selmer's introduction of the white helmet shell with a one-inch burnt orange center stripe flanked by 1/2-inch dark forest green stripes. The forest green and burnt orange "U" logo that had adorned the forest green shell from 1972 through 1975 was carried over to the new helmet for what eventually became Miami's iconic uniform appearance.  

Among that highly recruited 1978 class of freshmen were some gems like quarterback and future Georgia head coach Mark Richt, another QB from Pennsylvania named Jim Kelly, DE Tim Flanagan, and the country's number one high school lineman, local product Lester Williams who became the Patriots number one draft choice in 1982. When Elliot left his AD post to join the St. Louis Cardinals coaching staff, Head Coach Lou Saban stepped into that role too and arrangements were completed for expanded radio and television coverage of games. Unfortunately, there remained a lack of depth with few of Selmer's recruits lasting to the start of the '78 season. Saban continued to mold the program into his image, cleaning house and for reasons known only to him. returned to the 1976 helmet design, bringing the one-inch burnt orange stripe back to the center of the helmet and flanking it with 1/2-inch dark forest green stripes. Again, the "U" logo in the now-familiar forest green and burnt orange, remained on the sides of the helmet. After the Georgia Tech game, he dismissed starting guard Larry Pfohl for damaging a hotel room in Atlanta. Pfohl would later go on to play in the USFL and eventually morph into pro wrestler Lex Luger. A huge upset win against a ranked Auburn team, a 22-21 upset over Florida in the '78 finale, and a late season three game winning streak capped a solid 6-5 record. DT Don Smith, a Florida product out of Tarpon Springs, was named an All American and became a first round choice of the Falcons, having a nine year NFL career. Mozell "The Axe" Axson was a far-ranging LB playing directly behind DE Barry Gonzalez who single-handedly destroyed Florida with two fourth-quarter interceptions. There seemed to be hope for the program even though the athletic department had a one million dollar deficit and attendance for home games was terrible, down by 9000 per game from 1977 and averaging barely 20,000 per game. Saban, unhappy with the off-field lack of progress shocked his staff and players by resigning on January 4, 1979 to become head football coach at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  
Miami's fortunes and the face of college football changed in January of 1979 when Miami Dolphin offensive coordinator Howard Schnellenberger was named head coach and brought long term NFL QB Earl Morrall with him as quarterbacks coach and former Dolphin Larry Seiple as receivers coach. With thirty-three returning lettermen and a determination to install a pro offense that would bring fans to the Orange Bowl, the Hurricanes went from the brink of extinction to the NCAA throne room and have been a national force almost every year since. The defensive muscle was provided by returning starters Axson, Gonzalez, Lester Williams, and junior Jim Burt, the future Giants noseguard who made skintight jerseys all the fad. Fred Marion who had a ten year NFL career with the Patriots ahead of him, controlled the secondary. The first of the great Miami QB's, post-Mira, stepped into the picture as Jim Kelly beat out Mark Richt and others and remained the starter from the eighth game on. Schnellenberger introduced a snazzy new uniform design that maintained the white helmet and striping design that Saban had reintroduced in '78. As important as the success seen on the field with a 5-6 slate that included wins against Boston College, Penn State, and Florida, there was an increase of over 12,000 fans per home game which gave signs that the future of Miami football was in good hands. Howard Schnellenberger would of course, take the 'Canes to the 1983 National Championship with a heart-stopping, last-second defeat of Nebraska, the first of Miami's five National Championships. In 1984, Schnellenberger left to become head football coach of a new USFL team based in Orlando but instead, with the demise of the entire league, became the head coach at Louisville and revived their second-rate program. 

As good a quarterback statistically as Jim Kelly was at the University Of Miami, one could echo the words of Buffalo columnist Larry Felser when he described the NFL Hall Of Famer's pro career with the Bills because the same description of Kelly's character could be applied to his Hurricane playing career. The summary stated that  "Kelly is not about statistics, never was. Jim Kelly was about leadership, true grit, toughness, unlikely comebacks and an ability to convince his teammates that they could win games against formidable odds. His statistics were impressive, but his intangibles are the jewel of his résumé." The toughness that led Joe Paterno to recruit Kelly to Penn State as a linebacker, and which drove the young man to his decision to attend Miami so he could play quarterback, is what made his teammates follow him into battle with the belief that the resurgent 'Canes could beat anyone. Kelly decided he wanted to be the best QB ever and thus ran home at lunchtime during his high school years so that he could practice his footwork, dropbacks, and rollouts. This dedication made him a star at East Brady, PA High School where he followed the career of his older brother Pat who was a LB with the Birmingham Americans of the WFL in 1974 after being a 15th round draft choice of the Colts upon the completion of his playing career at Richmond University. It appeared that the two-way all star was also destined for a linebacking career as Penn State and others coveted him at that position, viewing the 6'3", 215 pound roughneck as a potential defensive star. Howard Schnellenberger saw Kelly's QB ability and promised a chance on offense and as is often said, "the rest is history." Kelly's statistics were gaudy: a 9-3 record, 1519 passing yards and 11 touchdowns, a total offense team performance for a record setting 3756 yards as a soph followed by a jump to 2403 passing yards and 14 TD's as a junior, again leading the team to nine victories. Stymied by a severe shoulder injury as a senior, Kelly defied predictions and rehabilitated with the same dedication and zeal that he showed as a budding high school quarterback, double-timing the required effort to become the first round choice of the 1983 Buffalo Bills. Spurning them for an unheard of guaranteed $3 million contract with the Houston Gamblers of the USFL, Kelly threw for 9842 yards and an astounding 83 TD's in two years before the demise of the league and his entry to the Bills in 1986. His eight 3000-plus yard seasons, five Pro Bowl appearances, eight playoff entries in eleven years and four consecutive Super Bowls made him an absolute lock for the Pro Football Hall Of Fame in 1990. As he did at Miami, he put the team he led on the map and in the forefront of every race they were in. His force of will, absolute refusal to accept defeat, and ability to elevate his teammates to heights not reached before made him the QB that transformed the University Of Miami football program into the perennial national contender they became from the moment he took the helm of the program.

If interested in any of these Miami helmets please click on the photos below.