The Brooklyn native attended Fork Union Military Academy in Fort Union, Virginia (which has sent over 70 players to the NFL to date) before accepting an athletic scholarship at Miami. The Hurricanes were well on their way to establishing a national presence in the college football world under the leadership of Howard Schnellenberger. It was Schnellenberger who recruited the finely tuned quarterback but it was under Jimmy Johnson that Testaverde became a household name.
He started his college career backing up Bernie Kosar, who passed for 3,642 yards and 25 touchdowns in Testavderde’s sophomore season, Johnson’s first year on the job in Miami. In his junior season the offense was handed over to the groomed Testaverde as Kosar moved on to the NFL, and the Brooklyn kid did not disappoint. Testaverde completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 3,238 yards and 21 touchdowns but was prone to turn the ball over with 15 interceptions. With an offense with guys like Alonzo Highsmith and Warren Williams fueling the ground game and Michael Irvin and Brian Blades leading the receiving game, Testaverde had options to work with as Miami put together the second double-digit win season in school history, and second in three years. The 1985 season was just a stepping stone to the following season for Testaverde and the Hurricanes though.
In 1986 Testaverde became a legitimate household name with one of the top seasons by a quarterback to date. As Miami was perceived to be a machine of a team, with nobody standing in their way en route to a national championship, Testaverde was proving why many thought he would be a high draft pick and future NFL star. Testaverde passed for 26 touchdowns and completed 63.4 percent of his passes but his terrific collegiate career was left with one void. There was no championship ring won with Testaverde leading the offense. The year before Miami had entered the Sugar Bowl with a chance to earn at least a split national title but lost to No. 8 Tennessee, 35-7. The next year was supposed to be redemption for Testaverde and Miami, heading to the Fiesta Bowl without a loss to take on No. 2 Penn State in one of the first truly created for TV national championship contests. Miami had no real interest in taking on Penn State, feeling as though Penn State did not belong on the same field as the mighty Hurricanes, but pressure to accept the bowl match-up prevailed.
It remains one of the worst games of Testaverde’s career. Testaverde, winner of the 1986 Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Davey O’Brien Award, UPI Player of the Year and a consensus All-American tossed five interceptions in the Fiesta Bowl, with the final one to Pete Giftopoulos sealing the fate for the Hurricanes and handing Joe Paterno and Penn State their second national championship, this time as an overwhelming underdog. Testaverde was 26-of-50 for 285 yards on a night when Miami’s offense moved the ball at will against Penn State, but it was the costly turnovers that were the story of the game.
Testaverde never quite achieved the level of success that was expected of him in the NFL. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him with the number one overall pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, and after six seasons by the Bay Vinny went on to play parts of 15 seasons with the Cleveland Browns as they moved to become the Baltimore Ravens, as well as stops with the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys, the Jets again, New England Patriots and finally with the Carolina Panthers in 2007. To this day Testaverde holds the NFL record for most consecutive seasons with at least one touchdown pass, with 21. He is also the Jamie Moyer of the NFL, holding the record for being the oldest player to win an NFL game, at age 44 with the Panthers in 2007.
Given his success in the mid-1980s with Miami, I always wonder what the media attention around him would be like in today’s world if Testaverde played today.
Today is Testaverde’s 49th birthday.
Subscribe to the No 2-Minute Warning YouTube Channel.