Friday, January 3, 2003
Few have accomplished more with less
By Jim Litke
The Associated Press
TEMPE, Ariz. - Some people still blink when his coach calls Ken Dorsey the one irreplaceable cog in the Miami machine.
His roommate, Brett Romberg, understands why. Nobody looks less like a star quarterback than Dorsey. Even Romberg describes his close pal as a geek, the opposite of how the biggest man on campus is supposed to look, dress and behave.
Dorsey concedes he never thought of himself as leadership material until the junior varsity coach at Miramonte (Calif.) High talked a gangly freshman into trying out for quarterback. At times, he sounds wistful for those simpler days.
"In seventh and eighth grade, I was a wide receiver on the 'B' team," Dorsey recalled earlier this week. "One day we were throwing a ball around, and the jayvee coach sent me over to a different line. That was it. I kind of lucked into being a quarterback."
If so, few have accomplished more with less.
Dorsey's resume is already hopelessly overcrowded, and this is before his Hurricanes defend their national championship Friday against Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl.
Besides last year's title, there's his 34-game unbeaten streak, a 38-1 record overall, the 3,073 yards and 26 touchdowns this season, back-to-back Heisman nominations, the 2001 Maxwell award, two bowl MVP awards, a business degree, a few all-academic plaques and enough career, season and single-game passing marks for a half-page in Miami's record books. And then there are Dorsey's references.
From Florida State coach Bobby Bowden: "We've played against all the great Miami quarterbacks - Kosar, Toretta, Testaverde - all of them. I don't think any of them are better than Dorsey."
From Penn State coach Joe Paterno: "Tough to get to, gets rid of the ball quickly, great poise and a great feel for the game."
From former coach and current TV analyst Bill Curry: "To say an average quarterback could execute Miami's offense is the height of absurdity. The guy simply does not lose."
Yet that's only true if we're talking about football games. This season alone, Dorsey was a finalist for the Heisman, Maxwell, Walter Camp, Johnny Unitas and Davey O'Brien awards and lost every one.
The Hurricanes' only individual award-winner this season was Romberg, a center, who captured the Rimington. That lack of recognition across the roster has sparked talk of an anti-Miami bias, much the way the dynastic Yankees' success used to hurt them at the ballot box.
But typical of the way he handles most things, Dorsey turned those disappointments into learning experiences.
"My sophomore year was about earning my teammates' respect. My junior year we learned how to handle success. This year, I learned a lot about how to handle criticism," Dorsey said. "It's part of life, so I just go out and try to do the best I can on the field and not let my teammates down. That's the most important thing."
Too many people glimpsing Miami's program from the outside think coach Larry Coker was lightheaded when he labeled Dorsey the linchpin in the Hurricanes' spectacular two-year run. Those critics cite the five first-round NFL draft choices - and 11 overall - from last year's team and the ease with which Miami filled the vacancies. With that kind of talent, they argue, even Keanu Reaves (who played fictional QB Shane Falco in "The Replacements") could stand in Miami's pocket and do a passable imitation.
Dorsey's teammates know better.
"He'll be missed a lot," said defensive lineman Matt Walters, who's faced Dorsey in practice for years. "It will be hard to fill Ken's footsteps because he's done it right every time."
Linebacker Jonathan Vilma said Dorsey's critics, including most NFL scouts, miss the subtle way the sum of his parts fit together. They don't see his meticulous preparation or understand how Dorsey's ability to analyze defenses before the snap make his job look easy. And like his childhood hero, Joe Montana, Dorsey has become a stone-cold closer.
"Everyone wants to get technical and criticize his throwing arm," Vilma said. "The bottom line is he wins. Whether he's throwing side arm, underarm or whatever, he's still winning games. He's come through big-time in every critical situation. It's not easy to find a quarterback like that."
Especially one who looks so, well, unquarterback-like.
With his thin frame and quick smile, Dorsey looks like someone who wandered into the middle of football practice on his way to a molecular biology lab. Celebrity is wasted on him. Dorsey is a homebody who's had a serious girlfriend for a while; his ideal date is takeout food and video games.
"You figure a quarterback would be a good-looking fellow who can definitely pick up a lady any time he wants," Romberg said. "Ken doesn't care. He's 100 percent focused on what the football team is supposed to do."
Somebody has to be.
Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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