You probably thought that the University of Miami lost the 1988 national football championship because Notre Dame defeated the Hurricanes 31-30, spoiling an otherwise perfect season.
Miami wants you to think again.In a lawsuit quietly filed 18 months ago, the university claims that it is "reasonable to assume" that the loss was caused by defective practice fields.
Miami is suing All-Pro Athletic Surfaces, along with several local subcontractors who helped build the fields. The school contends that the artificial turf and natural grass fields built in the summer and fall of 1988 were so rotten that they led to Notre Dame's victory.
Athletic Director Sam Jankovich made that assertion in a recent deposition, citing the lost practice time and the inconvenience of finding other training sites.
The school's attorneys go further, claiming that Miami's "failure to practice on the fields" may have resulted in lost games, lower attendance, reduced TV revenues and fewer charitable contributions.
According to the school, this turf more closely resembles surf. "We can't use it," Jankovich said in his deposition. "Puddles all over the field."
When the fields aren't covered with standing water, Miami says, they are too hard, and the turf keeps coming loose.
All-Pro claims that any shortcomings in the artificial field should be blamed on Miami's own faulty design and that All-Pro had nothing to do with the natural grass field, which was built by another company.
The trial, entering its fifth day Friday in Dade County Circuit Court before Judge Philip Bloom and a six-man jury, has been filled with four-letter words: muck, silt, peat, loam, clay, sand, turf. Who knew there were so many synonyms for grass or mud?
One juror dozed Thursday as a videotaped witness described soil samples and sprinkler systems in numbing detail - but this is serious business.
Miami's suit doesn't specify how much money it wants, but attorney William Clayton said Thursday that Miami wants back the $411,500 it paid for the two fields, plus about $340,000 in damages.
Miami's lawyers have already put coach Dennis Erickson on the stand - he called the artificial turf "the worst field I've ever seen" - and plan to question Jankovich on Friday. They traveled to the Dallas Cowboys' offices to take a deposition from former Miami coach Jimmy Johnson, whose team sometimes had to practice at the Miami baseball stadium.
Johnson wasn't happy about that, and he wasn't happy about the fields Jankovich built for him, either. He said the team hardly ever practiced on the artificial turf because "there were bubbles" and "seams coming up," and that the natural grass field was "unusable."
For three years, both Johnson and Erickson have primarily drilled their Miami teams on the Hurricanes' old practice field.
Although Johnson complained bitterly about the fields, Jankovich was the only one who made the connection to the lost Notre Dame game in Miami's 11-1 season of 1988. Asked by one of All-Pro's lawyers whether Miami's performance had been affected by the practice fields' delayed construction and allegedly inferior quality, Jankovich replied, "I'm not so sure that there hasn't been. When we were preparing for ND, and we lost, there could have been."
Replied All-Pro lawyer Sharon Blake: "And so you're going to credit the fields to the wins also?"
"No," Jankovich shot back, "I'm crediting that to the talent."
Miami also claimed in a pretrial motion for judgment that it was "reasonably foreseeable" that "the team's failure to practice on the fields could have caused the team to not only expend additional sums of money to practice elsewhere but could cause the team to lose games due to inferior practice facilities."
All-Pro, an Oklahoma-based corporation that specializes in artificial turf construction, was hired by the university in May 1988 with the stipulation that both fields were to be finished by Aug. 1. They weren't, but All-Pro said the blame should rest with Miami.
"We basically just supplied them the turf," said All-Pro attorney Steve Reininger. "Miami actually designed the field and should be responsible for any claimed faults."
All-Pro handed the natural-grass work to Campanile and Associates, LRC Corp. and Michael Cambron, who are all also named in the suit. Campanile and Associates has a counterclaim against Miami, saying the school owes it $9,600.
The trial is scheduled to end late next week. No word yet on whether jurors will order up a retroactive poll for the 1988 season.