As a native of Philadelphia, the town of brotherly hate
where fans have booed Santa Claus, Mike Schmidt and Julius Erving,
Frank Costa should have been prepared.
Costa is the senior quarterback for the University of Miami
(Fla.). That is the position of pedigree on a team that is famous
for national championships and winning quarterbacks. During the
past two seasons, Costa has struggled to measure himself against
the Hurricanes' Heroes.
He has been benched (last season), booed (last season), blasted
(by the media) and battered (by opponents' pass rushes). When Costa
leads the third-ranked Hurricanes against top-ranked Nebraska in
tonight's Orange Bowl, it will be his final chance to write his
legacy at Miami.
``If I play well, people will applaud me. If I play bad, I'll
get criticized,'' said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Costa. ``I used to
let little things bother me -- like what people said about me. I've
gotten a lot more thick-skinned.
``In high school, I always got a lot of positive press and a lot
of fan support. I had never been booed or ripped apart until I came
down here. That's just part of being the quarterback down here.''
From Jim Kelly to Bernie Kosar to Vinnie Testaverde to Steve
Walsh to Craig Erickson to Gino Torretta, the Miami quarterback
torch has been passed. Along the way, there have been four national
championships and two Heisman Trophy winners (Testaverde and
``I'd love to be mentioned in the same breath with those guys,''
Costa said. ``If we beat Nebraska and I'm linked with those guys,
great. If they don't, that's fine. That's something I can't
When Costa's career ends tonight, his numbers will not match his
predecessors. If the Hurricanes defeat Nebraska and Penn State
loses to Oregon tomorrow in the Rose Bowl, Miami probably would
have another championship. But that scenario is a long shot.
But for Costa, his status as a starter in a game as important as
the Orange Bowl is a significant accomplishment.
``He's come a long way,'' said Miami offensive coordinator Rich
Olson. ``With all the criticism he's had to go through, he's made
tremendous strides. He's had a great year. The last couple of days
in practice, he's thrown it about as well as since he's been
On Oct.9, 1993, Miami lost to eventual national champion Florida
State, and Costa lost his starting job to Ryan Collins. That loss --
a Costa interception was returned for a key touchdown -- became
``I was very depressed after that game,'' he said. ``I used to
get up in the middle of the night and just drive around. I couldn't
eat, even though I tried. I lost 20 pounds in about three to four
His teammates realized that Costa was in a personal hell. They
tried to help him.
``I really can't imagine what he was going through,'' said
sophomore center K.C. Jones of Midland Lee High School. ``He's a
tough kid. He not only survived, but he thrived.''
But as he battled his demons and fought to regain his
confidence, Costa said, he began to see himself in a different
``I grew up a lot after that game,'' he said. ``I went into that
game as a 21-year-old kid. I came out of it as a 21-year-old man.''
Collins started the rest of the season and led the Hurricanes to
a 9-2 regular season. During Miami's 29-0 shellacking by Arizona in
the Fiesta Bowl, Costa played well in relief of Collins. Then,
after the game, Costa asked to meet with Miami coach Dennis
``I told him I felt like I got blamed for a lot of the stuff
that happened last season,'' Costa said. ``I asked him to look me
in the eye and tell me that I would have a fair chance to win the
job back during spring practice. I figured if I couldn't do that,
then I might transfer. When he said he would give me the chance,
that gave me a new life here.''
Costa reclaimed his job when he outplayed Collins during spring
Then came a 38-20 loss to Washington on Sept.24 that ended the
Hurricanes' NCAA-record 58-game home-field winning streak. The fans
and critics focused on a Costa interception that led to a touchdown
(the receiver slipped). With Florida State only two weeks away,
could Costa win a big game?
Against the Seminoles, Costa's numbers were not impressive. He
completed 18 of 32 passes for 177 yards, no touchdowns and two
interceptions. But the statistics were overshadowed by Miami's
34-20 victory that served as the starting point to the team's
eight-game winning streak.
``He executed the game plan, made some great throws, and he
withstood their pressure,'' Olson said. ``The question was, could
he win the big game? For a quarterback, being able to win the big
game is what they live for. When he was able to win that game, that
was a great weight off his shoulders. His confidence, he's just a
different guy in practice.''
In the Hurricanes' final regular-season game against Boston
College, Costa was sacked six times and knocked down a dozen more.
A self-described pocket passer, Costa realizes that if he is going
to complete passes, he has to hold on to the ball until the last
minute. His toughness has earned his teammates' respect.
``He's taken an enormous number of shots,'' Jones said. ``There
have been some games I'm surprised he's been able to walk out of
Costa was asked what advice he would give if asked by a high
school quarterback prospect who was considering playing at Miami.
``If he wants to prepare himself for the NFL and to get the most
out of himself as a quarterback, he should seriously consider
coming here,'' Costa said. ``If he wants to live the college life,
have a good time and start for three or four years, he shouldn't
come here. Most of our quarterbacks start for two years.
``There's nothing wrong with being a quarterback here. It
prepares you for anything. It prepares you for life.''