Growing up in South Florida, it's always been all about 'the U', even before that slogan was initially introduced. I recall going to the Orange Bowl as a kid and sitting in what I knew as the West End Zone Zoo.
The stadium literally shook as some of the best fans in the game showed their support. All I knew at the time was that the 'Canes were the greatest football team on the planet and nobody else came close. In most cases, such lofty perceptions from your youth turn out to be, to some degree at least, exaggeration. In this case, though, that was far from the case.
For years the Miami Hurricanes owned the football world. So much so that books have been written about the teams of the eighties and early nineties, a wildly successful documentary chronicled the program and through it all an exclusive community of former players has developed with several of them continuing to identify more with their collegiate team than their current professional team. It's safe to say that Miami created a legacy unique to any other in the country.
The 'Canes were put on probation in the early/mid-nineties, though, and things weren't exactly the same until a late nineties resurgence that saw Miami right back in the thick of the national title conversation, ultimately culminating in a national championship in 2001 and a loss to Ohio State in the national title game the following season.
That conveniently brings us to last Saturday.
Revenge for the loss eight seasons earlier was on every 'Canes fan's mind. Miami came into the year with perhaps the best crop of skill players in the country and a quarterback who was supposed to compete for the Heisman. Not all four picks thrown on Saturday can be blamed on Jacory Harris, of course. One ball was tipped, another was practically handed to the defender and there seemed to be some miscommunication regarding the routes on a few plays.
To some, that doesn't matter. The stat line reads four interceptions so Harris must not be the right guy to lead Miami back to national prominence, right? Fair weather fans will walk away from this team and reemerge in a few weeks if the 'Canes can pull off a few wins over Pittsburgh, Clemson and Florida State to find themselves again squarely among the nation's elite as far as the rankings are concerned.
But fair weather fans aside, what happened on Saturday that made Miami's offense look like a unit out of its element? Is Miami lacking the talent? Hardly. Is that famous swagger lost with the times? Doubt it. Are the 'Canes lacking the pride that comes from years and years of football tradition? Not really.
The tradition is there. It may not date back to the pre-WWI era or even the pre-disco era, but Miami began a dynasty ripe with tradition beginning in the early 1980s that would be imitated by teams around the nation. The entry smoke, holding up four fingers at the beginning of the fourth quarter; where do you think it came from?
Sebastian may have ditched his corncob pipe because it isn't PC anymore, and he may have bulked up in recent years compared to his slimmed-down appearance of the eighties and nineties, but he's still one of the game's most recognizable mascots.
The Hurricanes were pulling in top tier talent in the early part of the last decade, but in many cases did little with it i.e. Kyle Wright, Ryan Moore, Willie Williams, etc. There was also an underlying shift up the Gainesville way with the success of Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators and the stagnant feeling in Coral Gables in the middle part of the decade that hurt recruiting efforts. But that fence is back up now. You know the one. Miami erected it around South Florida to kept most of the top home-grown talent local for the next four years of their football careers.
The Orange Bowl is gone, though. Following an embarrassing sendoff in the form of a 48-0 loss to Virginia, the 'Canes uprooted to Davie to play in what was at the time Land Shark Stadium and is now Sun Life Stadium.
The 'Canes weren't exactly in the best of shape during the 2007 season-the last season in which the Miami Orange Bowl played host to Hurricanes home games-so its destruction cannot be considered synonymous with Miami's struggles to reassert itself as a national power.
Still, while I've only been to a few Hurricanes games at Sun Life Stadium, the atmosphere has changed drastically. No more parking on front lawns in Little Havana. No more trek from Culmer Station to get to the stadium. No more tailgating on what can best be described as a swampy mess following a typical South Florida downpour the night before. As unpleasant as all of that sounds, it defined trips to the Orange Bowl for thousands of fans. Hot, muggy days in a stadium that felt like it could crumble to pieces at any minute are replaced by hot, muggy days in a stadium that so clearly belongs to the Miami Dolphins.
That's not it, though. To borrow a term from Ernest Hemingway, the Miami Orange Bowl is a "moveable feast" for any 'Canes fan who remembers spending afternoons and evenings at the stadium. So why, with all of Miami's talent, tradition and successful recruiting (of late) can the Hurricanes not punch their way back to the top of the college game?
The 'Canes used to walk into every game they played not thinking and not believing, but knowing without a shred of doubt that they were going to win that game. Plenty of teams have enjoyed seasons in which they felt the same way, but nobody did it like Miami. They had an unparalleled killer instinct and they didn't care a lick about the team on the opposite sideline. Perhaps one of the best examples is the 1991 Cotton Bowl when a two-loss Miami team absolutely steamrolled a one-loss Texas team 46-3 while doing all they could to embarrass the Longhorns in the process.
Don't get me wrong, I wish players were allowed more leeway when they score a touchdown or make a big play (these days it seems as though NCAA rules prohibit natural human reaction or emotion), but there is no way that the 'Canes can, should or will ever revert to similar antics. Head coach Randy Shannon has cleaned up this program drastically to the point where the players aren't even allowed to use Twitter anymore. Few realize that the Miami has had very few off-field issues compared to other teams in the country, let alone in the same state. They've even gotten it done in the classroom. From Miami's official athletic site upon release of the 2010 Academic Progress Report:
"The football program was already recognized as having posted a multi-year APR score in the top 10 percent. Miami was the only Bowl Championship Subdivision (BCS) team among the 26 schools recognized that finished ranked in the final USA Today Coaches Poll and Associated Press poll after the 2009 season. UM and Duke were the only two Atlantic Coast Conference football programs recognized."
Nevertheless, where is that famous 'Canes killer instinct? What does 'It's a 'Canes Thing' mean anymore? I don't mean this to be a reactionary response to the Ohio State loss and I am certainly not accusing any of the players or coaches of lacking the drive and will to win. I, like everybody else, saw Jacory Harris, barely able to walk with leg cramps, lead the offense on one of their best drives of the game on Saturday. That takes tremendous guts that I believe is representative of the rest of the 2010 Hurricanes.
There's plenty of confidence on this team, but there isn't that absolute certainty that they are going to blow their opponent off the field. There isn't that certainty that there isn't a single thing the opposing offense or defense can throw at them that will stop them.
Maybe it isn't something that can be achieved until after a few program-defining wins. Miami may have missed a perfect opportunity to grab such a victory, but they'll have plenty of chances as the season rolls on. If they win out, they likely won't play for the title, but they'll go to the Orange Bowl and, especially if they walk away with a BCS win, will find themselves a top five team coming into 2011. - Danny Hobrock
Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.
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