A VHS tape remains in a box somewhere, having set my machine to record before I drove from San Diego to Tempe in late 2002. I’ve even saved it on my DVR a few times when ESPN Classic re-ran the broadcast, fast-forwarding to “the call” and quickly deleting moments after Dan Fouts cries’ of “bad call, bad call” pumped through my speakers. I’d see enough.
I’ve been back to Scottsdale a dozen times since. Even took in an Arizona State / Southern Cal game in 2005, though I remember little more than staring at the corner of the end zone where the take down occurred, wishing I had Terry Porter’s home address.
When Miami and Ohio State go toe-to-toe this Saturday, it’s not completely about ‘revenge’ – but that doesn’t mean the Hurricanes forgot. Not the old guys, not the new ones and not any legitimate fan who understands the U Family bond.
This one is personal.
It’s been a long and winding road for the University of Miami since January 2003. The Canes put together an 11-2 campaign the following season, beating Florida once, Florida State twice, winning the Big East and and a BCS bowl game. In reality, a solid season, but on the heels of 12-0, 12-1 and back-to-back title games, it was a “step back”.
A step back this program would’ve killed for any of the past six seasons.
Miami joined the ACC in 2004, which has taken some blame for the decline. Truth be told, the Canes would’ve suffered a similar fate in the Big East those middle years this past decade. Recruiting miscues, a lack of player development and incompetent coaching led to UM’s demise. Not a conference move or bogus flag and singular moment.
The type of players that put the Canes back on the map after probation a decade ago, this program instead found itself enamored with five-star Internet superstars instead of gritty, Miami-style difference-makers. An under the radar Santana Moss-type was replaced with an overhyped Lance Leggett-type; someone who looked the part and good on paper, but lacked that intangible allowing him to fill the big shoes of his predecessors.
As seen with many winning programs or budding dynasties, a sense of entitlement has a way of seeping in – especially if the coaching staff can’t plug the dam, weed out bad seeds and motivate players, keeping everyone from getting fat and happy.
By the time Larry Coker was let go after the 2006 season, the UM culture was in need of a complete overhaul – a big reason few wanted the challenge of rebuilding. During that 7-6 swan song – a logo stomp, an on-the-field brawl, a life taken, a four-game losing skid and a bowl game on blue turf in Boise.
Not exactly as seamless as Howard to Jimmy to Dennis to Butch to Larry when Randy took charge.
ESPN’s Andrea Adelson said it best this week; “So Miami fans wait, and the players wait, for their return to glory. Anybody will tell you the downfall of a program happens more swiftly than the climb back up.”
It feels like Miami literally fell apart overnight, yet the rebuilding process feels like forever. Expectations and denial are to blame. No one wanted to believe the Canes were slipping when a few 9-3 seasons took place. UM still hovered in the top ten most of the year and twice lost in one of the final two games, giving that one- or two-loss feel most of the season. Things didn’t feel that off but in all reality, the decline started the year after the Fiesta.
Many refused to admit the demise was underway, which is why so many have been impatient during the slow climb back; their clocks started re-ticking too soon.
At times in 2009, the Canes looked like old school Miami. A win in Tallahassee. Revenge when Georgia Tech came calling. An upset over eighth-ranked Oklahoma. As the season wore on and injuries took their toll – most notably one to the throwing hand of starting quarterback Jacory Harris – the Canes looked mortal. By the time the year wound down, they weren’t the same team that rolled heads in September. Youth and a lack of depth made for a watered-down bunch of Canes – which is understandable regarding last year, but isn’t acceptable for 2010.
I refuse to buy the “ACC or bust” mentality, but it’s time for this program to take another big step forward. Miami hasn’t truly won a big game since November 2005, sitting pretty at No. 5 and rolling No. 3 Virginia Tech. Entering year four of this rebuilding project, the next logical step is stepping up and getting a big time win. Based on the past three years of growth, it’s time to inch closer back to the big time.
All the talk about Harris’ interceptions last year, there’s been little media benefit of the doubt regarding his growth. Junior season. More experience. Second year in system (both he and Mark Whipple were rookies in ’09). Mature receivers. Stable of running backs. More talent / less experience with offensive line – it could lead to addition by subtraction.
Colt McCoy hurled 18 interceptions as a sophomore and only 8 as a junior. The growth experienced from sophomore to junior – it’s a big one in the college game. Especially at the quarterback position.
J12 was green last year but if he’ll ever be a legit Heisman candidate and big name in college football, that starts in Columbus. Harris needs a signature game and he’d forever be endeared in his hometown’s heart if he rolled the punks that kept a sixth title from making its way to Coral Gables.
Santana dropped his “big time players step up in big games” quote after last-decade-Miami took down No. 1 Florida State, having dropped five straight to the Noles. The Canes had motivation that day – a 47-0 ass whipping in Tallahassee, only a few years removed from maturing team ready to take that next step forward.
A decade before that Rohan Marley delivered the same line when UM knocked off defending champ Florida State, 34-20, back in 1994 and weeks past a 58-home game win streak being snapped.
Step up in big games and make big time plays, according to No. 6 and No. 2. They did.
Anyone who’s read my words over the years knows I’ve backed Shannon from day one. Hometown guy. Played for UM. Spent a lot of years learning for Jimmy and Butch. Knows how to recruit. No nonsense individual. Proven winner in life and on the field.
You can’t script a better fit if or when he finally gets it done and entering year four, it’s time to take another step forward. The growth has been there every year under Shannon. Showed more grit year two. Won a few signature games year three. Talent pool expanded annually.
Timing-wise, Miami is getting Ohio State at the right time. A year or two ago, this game is tremendously lopsided. Entering 2010, the Canes again have the talent to hang with just about anybody.
This Saturday is the main stage – something Miami’s made their name thriving on over the years – but how does that translate to this weekend? The Buckeyes ended last season working a pretty good Oregon squad in Pasadena while the Canes choked in a mid-tier Central Florida bowl game against a team Ohio State beat. That was last then. This is now. Who shows up Saturday?
When Shannon inked the top-ranked class in the country back in 2008, everyone circled 2010. The Northwestern crew and Booker T. kids are now juniors and youth is no longer an excuse; it’s time to man up. Just outside of high school when the Fiesta Bowl took place, it was still their hometown team that got jobbed. They remember.
Defensive lineman Marcus Forston said he saw those old school Canes as ‘gladiators’ back in the day. He looked up to those guys. Still does … and so do his teammates. They’ve all heard the pre-season message loud and clear from yesterday’s Canes; take down the Buckeyes.
Miami is a proud city. It doesn’t like to be disrespected; tried. Pick on one of ours and we take it personally. Give us a reason to get involved or to push back and we will.
Former players return home every summer – some paying NFL-sized fines for not training with their team – just to be part of the family. There was a common theme this summer; revenge. Ken Dorsey didn’t use that word – though Jon Vilma, Andre Johnson, Ed Reed and others did. Beat Ohio State, because we can’t.
Last time Miami wanted one this badly, it made for the loudest and rowdiest night in Orange Bowl history; November 25th, 1989 – when the Canes waxed No. 1 Notre Dame, 27-10 in another revenge-fueled game. Miami had one stolen in South Bend the previous year – a phantom fumble that made Terry Porter’s call laughable, paving the way to the Irish’s first title in a decade.
Revenge when properly channeled is a fine motivator. Randy may tell the media this is another game, but as a fierce competitor and life-long Cane, he wants this one and his team knows it. Same way this entire program realizes this is a statement game in year four; the season the tide is expected to turn.
Ohio State is downplaying the ‘revenge’ angle – and they should as they didn’t get screwed seven years ago. Easy to tell someone to get over it when the lucky bounce went your way.
The Buckeyes don’t want to acknowledge Miami’s rallying cry because they simply don’t get it. This truly is a Canes thing and Miami as a program is on an island alone. Over the years, sports nation agreed that it was a piss-poor call – but it was a fleeting thought.
Unless you bleed orange and green you haven’t lived with it day in and day out as a diehard. The reminders have been everywhere over the years – whether it’s another “Worst Calls”- or “Biggest Heartbreaks”-type poll or seeing Ohio State roll on as if nothing happened, Miami – as a program and a city – has lived with this pain for the better part of a decade.
The Canes are hungry and across the line this Saturday, the guys who took their last scrap of food. Maybe not literally, but figuratively. Same uniforms. Same type of player. Same smug fan base.
This current squad wants it for themselves, but also for the ghosts of Hurricanes past. They have a crack at knocking out the little brother whose big brother worked over their big brother. Someone disrespects or hurts your loved one, you want revenge. Doesn’t matter if it was seven years ago or seven minutes ago. That fire still burns within.
I’ll save the Xs and Os for the supposed guru’s this weekend. All the guys who will tell you that Harris has to cut down on interceptions, that the game is won in the trenches and that the super-sized crowd will be in Miami’s collective ear all day.
News flash; both teams have athletes, both need the win and both coaching staffs know what’s on the line. The Horseshoe will be rocking, but the biggest stadium in the world can be hushed when the other guys push back and I expect Miami to do just that. After three-plus years of rebuilding and seven years of harboring resentment, this program is overdue for a big moment.
Revenge is the intangible this weekend. Ohio State is dismissing it, while flat out underestimating Miami. Rather ironic coming from a fan base who saw first-hand what overconfidence and overlooking meant for the ’02 Canes who weren’t expecting such a fight from those ’02 Buckeyes.
Win or lose, the Canes are coming to play and aren’t in Columbus to roll over. This is a proud program with a proven track record. Especially when disrespected. Backed into a corner, the Canes oft come out swinging. Miami is more than ready for this fight and Ohio State better fully understand.
No darts-at-a-board score prediction forthcoming, but as a long-time follower and enthusiast of Miami football, I believe somehow, someway the Canes find a way.