Reloading versus rebuilding. One always seems to be the case in college football as no one stays on top forever – and even when one is on top, all the focus on getting and staying there seems to dull the enjoyment of actually being there.
This Miami Hurricanes football program truly has seen it all. The rise from nobody-to-somebody in the late seventies and early eighties, to putting together the most dominant run the sport has seen in the modern era.
Four titles won in a ten-year span, three officially left on the field, and a bad call or regular-season slip-up away from playing for a few more – and that was just the early eighties to early nineties, not the half decade of dominance that came after rebuilding.
Probation crippled ‘The U’ in the mid-nineties, with some outsiders claiming the Canes were left for dead. ESPN’s Lee Corso went as far as to predict that Miami would fall out of ‘The Big Three’, surpassed by Central Florida in the Sunshine State.
Instead, Butch Davis and a proper blueprint, allowed him to negotiate the rugged probation-wrecked terrain, recruiting properly, wisely using scholarships and in a matter of years, not only put the Canes back on the map, but again made Miami the baddest in the land.
Four straight BCS games, back-to-back title games, a 34-game win streak, a title won, another stolen and would-be, deserved crack at a championship not awarded before both, in what proved to be Davis’ final season at the helm.
Al Golden is now saddled with rebuilding, as Larry Coker was unable to reload, sending the program into a tailspin, made worse by Randy Shannon, in over his head from day one and setting things back even further, despite seeing ‘The Blueprint’ up close and personal, as a player under Jimmy Johnson in the eighties and as an assistant for Davis in the nineties.
Golden, who appears to share similar traits with Davis, Johnson and even the legendary Howard Schnellenberger, knows the blueprint as well as the formula for success at ‘The U’ and it all starts with The State Of Miami and keeping the best players home, while reeling in kids with a passion for the Canes and hard-nosed three-stars over coddled and entitled five-stars.
‘The U’ Struck A Chord & ‘The U : Reloaded’ Will, Too
Millions tuned in late 2009 when Billy Corben and Rakontur put together arguably ESPN’s best 30 For 30 documentary to date; “The U”. Soon thereafter there was talk of a sequel – something to document the re-rise to prominence which took place under Davis, which the original piece didn’t cover.
Like any good filmmaker, Corben’s queue remained full with other projects, so a follow-up remained shelved until he, or someone else, was ready to tell the rest of the story.
Thanks to Corben’s busy schedule a few passionate U-enthusiasts, the time for the next great Canes-themed documentary has finally come.
Former Miami Hurricanes running back Najeh Davenport and Platon Alexandrakis of ProCanes.com have teamed up for a piece set to be called “The U : Reloaded”.
Completely unaffiliated with Corben’s piece, a trailer has been released, as well as a Kickstarter page, in effort to help drum up some funding, as there are no ESPN dollars being tossed around for this sequel — and make no mistake, without some fan-funding this project could remain shelved as it costs big money to get the rights to vintage game footage owned by ESPN, ABC, CBS and NBC.
What Davenport and Alexandrakis will arguably lack in production quality, they will more than make up for in content.
That’s no knock on this unofficial follow-up. It’s simply pointing out that Rakontur’s piece was super-slick, big budget and has some tremendous motion graphics and effects that helped make their must-watch “Cocaine Cowboys” piece so enjoyable and visually appealing.
Where “Reloaded” will go new levels; the fact it’s coming from a player’s perspective and that dynamic between the filmmakers and the subjects will be that of peers or player/coach, opposed to director/producer and the talent.
The final moments of the trailer feature footage from a would-be Miami football documentary that never saw the light of day. Some late nineties Video8-shot behind-the-scenes clips where the cameras rolled, the Canes were raw and the energy was such that if you lit a match, something would’ve exploded.
Blades-Like Personalties Are The Lifeblood Of Miami Football
Led by former Hurricanes safety Al Blades, the mouthpiece for those late nineties UM squads, and since lost in a car accident, it’s a true throwback to the Decade Of Dominance-era Canes, where older brother Bennie Blades played a similar role.
Brian Blades was also an eighties old schooler at The U, but less vocal. Bennie and Al seemed to embody all those things that Canes enthusiasts love, but outsiders loathe.
As the younger Blades is getting ready for his team to take the field against Ohio State in the 1999 Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands, fans see behind the curtain and get a glimpse of what Miami feeling before the number twelve Canes knocked off the ninth-ranked Buckeyes, 23-12.
Riled-up players in the tunnel, with Blades going off pre-game. “We worked too hard and too long. I want you to look at the man beside you and say, I am the baddest motherf–ker you know,” shouts Blades, to which his teammates echo his sentiment in unison.
From there, a throwback to a phrase his big brothers would appreciate, “It’s gonna take three motherf**king things … hit, stick and bust d*ck … talk sh*t, talk sh*t, talk sh*t,” – an underground Canes mantra for decades.
A chant of, “Murder. Murder. Murder. Kill. Kill. Kill,” which will have the politically correct crowd up in arms, but was nothing more than something these college-aged kids were doing to amp up before running out the tunnel to engage in a brutal sport.
From there, something sing-songy as the team began to chant, “Hold your heads up high. The Mighty Canes are passing by. From north to south, we really knock ’em out,” almost a modern-day, “Whistle While You Work”, lunchpail in hand, on-your-way-to-the-job-type moment.
“Hit, stick and bust d*ck. Them Canes are the sh*t.”
The message was heard loud and clear that coming-out season and the foundation was re-laid for what would become a half decade of top-notch football. Equally as important; the fact that a blueprint had been reintroduced.
Watching Blades lead those Canes, you felt “it”. Everything that it seems to take chemistry- and attitude-wise for Miami to be “Miami” – it was there in that moment and when UM took the field, it completed the process and delivered a win.
Miami went on to beat Ohio State game one, but weeks later lost a heartbreaker to second-ranked Penn State. From there an embarrassing loss to a purpose-driven East Carolina squad, a hard fought loss at Florida State and a late season beat-down courtesy of Virginia Tech.
The attitude was back and some big moments arose, but the personnel still lacked, so a few losses were inevitable.
’99 Canes Were Almost Ready; ’00 Squad Was Complete
A year later, gone was Kenny Kelly, in was Ken Dorsey and after an early-season loss at Washington, thirty-four straight wins and another modern-day dynasty was underway for Miami, finally loaded again talent-wise and ready to dominate with the right kind of players.
Besides wanting to see this “Reloaded” documentary made for nostalgia purposes, it needs to exist for fans and alumni, but also the next generation of Hurricanes who need a blueprint of their own to follow.
Golden and staff can only do so much and where “The U” served a tremendous purpose, seeing something player-driven can go a long way with this latest crop in Coral Gables. Especially considering this footage is semi-recent, whereas that Decade Of Dominance took place before today’s Hurricanes were even zygotes. This piece will resonate with today’s Hurricanes.
Who is ready to assume a Blades-like role; someone who is a mouthpiece, spark plug and bonafide hell-raiser? The type of guy who just says what’s on his heart, holds nothing back and gets everyone around him comfortable in their own skin, too? Someone who oozes Miami – both the program’s tradition and the energy of the city.
A ‘Hurricanes:101’-Type Class Ideal For UM Football Players
In the past I’ve suggested that the University of Miami creates a players-only one-credit mandatory course for football freshman, where documentaries like “The U” and “Reloaded” could serve as course material.
A Canes football-themed class that explains to these newbies precisely what they’ve signed up for, what’s expected of them, stories about the greats who played their positions before them, the overall legacy carried and a proper breakdown of all the good and bad that has taken place over the past three decades.
There could even be an aspect similar to the NFL symposium that rookies endure, where freshman Canes could learn some of the pitfalls that come with collegiate athletics and how to avoid the next shady rogue booster.
Roll in some former players as guest speakers, get kids to write an essay about what it means to don that “U” on their helmet and teach these kids about the legacy being handed down to them.
Miami football can survive in the modern era, but will have to do through creative and unique thinking, while playing to the program’s and city’s strengths. Coral Gables isn’t a college town, there’s no on-campus stadium and being a large and diverse metropolitan city, collegiate athletics isn’t the only show in town – so perform, or get used to being an afterthought.
Regarding the players, it’s about embracing this football fraternity and learning the history of those who walked before you, how they did what they did, what made them tick and their overall path to success.
Golden chose Miami because oft the great tradition and legacies created and while UM’s top brass backed away from the Corben-filmed documentary, and will arguably do the same with “Reloaded”, it’s something coaches need to embrace for the sake of storytelling and rites of passage.
Who can step up in a Blades-like manner and play the role of field general and mouthpiece? Ed Reed did his time in that role, though with a different flair and more action, less words. Who is this squad’s troop-rallier? Who wants to step up and be “the guy”.
Seems many want to see every generation of modern-era Hurricanes making plays, dancing, taunting and winning like those old Decade Of Dominance legends, but that’s an unfair bar to set. Different time, different place and way different circumstances.
Late Nineties Canes Rebuilt; Current Squad Should Emulate
Today’s Canes, entering the 2013 football season, must take a page from those late nineties-era squads. As Miami barked in that tunnel moments before taking the field at the Meadowlands, one needs to remember the final games of the previous season, as there was a confidence-crushing loss that the 1998 team was able to bounce back from.
An embarrassing 66-13 loss at Syracuse that cost Miami a Big East title and Orange Bowl match-up against Florida and was followed by a massive 49-45 upset of No. 2 UCLA in a late-season make-up game. The span between those two contrasting experiences were a week apart, proving the maturity of that bunch to leave the beating in Syracuse, knowing what a win over the Bruins meant for the program.
After wrapping with a Micron PC Bowl win over North Carolina State, All-Everthing running back Edgerrin James gave up a final year of eligibility, heading off to the NFL, while quarterback Scott Covington was done, opening the door for Kelly and the freshman Dorsey to battle it out, while the running game needed revamping.
Still, even with the losses, Miami brought some balls to the Kickoff Classic and a formidable opponent in a top ten Ohio State team, punching them in the mouths from the get-go.
A solid defensive series and a long James Jackson touchdown on the Canes’ first touch set the tone and this was an aggressive, feisty Miami bunch that learned from the previous season’s mistakes. That in itself doesn’t guarantee perfection, as witnessed by four losses in 1999, but it showed that attitude-wise, Miami had turned the corner and was back.
“The U : Reloaded” has to happen, for too many reasons to list, but none more important than to serve as a roadmap for the “next generation” of Hurricanes, which changes every fall.
As fans and long-time supporters of this program, we all know the stories and lived so much of this out to a point where it’s embedded in our DNA – but each new crop of freshman needs a proper education in what it takes to not just succeed, but to dominate as Miami, through hard work and habits that will carry over to lengthy and productive NFL careers.
Spread the world regarding “The U : Reloaded”, give if you can, share this story and do what you can to help Najeh and Platon turn this vision and dream into a reality.
Christian Bello has been covering Miami Hurricanes athletics since the mid-1990s. After spending almost a decade as a columnist for CanesTime, he launched allCanesBlog.com. – the official blog for allCanes.com : The #1 Canes Shop Since 1959. Bello has joined up with XOFan.com and will be a guest columnist at CaneInsider.com this fall. Follow him on Twitter @ChristianRBello.