They lifted him up on their shoulders and carried their coach across the field, championing the man like he had just brought home another glass football in the friendly confines of the Miami Orange Bowl.
In reality, Larry Coker was getting a farewell ride from his team in what would be his final game as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. The grass stain was fresh on the jersey of defender Chavez Grant, whose diving interception on the Canes' 33-yard line with :15 left sealed a 21-20 victory for Miami over Nevada in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl. The bowl win raised the Canes' final ledger that season to 7-6 and ushered in a new era with Randy Shannon already set to take over.
Players cheered and raised their white helmets in celebration of Coker, a nice man who simply couldn't put it together in a place where winning was expected, and the ghosts of championships past were fresh in the minds and thoughts of Canes' fans, boosters, and administration.
Flash forward eight years. EIGHT YEARS.
No bowl wins in that span. No ten-win seasons. No production that has led anyone to believe the U is truly "back".
The mediocre Canes enter today's matchup with a South Carolina team that has matched them in the one-step-forward-one-step-back dance that has been their underachieving 2014 season. Both schools have had gut-wrenching moments that have seemed to have lingering effects. Miami's meltdown against Florida State and subsequent failure to appear against bowlless Virginia and mediocre Pitt have raised questions about the leadership of this football team. Similarly, South Carolina's come from ahead late losses to Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee, and home demolishing by Texas A&M, have left a sour taste in the collective mouth of the Gamecock nation. Losing to Clemson for the first time in years was just the icing on a rotten dumpster cake for Steve Spurrier's team as well.
But South Carolina can still do today what they seem to do often: win bowl games and start the offseason and preparation for the next season on the right foot. Spurrier will have his team ready for today, as they often are for bowl games. For this reason, I am more than slightly shocked by the -3.5 line for Miami.
Because it's pretty simple: when it doesn't matter - when there is no milestone or championship on the line (aside from finishing with 10 wins) - Miami hasn't put forth a performance at the end of the season worth sneezing at.
A trip to San Francisco to face Cal in essentially a true road game (the 2008 Emerald Bowl) wasn't a cakewalk, and the Canes actually fought, tied at 17 in the 4th quarter, but fell 24-17, thanks in most part to an accommodating defensive effort that saw game co-MVP Jahvid Best run wild for 186 yards.
After rising into the Top 10 in 2009 and falling at home to Clemson in a true Clemsoning moment that turned the season around for the worse, Miami faced Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl, trying to get its 10th win of the season.
Tailbacks John Clay and Montee Ball rushed for nearly combined 200 yards themselves, the rain fell - as did Miami's typically sound passing attack - and the Canes ended a promising season on a sour note at 9-4.
Miami made the trip to beautiful (laugh out loud) El Paso for a New Years' Eve tilt with Notre Dame, the schools' first meeting since a 29-20 Irish win in 1990 that ended the annual series. Apparently I'm not the only one laughing at going to El Paso, because the Canes' effort was one indicating a similar contempt for being in El Paso to end the season. While Notre Dame was whipping the Canes 33-17, some players were reportedly having snowball fights on the sidelines. Cute.
If that wasn't ugly enough, when the Canes did make it back to a bowl game - the Russell Athletic Bowl last year - few, if any, of us thought it could get uglier. Mirror-breakingly ugly, it got.
Teddy Bridgewater was a great college quarterback, but ripping off 36 straight points after a Canes safety was the thumb in the eye of many fans that pushed defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio to the forefront of replacement discussions.....and began to create serious doubt about whether Al Golden is the right man for this job. A horrible finish to what had been a promising 2013 season that saw the Canes rise to as high as #7 in the AP poll.
Eight years. Eight years has been far more than long enough.
Today is a chance for Hurricane players to show they can battle for pride, and that this coaching staff can get their players motivated and ready to play.
Because if the Canes ever want to raise an ACC Championship trophy, another crystal ball (or whatever the championship trophy is now), they will have to start by raising something else first. Raise whatever oddity is handed out to the winner of the "Duck Commander" Independence Bowl. Raise your fans spirits in the process.
And raze an eight-year dry spell. Start to turn this thing around today.