Growing up in the 80’s, the Canes were about as fascinating as anything the sports world had seen in a long, long time. Never had a program risen up from relatively nowhere and taken over a collegiate sport with the swagger, physicality, and overall dominance like the Canes had done.
That all being said, my mom was a Gator and my dad an LSU Tiger, so most of my focus in grade school was on the SEC. Going to see LSU and Florida play with my parents. (Hey, c’mon, I didn’t know any better. I was 11-12 years old. Back off.)
But when Miami took on Florida State, those were can’t miss games – maybe some of the greatest games in college football history – and I couldn’t help but root for the team with the U on the sides of their helmets to prevail in that matchup. And to knock that Leprechaun on his ass in front of a national audience with the national championship on the line. Most of the time they did, which is a huge reason Miami claimed 4 national titles in 8 years.
But, living in Tennessee, Miami was a universe away. And, being 18 and ready to get out from under my parents’ thumbs, I followed my friends down I-40 to the University of Tennessee in 1997. And I saw some incredible football. Peyton Manning’s last season. The 1998 national championship.
But I also kept an eye on the Canes. I saw the resurgence in the program after years of futility. When I was in Athens for Tennessee-Georgia, I made everyone stay in the room until the Miami-FSU game ended. And, to this day, it remains one of my favorite moments in college football history. With only 1:37 left, it seemed Chris Weinke and Atrews Bell had just snatched elation from the Orange Bowl faithful and replaced it with heartache, taking a 24-20 lead. But Ken Dorsey would write his own name into Miami lore, reclaiming elation for Miami fans after completing 6 of 7 passes in driving the Canes to the winning touchdown. And, given the celebration going on at that moment, who knew so many Georgia and Tennessee fans hated Florida State???
The time came in my life to pick a law school and, possibly, a new home. I had admission offers from Tennessee, the University of Florida, and Baylor .
Oh, and the University of Miami. I visited Coral Gables, and was quickly sold. I accepted their offer of admission, graduated from Tennessee, and headed south to Coral Gables.
When I got there, I realized immediately the uniqueness of both the South Florida region and the UM football gameday experience. Walking into the Orange Bowl for the first time on September 8, 2001, I was in awe. I finally was there as a student, in the stadium where so many legendary games had been played.
It was as different as I could have ever imagined. Instead of southern-fraternity-guy-flopped-over hair, camo hats, sundresses, and an air of bourbon, ala Knoxville, there was me…….holding a beer that I’d bought inside the stadium……and standing on a rickety bleacher among my group of new friends from the west coast, midwest, and northeast. It was otherworldly….yet it was unique and damned fun (who doesn’t like buying/pounding beers inside a game in a tropical landscape?).
Miami crushed Rutgers 61-0 on that day, and it was just the beginning of what would be the most dominating and memorable season in the history of the University of Miami, as well as college football. No longer were the Canes that intriguing team from afar that I kept the occasional eye on. They were MY team, and that team turned out to be one of the greatest teams in college football history.
I attended all but one home game for three years and made the roadie to Gainesville in 2002. It was a great time to be in school and I loved the games, but that passion for UM has even spiked since then. When I lived in Florida after graduating, I made sure to catch the summer caravan of coaches passing through the state. Saturday gamedays at the house are inviolate. If the Canes are playing within 5 hours of me, I’ll make the trip to see them play (anyone going to be in Boone for the game? I’m sure we’ll have a tailgate going.) While I graduated from Tennessee – as did my wife – and we support UT, I’m at least as much a proud graduate of the University of Miami School of Law and a lifetime UM fan.
Football season is around the corner, and hopefully a tremendous new era is about to kick off. Go Canes.