Miami Hurricanes football and the HBO show The Wire. It only makes sense to compare the greatest college football program of all time with the greatest television drama of all time. They both have iconic characters that continue to live on - people that achieved greatness in the pros/on other shows or movies - and the synergy of the five Miami National Championships and the five seasons of The Wire makes them a perfect match. Plus, I have an irrational love for both things. As I’ve said before, I promise I have fulfilling personal and social lives.
Another strong similarity between The U and The Wire is the under appreciation by the folks who give out awards. The Wire was only nominated for two Primetime Emmys during its run: Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series in 2005 (season three) and 2008 (season five). That is criminal. Not one Outstanding Drama Series nomination? Give me a break. Just for fun, I looked up some of the shows that were nominated for Outstanding Drama Series during The Wire’s run and there were some big-time stinkers: Joan of Arcadia, CBS 2004, Boston Legal, ABC 2007, Heroes, NBC 2007, and Damages, FX 2008. Damages? I have legitimately never heard of that show. Similarly, the Canes missed out on some National Championship hardware over the years. Vinny’s stinker in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, Cleveland Gary’s non-fumble at Notre Dame in 1988, the BCS screw job in 2000, and the flag from hell in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl are all heartbreakers for Miami fans. I get fired up just typing these brutal memories.
Delving even further into it, it’s just as unbelievable The Wire didn’t receive one individual actor Emmy nomination. Michael K. Williams couldn’t get one Supporting Actor nomination for a character as unique as Omar Little? Lame. Dominic West couldn’t get a nomination for such an underrated and emotional performance in his role as Detective Jimmy McNulty, especially in season five? Come on. Likewise, as we Miami fans know, Canes players rarely take home individual awards either. No Thorpe Award for either Hall of Famer Ed Reed or the late, great Sean Taylor? Sure. No Butkus Award for Ray Lewis? Fine. No Heisman Trophy for Willis McGahee? That one still irks me.
Okay, enough of the haters. Let’s get to the GOATs.
1983 Miami Hurricanes - Season One The Wire
It makes sense these two originals go together. The 1983 Miami Hurricanes took the college football world by storm, beating the Nebraska Cornhuskers 31-30 for the National Championship in their hometown Orange Bowl. In 2002, The Wire debuted on HBO and changed police dramas forever. It took a deep-dive into both the police and criminal underworld of Baltimore. Instead of solving a case in 43 minutes like Law & Order, it took 13 hours in The Wire, revolving around the same characters throughout the season. The depth was innovative because of its incredible authenticity.
My favorite similarity between ‘83 and season one is a negative: the slow start. Miami lost the first game of the season to their in-state rivals Florida Gators, 28-3 in Gainesville. The Canes then famously went on to win their next 11 games. They are the last team to lose their first game of the season, and then go on to win the National Championship. Pretty cool story for a first title. Similarly, the first two episodes of The Wire are among the weakest in the series. Now, I’d rather watch those episodes than 99% of everything else on television, and I understand the need for introductions and setup. That said, the show really takes off in episode three with the small riot officer Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski caused at The Towers by being a moron. If you don’t know the character names, I’m sorry, but I’m not going into detail for each one. RIP Wallace. Also, this comparison is working out better than I thought so far!
1983 Miami season highlight: The 17-16 win vs FSU on a last-second 19-yard field goal by Jeff Davis. This was the beginning of a successful ten-year stretch with the Canes going 8-2 against their north Florida rival from 1983-1992, winning four National Championships to FSU’s zero, and even winning one in a season where they lost to the Seminoles. Muahahaha. Coach Cristobal better get us back on top in this rivalry. Very much looking forward to that game this year.
The Wire season one highlight: The F**k (curse word) scene with McNulty and fellow detective Bunk Moreland. Those who know it, love it. Those who don’t, look it up on YouTube. The Bunk, as he affectionately referred to himself, was beautifully played by Wendell Pierce. McNulty and Bunk had the best chemistry on the show in my opinion. I loved the scenes of them drinking at a bar together, busting chops. It provided some much-needed levity to an otherwise serious and dramatic show.
I’m just going to put my Omar paragraph here. He’s one of the coolest television characters ever. He’s one of the most quoted television characters ever. He’s one of the most terrifying television characters ever. He’s one of the most loved television characters ever. Seeing a gay stick-up artist who only targeted drug dealers was incredibly unique. A phenomenon like Omar cannot and will not be seen again. The world lost a good man when Michael K. Williams died on September 6th last year. Was Omar the best? Oh indeed.
1987 Miami Hurricanes - Season Two The Wire
One of the most overused phrases today is under-appreciated. I am going to be part of the problem by using it to describe both the undefeated 1987 Miami Hurricanes and the most viewed season of The Wire. The Canes lost a lot of talent to the 1987 NFL Draft: Heisman Trophy winning QB Vinny Testaverde, stud RB Alonzo Highsmith, the late-great DT Jerome Brown, among other significant contributors. Meanwhile, the second season of The Wire took a sharp turn. It introduced an entirely new batch of characters and story with the dock union workers. While many of the mainstays from season one came back, it was different, and in my opinion, more complex than the first season.
The ‘87 Canes quickly made a name for themselves by beating three ranked teams in a row to start the season: a 31-4 beatdown vs #20 UF, a 51-7 demolition at #10 Arkansas, and a come-from-behind 26-25 win at #4 FSU. The offense was running smoothly and efficiently under sophomore QB Steve Walsh. He had playmakers all over the field, including three future top-60 draft picks in WRs Michael Irvin, Brett Perriman, and Brian Blades. The defense was even better, as Miami finished the season ranked second in the country in opponents points per game at 10.4. Added bonus: the young guys on this team got some meaningful experience on what it takes to win a National Championship. Future stars QB Craig Erickson, RB Leonard Conley, CB Robert Bailey, and DTs Cortez Kennedy and Russell Maryland were all freshmen or sophomores in 1987. Gotta love that Jimmy Johnson recruiting.
Meanwhile, up in Baltimore, The Wire introduced one of the most interesting one-season trios we’ve seen: the Sobokta boys. Frank Sobotka, portrayed brilliantly by Chris Bauer, is one of my favorite television characters ever. Bauer is so convincing as a desperate, loyal union leader. While Frank is corrupt, he is doing it to save his friends’ livelihoods. It’s hard not to root for Frank Sobotka, despite him helping smuggle many illegal things into the US. What a character. Frank’s son, Ziggy (real name Chester) was played by James Ransone. James was a Baltimore native so the accent was true. Ziggy was a tragic figure who was easy to root against at times. Amazingly, he was based on a real person! Loosely based, but whatever. The Wire creator David Simon said the Ziggy character came from a real stevedore named Pinkie Bannion. Pinkie’s antics became local legends around the docks, including bringing his pet duck into his local bar, an act reenacted in the show by Ziggy. Finally, there’s Ziggy’s cousin, Nick Sobotka, played by the now action movie star Pablo Schreiber. Nick, unable to work full-time at the docks, resorts to selling heroin to provide for his girlfriend and young daughter. Nick was much more level-headed than Ziggy, yet that didn’t matter in the end.
After winning six games in a row against unranked opponents by an average score of 40-10, The Canes finished the season just like they began it, facing three ranked teams. Miami dominated #10 Notre Dame 24-0 in the OB, then survived a scare at home by a streaking #8 South Carolina team, 20-16. Miami stayed home to beat #1 Oklahoma in the 1988 Orange Bowl, 20-14, handing Oklahoma their third loss in three seasons. All three losses came at the hands of the Miami Hurricanes! Ah, the good ole days.
Season two of The Wire ended strong as well. It was tragic one for the Sobotka boys: Frank gets killed by the Greeks, Ziggy goes to jail for murder, and Nick goes into witness protection to avoid prosecution for selling heroin. Rough week for the Sobotkas. The investigative detail just misses out on capturing The Greek and his associate Spiros. Stringer Bell, played by Idris Elba, betrays Brother Mouzone by manipulating Omar, creating another enemy and enraging an existing one. Unwise move by Stringer. Overall, season two is extremely re-watchable and is my personal favorite.
1989 Miami Hurricanes - Season Five The Wire
Can I use underrated as a theme right after using under-appreciated? I can? Sweet! That is how I would describe both the 1990 Sugar Bowl Champion Miami Hurricanes and season five of The Wire.
The 1989 season started great for first-year Head Coach Dennis Erickson, winning his first four games by an average of 36-8. Craig Erickson then fractured a knuckle on his throwing hand in the second quarter of that fourth game at Michigan State. Freshman QB Gino Torretta came in and helped hold off the Spartans, 26-20. After shutting out Cincinnati 56-0 in his first career start the following week, Torretta threw for a then school record 468 yards in a 48-16 victory vs San Jose State. Canes fans were feeling good heading into rivalry week with #9 Florida State. Torretta couldn’t handle FSU’s defensive pressure and Miami lost 24-10 in Tallahassee. However, with games coming at #14 Pitt and home vs #1 Notre Dame, the season was far from lost.
Season five of The Wire brought viewers into the world of the media, specifically the newspaper industry. (For the younger readers out there, a newspaper was physical papers folded together, divided into sections, and delivered to your doorstep early in the morning, every single day.) Season five also brought us another fantastic one-season character in Augustus (Gus) Haynes, an editor at the Baltimore Sun. Gus was played by Clark Johnson, with whom David Simon worked on NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street. Fun fact: Johnson directed the series finale of The Wire. Being that Simon used to write for the Baltimore Sun, the authenticity of the newsroom was astounding. Over at BPD, McNulty returns to his drinking and cheating ways after being sent back to the homicide unit due to being unable to bring any charges against drug kingpin Marlo Stanfield. Alcoholic McNulty was always my favorite McNulty. This Jameson-induced mania mixed with his bitterness of police department cutbacks is what led him to fake a murder and create a serial killer out of thin air. What a legend. He eventually gets uncoordinated help from a lying, scumbag Sun reporter trying to make a name for himself called Scott Templeton. Templeton was played by Tom McCarthy, who went on to direct the 2016 Academy Award Best Picture winner, Spotlight.
Down in Coral Gables, Craig Erickson returned for the Pitt game and led the Canes to a 24-3 road win. After a 42-6 home blowout against San Diego State, #1 Notre Dame came to town for the season finale. The most memorable play from the convincing win was the 3rd and 43 play. Watching it never gets old. Miami put on a show, winning 27-10 and earning a Sugar Bowl matchup with #7 Alabama. The Crimson Tide had a top-flight defense in 1987 and played the Canes tough, being down only three at halftime. It wasn’t enough however, as Miami pulled ahead 33-17 in the fourth quarter before running out the clock for a 33-25 victory, resulting in a third National Championship in seven years. For all the whiny Notre Dame fans out there complaining about also having one loss, your loss was with a complete team against Miami, while the Canes lost without their Sugar Bowl MVP QB Craig Erickson at FSU. Those are quite different. And for the whiny FSU fans, you lost the first two games of the year to Southern Miss and Clemson. Quiet down. While researching this, I found a quote by QB Craig Erickson given to ABC writer Alex Laracy after the Sugar Bowl victory. “We had a lot of respect for Alabama. In fact, we saw them after the game at a few bars, and even celebrated with them a little bit.” Alabama players yucking it up with Miami players after a Hurricanes National Championship game victory over them is music to my ears. One of the best quotes I’ve read in a long time.
Back to Baltimore. Eventually, detective Kima Greggs confesses the serial killer lie to Daniels, as she was alerted by McNulty to prevent her from doing pointless work. Daniels tells Mayor Tommy Carcetti, and both McNulty and fellow detective Lester Freamon are forced into retirement. The farce did nab them Marlo, however he walked because it was clear Freamon lied about how he found the re-up location. So much happens in the last three episodes, it is hard to summarize. Righteousness was not rewarded: Templeton wins a Pulitzer while Gus is demoted, and series-favorite Omar is murdered by a child in a convenience store. Tough. The final episode is a restrained 90 minutes that perfectly ties up the character arcs, and therefore is regarded as one of the best series finales ever produced. There are too many themes and moments to list. If you want a thorough breakdown, I highly recommend Alan Sepinwall’s blog post. Link below.
1991 Miami Hurricanes - Season Four The Wire
This one is a bit of a reach. 1991 was as disappointing of a season as a college football team can have going undefeated. That’s because, despite shutting out #11 Nebraska in the 1992 Orange Bowl, 22-0, Miami was jumped in the Coaches Poll by the Washington Huskies, who beat #4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl, 34-14, resulting in an undefeated season. This forced a split National Championship and a ton of annoying comments by fans of other big time college football programs. Looking back now, I think the AP Poll title means considerably more than the Coaches Poll.
Today, season four of The Wire is considered the peak of the series and is continually lauded by critics across the globe. It’s central focus is the school system and the struggles of both the administration and students. The story is told through a group of four black middle schoolers: Michael Lee, the quiet leader of the group, Duquan “Dukie” Weems, the outcast with poor parents who don’t care about him, Randy Wagstaff, a schemer with a bright mind, and Namond Brice, the most outspoken and Wee-Bay’s son. Wee-Bay. What a name. While the season is incredible, it is dark and depressing. Again, authenticity. It speaks to David Simon’s ability to create something so real, that it can impact viewers at home.
Wide Right I is the obvious highlight for Miami’s ‘91 season. I am going with something else though: the 40-10 annihilation vs #10 Houston. Watching the Canes’ defense stifle QB David Klinger and the formerly innovative run-and-shoot offense was freaking awesome. This was one of those Miami blowouts where the game was over by halftime. The score was 30-3, with Houston amassing 76 total yards on seven first-half possessions. You could see the realization by the Houston players that they had no chance. It’s a great rewatch for a Miami fan. Now, I’ve rewatched more old Canes games than I care to admit. That said, besides the Houston and FSU games, I don’t have much interest in rewatching other Miami games from the ‘91 season. The split National Championship kind of ruins it for me.
Season four of The Wire is filled with defeat and heartbreaks, something a Miami Hurricanes football fan knows plenty about. Even more, the closest thing to the show’s comic relief, Detective McNulty, is sidelined for most of the season as a street cop in the Western District. This was at the behest of actor Dominic West, who was quoted as saying he thought his character arc reached its end point at the conclusion of season three and wanted to spend more time with his daughter in England. Marlo continues to grow his drug empire with efficiency and viscousness, ordering the murders of anyone who gets in his way. As far as most tragic moment of the season, take your pick between Bubbles trying to kill himself due to the accidental overdose of his protege Jarrod, Randy being forced into a group home after his foster mom was severely burned due to him being considered a snitch by his classmates, or fan-favorite Bodie being shot dead on the corner he worked since the Towers were demolished. RIP Bodie. What a redemption. Bodie’s character arc is The Wire’s version of Stranger Things’ Steve Harrington from season one, if he sold heroin, carried a gun, and cursed all the time. Phew, I need a pick-me-up.
2001 Miami Hurricanes - Season Three The Wire
And we’re back! I was a freshman in college for the 2001 college football season. Good Lord, I’m old. Anyway, I attended the beatdown of FSU in Tallahassee, 49-27. Man I loved watching Miami play against Chris “Pix” Rix. He is still the only college quarterback to lose to one school five times. Feel free to use that for some friendly college football trivia. Moving on. The speed of the ‘01 Canes defense and dominance of the offensive line were the things that stuck out the most when watching them live. I am lucky to have been able to see in person the greatest college football team ever. I still remember where I was for the Ed Reed pick-six to seal the win at Boston College later that season. I remember watching the back-to-back home games against #15 Syracuse and #11 Washington where the Canes outscored them 124-7. 124-7?! That’s crazy. The 2001 Miami Hurricanes are just as re-watchable as they are great.
Speaking of something with no weaknesses, that happens to also be the way I feel about The Wire season three. The third season delves into the politics of both city hall and the police department. Howard “Bunny” Colvin is a major in Baltimore’s Western District who is trying to make a real difference before retirement. Colvin succeeds in cleaning up his streets in the most unorthodox of ways: Hamsterdam. It’s a junkie’s paradise where cops look the other way at drug dealing, amongst other things. The three Hamsterdam locations ended up having their own economy of toiletries, stolen goods, and prostitution. It was a disturbing sight. Another fun fact: the idea of decriminalizing drugs was a real one thought of by former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke. Even better, Schmoke made a cameo in the penultimate episode of season three, Middle Ground, playing the city’s Health Commissioner. He is part of the group advising mayor Clarence Royce on considering allowing Hamsterdam to continue on.
I could write a long essay on the whooping Miami put on Nebraska in the 2002 Rose Bowl. The game was over by halftime, Miami looked like they were moving in fast-forward, and Jonathan Vilma nearly decapitated two Cornhuskers in the fourth quarter. I want to shift the focus to sports analysts being prisoners of the moment when it comes to declaring all-time great college football teams. The 2019 LSU Tigers were absolutely incredible. Joe Burrow was on another level and their offense may have been the best ever. Against ‘01 Miami, I have doubts. The Canes’ pass defense was its strength, and Ed Reed is going to make an important play at some point. Then there’s the other side of the ball. LSU’s defense was opportunistic, but far from a top unit. Ken Dorsey and Miami’s running backs would’ve gone off against them; I can picture Clinton Portis running wild. Next up is the 2020 Alabama squad. They ran through their schedule, and combined with their six first-round draft picks, (tying Miami’s record from 2004, ugh) had some analysts saying they should be considered one of, if not the best team ever. Quick aside: The Las Vegas Raiders released offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, ONE YEAR after former coach Jon Gruden selected him in the first round. Come on! He was not a first-round pick! Miami should still have the record. Okay, rant over. Again, ‘Bama didn’t face a team with anything close to a defense like Miami’s in ‘01. Also, they gave up 46 points to the Gators in the SEC Championship Game. That’s a lot for a Nick Saban coached defense. Moving on to offense, Alabama averaged 48 points per game in 2020, same for LSU in 2019. Miami averaged 42 points per game in 2001, back in a day when a good college defense beat a good offense. Give me my ‘01 Canes against any other team ever. The GOAT of GOATs.
There are so many great scenes and moments throughout season three of The Wire. I want to concentrate on the relationship between Avon Barksdale, played by Wood Harris, and Elba’s Stringer Bell. It was fascinating to watch their alliance deteriorate over the first three seasons. The cracks start to show in season two, when Stringer is running things after Avon goes to prison. Stringer, while ruthless in his own right as he ordered the killing of Avon’s nephew, D’Angelo Barksdale, is not nearly as street tough as Avon. Marlo never could have gained the territory he did if Avon wasn’t locked up. That said, when all your top enforcers are dead or in prison thanks to Omar and the police, it’s hard to keep a firm hand on the streets. Watching Avon and Stringer wrestle, then stare each other down to end episode eight was intense and still somewhat unexpected, despite the obvious tension. Watching The Wire for the first time, I thought the pair would get through their differences as they had been through so much together. The show had other ideas. Brother Mouzone approaches Avon and tells him how Stringer convinced Omar to put a hit on him. Avon knows the decision he has to make and you can see the pain all over his face. Brother Mouzone, having been alerted of Stringer’s location by Avon, traps Stringer inside one of his real estate developments alongside Omar. Stringer’s death scene was dramatic, but still realistic. His last words were “Well, get on with it motherf-”. What a way to go out. Stringer still had a move to make in death, as he sold out Avon’s safehouse filled with guns, ammo, grenades. You know, the things you need for a turf war in West Baltimore. Avon gets busted and goes back to prison for an extended period of time. The ending montage of season three is arguably just as powerful as the one in season five that ends the series. The overall greatness of The Wire season three, plus its re-watchability is the reason it gets paired with the greatest Miami Hurricanes football team ever.
So there you have it, an extremely lengthly, completely and utterly unnecessary comparison between two of my most beloved things in life. What is your favorite season of The Wire? Let us know and vote below!
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