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Prime Time, but Definitely NOT the First Time

Coach Prime is doing special things in Boulder, but we’ve seen this movie before in Coral Gables.

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NCAA Football: USA TODAY Sports-Archive
Jan 1, 1991; Dallas, TX, USA; FILE PHOTO; Miami Hurricanes receiver Lamar Thomas (36) celebrating on the field with teammates after the victory over the Texas Longhorns 46-3 at the 1991 Cotton Bowl.
RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Movie sequels do not necessarily have the same intended result as the original, that is, to be as good or better than the first. Furthermore, in this day and age where prequels and spin-offs are released now, more than ever, they too can be bunched into the “sequel” category since they are released after the original - but many times those disappoint as well.

On the other side of the coin, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather Part II, and even Terminator 2: Judgement Day, are popular sequels that almost outdo the original.

In sports, fans and media often compare players and/or dynasties from different eras, debating which ranks higher all-time. And at the start of the 2023 college football season, a popular name seems to be conjuring up something special in Boulder, Colorado which has all the makings of a movie college football fans have seen before in Coral Gables, Florida.

When Howard Schnellenberger took over the University of Miami football program, he famously said that he wanted the logo to be more recognizable than IBM, which at the time was a worldwide leader in technology. He was successful in doing so by building a brand off of players who were supremely talented, hungry, hard workers, and wanted to stay home to represent their city and families, as each of them bought into his vision.

University of Miami head coach Howard Schnellenberger, 1984 Orange Bowl
Orange Bowl: Miami head coach Howard Schnellenberger talking to team during halftime vs Nebraska. Miami, FL 1/2/1984
Heinz Kluetmeier (Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Right now, in 2023, “The U” is global, IBM, not so much.

Deion Sanders aka Coach Prime, is in his first season as head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes who are off to a 3-0 start, with a buzz surrounding a team that the nation has not seen since the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators. The Buffs went into Fort Worth, Texas in week one, stunned the defending national runner-up 45-42, and have since been the talk of college football, in more ways than one.

In his introductory speech to his players, Prime claimed “I’m coming...” several times as he sent a message to his team stating change was near. And with only three weeks worth of football into the Coach Prime - CU marriage, there is tons of promise, momentum, expectations, supporters, and naysayers running rampant hoping for a swift downfall of everything CU football-related.

There are several comparisons to how the Buffaloes have risen from unranked to a #19 ranking in both the coaches and AP polls in just 3 weeks, to how Miami was hated in its heyday. But no matter how similar the two may seem, the sequel will never be able to hold a candle to the original.

Swagger, aka “swag” - the term frequently called upon when mentioning Miami teams of the past, is a byproduct of hard work, dedication, blood, sweat, tears, sacrifices, focus, determination, and last but not least, winning at an amazing clip. The “Miami guys” know all about it. There was no dancing after big plays, trash talk before, during, or after games, camouflage-wearing, running into tunnels after touchdowns, intimidation stare-downs at coin flips, or any type of brash attitude without any of the descriptions listed above.

Miami quite literally changed the game of college football while playing in a non social media era, by striking fear into the hearts of opponents in such a manner that made the nation take notice. It’s not the fact that they won, it’s how they won that drew so much negative press, or hate as many refer to it.

This was all done at a time in a time when the city of Miami was in turmoil and Hurricanes football brought the city together. Yes, Prime and the upstart Buffaloes are only three weeks into his tenure, so there is no telling how “big” he can win there. But take a minute to think about how the best teams of this century have dominated, and what type of impact they had on the national landscape.

Reggie Bush and his Trojans, Tebow’s Gators, all of Saban’s ‘Bama teams, or even a more recent example with the Georgia Bulldogs, have not come close to impacting the college football landscape like those Hurricanes teams of the 80s and early 90s.

Not even the 2001 national championship-winning Miami Hurricanes, who just so happen to be the best college football team ever assembled, were able to capture the nation’s attention like the “old Miami”. Why? Because the old Miami made the powers at be rewrite the rules of the game and it was the first time anyone saw a team dominate the way they dominated, embarrassing teams they were not supposed to beat. Therefore, the 2001 team had no choice but to dominate in a different fashion.

The Colorado Buffaloes will never come close to that. But Coach Prime wants it, and he wants it badly because of the simple fact that he wants to prove his doubters wrong. He saw firsthand how those Miami teams he played against were a cultural phenomenon and how the coaches let players be themselves. It can be argued that he fit right in with the style the old Canes played with, that’s not a stretch by any means.

He wants his team to have that same mentality - the “us against the world” mindset that the “old Miami” had. Those teams never cared about anything other than winning football games and defending each other.

Make no mistake, this is Deion Luwynn Sanders, he is unapologetically, himself. As a collegiate, pro football player, and professional baseball player, he talked the talk, walked the walk, and made no excuses about being who HE was while letting the world know. He’s not copying anything or anyone in terms of who he is.

However, there is nothing wrong with saying he has taken the Miami template which was largely effective, and is using it in Boulder with his own twist. Credit to Prime as no other coach has dared to go by that model again because of the stigma that comes with old-time Miami Hurricanes football.

Former Miami head coaches Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson allowed their players to be themselves, so long as they handled business on the field - they were never concerned with any media backlash. College football traditionalists frowned upon everything from the hip-hop scene the Canes were associated with, local celebrities they spent time with off-campus, how coaches attempted to learn dances their players performed while encouraging them to have fun in games, how Johnson and Erickson coached aggressively when Miami was up by large margins, and the bravado the players conducted themselves with, even if it resulted in a bench-clearing brawl, or two.

Sound familiar?

That is not to say coaches promoted violence, but at the same time they were not going to allow their players to not defend themselves or the program.

Current Miami head coach Mario Cristobal, a member of the 1989 and 1991 national champion Miami Hurricanes, said Johnson once told the team “What you see on that football field is one of two things, what I coach you to do or what I allow you to do.” And only a coach who has the respect of his team is capable of pulling that off.

Deion wants this, it is painfully obvious to see. Shedeur Sanders warming up with a gold Rolex, a hat with a “$” symbol on the front, headphones, and a thick gold chain sporting his jersey number on it, then conducting interviews with Blenders sunglasses, reeks of old-school Canes culture.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Colorado
Sep 16, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders (2) walks onto the field prior to the game against the Colorado State Rams at Folsom Field.
Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Can anyone honestly admit to never seeing Miami teams of the past partake in pregame trash talk, scuffles, or even bench-clearing brawls?

Can anyone honestly admit to those same Canes teams, NOT responding to an opposing coach calling out Schnellenberger, Johnson, Erickson, or the football program itself?

If fans of college football do not see it, it is because they choose not to, but the proof is in the pudding. And if Coach Prime seeking the aid of Hurricanes greats like Michael Irvin and Warren Sapp to come and speak to his players, isn’t another sign of Sanders taking from Miami’s past, then nothing will convince them of the obvious.

The confusing part about all of this is that Miami Hurricanes football supporters find the comparisons insulting. The fanbase should be accustomed to seeing other programs try to duplicate what Miami does - the smoke, turnover chain, and even the introduction of an explosive passing attack when the game was largely played on the ground, are all things Miami either started or perfected - but that is another article for another day.

Coach Prime entered his tenure at Colorado University as a marked man, and the fact that he is winning in a manner that upsets many, will make the target on his back larger as the wins continue to mount. But even if this sequel earns rave reviews, “part 2” will never compare to the original. The original was the first, one of its kind, and ahead of its time.

That said, get your popcorn ready!