Billy Corben's "The U" was a provocative look into the birth of a football powerhouse that transcended the sport to such a level that it not only became a part of a subculture but transformed a city and gave it a new identity. It also woke up the echoes -eat your heart out, Notre Dame- of the last stand of the Miami Empire, when a young Freddy Coupon enjoyed watching star-studded Hurricane squads romp over the competition, taking no prisoners or **** from anybody until that fateful evening in Tempe -where's the Buster Olney book about the end of that dynasty?
But let's go back to the beginning. To Lou Saban building a foundation in the late 70s before an ugly campus incident forced him to flee and put the program on the brink of oblivion -Division IAA. Enter Howard Schnellenberger and his aggressive recruiting campaign that turned South Florida to the "State of Miami." The cathartic 1984 Orange Bowl victory over Nebraska that ended decades of frustration and gave the citizenry of Miami a team to rally around -and become the team of Miami, even to this day. Then during the afterglow of the national title, the emotional departure of Schnellenberger and the introduction of Jimmy Johnson, the perfect coach -after getting bullied around by Texas and Oklahoma at OK State, Jimmy took names down and boasted a massive chip on his shoulder to match his perfectly maintained helmet- for the job. For Jimmy, as long as you hit hard, you could play hard. That's when the documentary really gained steam. My observations:
-I guess that's as sober a Bernie the producers were gonna get.
-Where was his successor? Was Vinny too busy working out, hoping for one last ride on the Jets' saddle?
-How familiar were those picks Vinny zipped to Penn State in that Fiesta -ugh- Bowl? Was having traumatic green and white flashbacks.
-Schnellenberger went on to have a great coaching career after the debacle with the USFL, but talk about one of the worst hindsight decisions ever.
-I guess it's kinda poetic the 58-7 rout Jimmy Johnson led over Notre Dame in Gerry Faust's last game that riled up Irish legend and CBS broadcaster Ara Parseghian would follow Jimmy all the way to the end of his -and Dan Marino's- career, a 62-7 humiliation to the Jacksonville Jaguars -revenge from Catholic Tom Coughlin? Or interstate message?- in the playoffs.
-When did Dan LeBatard -teehee- become a pirate? When he was asked to provide input, did he deem the goatee appropriate?
-Is Dennis Erickson for real? Could anyone be that naive? It's no shock you could see signs of the program spiraling out of control, because he's at a level beyond 'player's coach.' But he did win two titles.
-Mike Francesa -major props for digging up classic CBS footage- did not harbor much respect for the U, especially during that infamous Cotton Bowl Classic.
-But Francesa's argument about the hegemony of college athletics going out of their way to put down upstarts -Calipari's UMass and Memphis teams, Tarkanian's UNLV squad in hoops- resonated in the documentary. The oligarchs of college football certainly didn't appreciate some podunk school dominating recruiting and football games, and probably fed the national media's scorn for the program.
-I kinda miss Michael Irvin on ESPN.
-I would've rather seen Chris Rock play Luther Campbell.
-The end is a little too heavy-handed, and taken from Casino. Instead of the Tangiers and other classic casinos going down, we have the Orange Bowl. Would've liked a little more post-mortem, as the documentary ends with a Butch Davis press conference on the heels of NCAA sanctions and doesn't touch on the last fling of the Empire.
And that's where I take over. Well, Larry Coker did, and thanks to his great rapport with Butch's extremely talented recruits -Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, Willis McGahee -who should be given a lifetime achievement award for playing football after having his knee go the wrong way, Clinton Portis, Ed Reed, Antrel Rolle, Jeremy Shockey, Sean Taylor, Jonthan Vilma and Kellen Winslow Jr.- breezed to a title over Eric Crouch and the overmatched Cornhuskers. Then the nightmare against the Luckeyes -make no mistake, based on Jim Tressel's career arc, it's looking more and more like that. That's when the swagger took a hit, and kept getting chipped away. The team sort of rebounded the following season, but couldn't win the big games to get them a shot at the title. A case could be made for 2003 to be the beginning of the end for the dynasty as we knew it. That's the season K2 went on his infamous tirade, and let's put it this way: when you're destroying opponents on a regular basis, you can use all the cliches -however inappropriate- you want. When you're losing games, no one wants to hear it.
The next crack in the swagger's wall? The move to the ACC in 2004: as opportunistic as it seemed, relocation been a disaster. Instead of being the big fish in the Big East pond, the U hasn't even appeared in an ACC title game yet. Wake freakin' Forest has. Georgia Tech twice. Boston College, the throw-in team, twice. The butt-whooping LSU handed the U in the 2005 Peach Bowl cranked the countdown clock on Larry Coker's tenure, as his already loose grip on the team was out of control. The 2006 FIU brawl -I love the symmetry here: FIU came in as an upstart Miami program with an attitude and wanted to push Goliath. The U pushed back with a vengeance, and Coker, God bless his honesty, hammered the nails in his coffin with this gem:
"I think you've got a lot of players from their team frustrated because they're not here, and maybe were not recruited."
If Coker was going to go down, he was going to go down in style. Gotta love the arrogance in the face of controversy.
When former player Randy Shannon was hired, I was excited. Here's a member of the glory days -and very active one, according to the documentary- that could use his experience in big games to put the U back on top. Instead, he got his brains beat in his first two seasons and when he finally got a nice recruiting cycle going -led by Jacory Harris- this year, blinked when given a chance to face glory. Losing to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg is nothing to be ashamed of -hey, they own the ACC- but to Dabo 'rahrah' Swinney and Clemson at 'home' -this could be a separate tirade- and to Butch 'Don't get Frowner started' Davis at UNC? Embarrassing. As a Met fan, I am well-versed in recognizing the 'Willie' face: the anguished expression of impending doom in the dugout after a pitcher serves up a gopher ball or an infielder botches a ball. Well, it sure looks like Shannon breaks it out on the sideline during the announcement of penalties or a change of possession after a turnover. And it's far removed from the smug, poop-eating, try-to-stop-us grins the Canes wore during the 80s and that little window early this decade.
But I will always have Reed. and Vilma. and Shockey. Heck, even Dorsey.