Posted: Tuesday November 28, 2006 2:57PM; Updated: Tuesday November 28, 2006 2:57PM
Nobody wanted to play against Miami. The players ran onto the field enveloped by smoke (which came from decidedly non-confrontational fire extinguishers, but still). They wore black visors in their facemasks. They showed up for bowl games wearing camouflage and sucking on cigars. This is the team that has won more national titles than any other school over the last 25 years. This is where The Rock wasn't tough enough to be a breakout football player, where Kellen Winslow delivered his infamous "soldier" rant, where Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew once allegedly served as an intermediary between the players and the coaching staff. (Because if Uncle Luke can't get through to the kids, who can?) They even had Rusty Medearis, who seemed to play for about 40 seasons.
These days, The U is no longer The U. Now it's just the University of Miami, where most recently they've seemed to mistake swagger and confidence for just being violent. There's still talent coming through the school -- this is a school that, according to Wikipedia, has given us 35 current NFL players -- but it's not a cohesive talent, meaning much like the University of Georgia, the players aren't able to win the big title together, but many of them have gone on to have productive and even dominant pro careers.
This is why Coker will have plenty of time to drink Cuban coffees down on Calle Ocho. Because whether or not President Shalala realizes it, Miami needs to get its swagger back. And more importantly, college football needs Miami to return to being the evil empire it once was.
These days, the most consistently infuriating thing about college football isn't a team or a player, it's a computer formula. This is simply unacceptable. As badly as college football needs a playoff system or a true championship game, it needs a villain even worse. Like James Bond or Hulk Hogan, our heroes must have foils for us to completely appreciate their greatness. We can't root for anyone until we have someone to root against.
This is the purpose The U once served so nobly. They were nearly cartoonish in their mischief, so over the top that it was hard to take them seriously. Plus, they lost just enough and in such embarrassing ways -- remember this? -- that it was hard to take their antics too seriously. Seriously, was anyone ever really scared of Gino Torretta? Did the image of Vinny Testaverde in camouflage have anyone up late at night?
But they were always there, giving all of our teams a reason to exist, to be the goodness to their darkness. We didn't like them, but we liked not liking them. Without them, we root against a ranking system and maybe Notre Dame, although it's tough to find anger against a school full of nice kids. The U was mean, The U was dirty. I hated The U, and now I miss it.
For this reason, I pray President Shalala takes her promise seriously. Miami is still a quality college football program, but they definitely need to get their swagger back.
For all of us.
Lang Whitaker is the online editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com.