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A Helping Of Family Values
Sally Jenkins
August 31, 1992
Miami's dynasty is sustained by former stars and their legacy of excellence—and arrogance
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August 31, 1992

A Helping Of Family Values

Miami's dynasty is sustained by former stars and their legacy of excellence—and arrogance

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Irvin, an excitable sort who was the first player at Miami to perform demonstrative and arrogant end zone dances, has seen to it that the tradition of the end zone two-step lives on among the Hurricanes. In 1988 Irvin helped to recruit receiver Lamar Thomas. As a high school senior in Gainesville, Fla., home of the Florida Gators, Thomas wasn't sure he even wanted to visit Miami. Then he got a call from Irvin. "You're going to be the next Michael Irvin," Irvin said. When Thomas expressed some doubt, Irvin replied, "Let me tell you something. I'm on NBC, CBS, ESPN and PBS. You come here, you're going to be on them, too."

Over the past three seasons, with Irvin egging him on, Thomas became a virtual parody of the hip-waggling Hurricane. Last season Irvin left this message on Thomas's answering machine: "I'm watching you. Do something."

Irvin was nonplussed when Erickson, who replaced Johnson after the 1988 season, declared a moratorium on choreographed end zone displays. When the Hurricanes were upset by Brigham Young in the first game of the 1990 season, Irvin felt that part of the problem was that the Miami players were not dancing enough. So he called Thomas to complain. "What's going on down there?" Irvin said. "Somebody makes a big play, and you don't do anything?"

Irvin suggested to Thomas that the Hurricane offense was stalling because the players were keeping a lid on their arrogance. The next week, in a 52-24 rout of Cal in Berkeley that was nationally televised, the Hurricanes reverted to their high-stepping, hip-shaking ways after each of their touchdowns. A lot of season-ticket holders phoned the football offices to complain, and Erickson declared that, in the future, offenders would sit out the remainder of a game if "they celebrate in an embarrassing way."

For the remainder of the season the Hurricanes were model citizens—that is, until their 46-3 romp over Texas in the Cotton Bowl. In that game the Hurricanes were penalized 16 times for 202 yards. Nine of the penalties were for unsportsmanlike conduct or personal fouls. As it happened, Irvin had visited several of Miami's Cotton Bowl practices and had urged the Hurricane players not to abandon their raucous tradition. During the off-season the NCAA sent a videotape to member schools defining unacceptable conduct on the field. Of the 37 examples cited in the tape, the first dozen featured Miami players.

For all of that, some quite practical advice comes out of the relationships between players past and present. "Sometimes [former Miamians] know little techniques," says Barrow, who picked up a few pointers on using his hands from former linebacker Robert Bailey. On his most recent visit to campus, Wes Carroll, a wide receiver in 1989 and '90 who is now with the New Orleans Saints, taught current wideouts Kevin Williams and Horace Copeland how to break the jams of defensive backs.

Last season's starting quarterback, Gino Torretta, who is now a senior and whom many critics once compared unfavorably with his illustrious predecessors, was given a simple tip by one of them, Steve Walsh of the Saints. "Don't be greedy," Walsh told Torretta, who had been disparaged for having a weak arm.

There is, of course, no more enduring legacy at Miami than that of excellence at the quarterback position. Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde built reputations of mythical proportions. For a Miami quarterback, anything less than 10 victories and a bowl game is viewed as abject failure, a perception that has made the pressure of the position at times intolerable. Torretta can attest to that.

For some time he was haunted by a 1989 loss to Florida State during which he threw four interceptions while filling in for the injured Craig Erickson. Then he had to duel Brian Fortay for the starting job in preseason practice the next summer. (Having lost the battle to Torretta, Fortay transferred to Rutgers.) "There's always another person to compare you to," Torretta says. "Every year there will be another guy, and if he's not a superman, he's going to get criticized. There were times I just felt like saying, 'I don't want this. I don't need to play college football.' But you have to stop worrying about it. What good would it do me to think about how I was playing compared to Bernie?"

To Frank Costa, the sophomore who is regarded as the next star Miami quarterback, Torretta says, "Just believe in yourself and know you can do the job. You better have confidence in yourself, or you're not going to get it done."

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