Not all of the traditions are quite so benign. Take the haircuts. They began under Schnellenberger, who arrived in Miami in 1979. In the fall every freshman was forced into a chair in front of the athletic dorm, where his hair was not simply cut but obliterated by a gang of upperclassmen. Then the perpetrators took snapshots of the poor creatures and sent them home to their families. "They'd cut you bald," says Smith. "Absolutely bald. Or they'd cut some here and leave some there."
But the haircut thing turned nasty two years ago when linebacker Mick Barsala was so outraged by the experience that he protested to the administration and transferred to Cal. Coach Erickson and new athletic director Dave Maggard responded by outlawing the amateur barbering. Not that it did any good. The freshmen themselves decided to continue the tradition by shaving their own heads as a gesture of their commitment. Which should tell you something about Miami.
"Are they tough kids? Yeah," Maggard says. "And when you get them together, they're an even tougher group. That is part of how they get close."
Also drawing the Hurricanes closer is a chip-on-the-shoulder attitude that comes from having a high percentage of players who grew up in disadvantaged inner-city neighborhoods. At the same time, the middle-class kids on the team readily embrace the outlaw image. The Hurricanes perceive the college football establishment as being united against them. Sometimes it is.
"Miami's been trashed a little bit nationally," says Johnson, who replaced Schnellenberger in '84. "When people are taking shots at you, you draw closer. The general feeling when I was there was that no one wanted to see us succeed. A lot of the players came from poor backgrounds, and one thing they could take pride in was that they won a championship at Miami."
Actually the Hurricanes thrive on being insulted, as they were in the preseason last year when many observers were predicting that with the slow, weak-armed Torretta calling signals, they would lose at least three games. They were undefeated.
Sometimes even the school's president, Tad Foote, can seem like an opponent. Although Foote attends all the games and believes there is a relationship between a winning football team and successful fund-raising, he is wary of the prominent role that football plays on his campus and in the public perception of his school. "The football team is not central to the work of this university," he says.
Foote has worked hard to improve Miami's academic image, and at no time has the team made that task more difficult than during the notorious 1986 season. The players faced a litany of charges, including racking up $8,436 in long-distance telephone charges through the illegal use of a credit card, leasing a sports car through an NFL agent, shoplifting and assaulting a police officer. Then, a couple of days before the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, the Hurricanes, led by the late Jerome Brown, stormed out of a barbecue that was also attended by their opponent, Penn State. "Did the Japanese sit down and eat with Pearl Harbor before they bombed them," said Brown. He later claimed that the team's abrupt departure was in response to a racist remark by a Penn State player at the barbecue, but it's hard to believe that the exit had not been planned, considering that the Miami players had come to the dinner with combat fatigues under their civvies.
More recently, in July receiver Williams was arrested for having a stolen handgun in his car, and defensive tackle Mark Caesar was arrested for battery. Charges against Williams were dropped after he agreed to take a firearms safety course and stay out of trouble for a year, and Caesar has yet to enter a plea.
Of far more consequence to the program was the announcement in July by the U.S. attorney in Miami that as many as 65 current and former Miami students—40 of them football players—would be placed in a pretrial diversion program in exchange for their cooperation in a 15-month investigation of fraudulent financial-aid applications. On Aug. 18 Thomas and reserve running back Jason Marucci, who had expected to be among those placed in the program, were instead indicted on federal fraud charges. Lawyers for Thomas and Marucci said that they had simply missed a deadline for agreeing to the arrangement and requested that the charges be dropped and that the two be placed in the program with the other athletes who are cooperating. Thomas and Marucci are due back in court this Thursday, but Maggard has not permitted them to practice with the team since the indictment was announced.