A small hill of tape, sticky and spent, grew at the big men's feet. Slowly, Miami center K.C. Jones and left guard Alan Symonette ripped and dropped the strips of adhesive, leaving a sorry game on the floor. "I'm embarrassed," Jones said softly, eye black dripping over his cheekbones. Showers rained in the background and teammates clambered about the tiny dressing room in the southwest corner of the Rose Bowl, where last Saturday UCLA had not just beaten the Hurricanes but bullied them 31-8. "Embarrassed," Jones said. "Real bad."
This was to be a new beginning: a new coach, a new image, a new Miami. These Hurricanes would beat your brains in and then help you to your feet. No more arrogance, just gentlemanly success. There were now new rules laid down by the NCAA that prohibited excessive celebrations, and by rookie coach Butch Davis, who is entrusted with cleansing the notorious program. "If there's a gray area, on the field or off the field, you probably shouldn't be in it," Davis told his players. He used Jerry Rice as an example of a player who does things the right way. Miami would win with class.
And so the Hurricanes lost to UCLA and walked quietly away, emasculated. The Bruins manhandled Miami in almost every facet of the game, from running the ball (256 yards) to special teams play (a Hurricane fumble on a punt return was turned into a UCLA touchdown). In the locker room afterward, Symonette laid his forearms across his thighs and shook his head. "Five years I've been around here, and I've never felt anything like this," he said. "It's like we were afraid of that damn celebration rule, so we didn't get excited or emotional. You can't play this game without emotion."
Instead of being the start of something good for Miami, Saturday's game may well have been the beginning of the end: The Hurricanes' dynasty of the late 1980s and early '90s is seemingly gone now, beaten weary by the image police, and Miami appears doomed to a long recovery by the likelihood of NCAA sanctions this fall for indiscretions ranging from a financial aid scandal to alleged incidents of play-for-pay to a flawed drug testing policy. In the week before the game against UCLA, the 43-year-old Davis sat in his office and cautiously talked about the future. "It takes time to effectively change everything," he said. "We're starting over here." He talked in terms of years, not weeks.
Some programs can survive probation, witness the recent successes of Auburn, Texas A&M and Washington while on the NCAA's hit list. And watch Alabama as it plays through its probation over the next three years. But Miami is among the nouveaux riches of college football, fighting to put fans in the Orange Bowl, beating back the challenges of Florida and Florida State in the recruiting ground of south Florida. The Hurricanes will not easily endure sanctions with their perennial Top 10 position intact.
And lest we forget, on the field against UCLA, Miami was much the lesser team. Hurricane linebacker Ray Lewis said afterward, "We just didn't do the things we were supposed to do," but the Bruin victory left the impression that it didn't matter what Miami did. UCLA was vastly superior inside, as tailback Karim Abdul-Jabbar rushed for 180 yards, and dominant enough on defense that Miami didn't score until barely eight minutes remained in the game.
In the end, Hurricane players sat stoically on their benches as hostile singsongs from the stands washed over them, full of references to Liberty Bowls, 6-5 records and being overrated. "We've got 10 games left," said Miami quarterback Ryan Collins. "This isn't the whole season. We will be back." But the climb seems more daunting now, the era of supremacy appears to be history. It will take much longer than 10 games to restore excellence.
But they were well-behaved, weren't they?