In this sequel to A Clockwork Orange the villains actually wear orange. They're nabbed by the authorities, punished severely, rehabilitated and set loose once more upon the land, where—in a feel-good twist on the Stanley Kubrick original—they wreak merciless havoc on their victims, only this time with proper manners.
To their leader, Butch Davis, the Miami football coach, good manners are everything. "Butch wanted to change the public perception of our team," Art Kehoe, the Hurricanes' offensive line coach, said in the locker room on Sunday following No. 12 Miami's 23-12 defeat of No. 9 Ohio State in the Kickoff Classic. "He talked about it all the time. We wanted smart, tough, good characters. We didn't want to bring in any guys who had drug problems. We have a classier program now."
Over a dozen often dirty years through 1994, a period in which Miami played for the national championship eight times and won four of those titles, the Hurricanes earned a reputation for arrogance and unruliness and were, on occasion, flat-out unlawful. At last, in 1995, changes were forced on Miami: For a raft of illegal benefits violations committed under Davis's immediate predecessor, Dennis Erickson, who coached the Hurricanes from '89 to '94, the NCAA took away 24 scholarships over the next two years. As a result Miami buckled from a 9-3 mark in '96 to a 5-6 record in '97—its first losing season in 18 years. "I don't think the NCAA realized how great an impact the sanctions had on our program," says Davis. "We had guys playing who had no business being out there. So we had to get a little creative."
Davis's starting quarterback—who arrived three years ago without costing Miami a precious scholarship—is a part-time minor league centerfielder in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' organization. His offensive line features a Quebecer and a Cuban-American who could have gone to Harvard. The key touchdown against the Buckeyes was scored by a high school triple jumper who walked onto the Hurricanes three years ago. But the biggest oddity was what happened in the game after every big Miami play. Nothing. Silence. An ego vacuum. These strangely self-effacing Hurricanes would lift themselves off the ground, maybe jump up and down momentarily in natural excitement, and then jog back to the huddle. No finger-wagging, no strutting. No serious trash-talking. It was like watching a game on black-and-white television.
The first sign that things have changed for Miami came on its second play on offense, when junior tailback James Jackson shot through the right side behind the Cuban-Harvard guy for 44 yards to give the Hurricanes a 7-0 lead. Jackson didn't preen for the TV cameras or taunt any Ohio State defenders. "I've never celebrated," he said afterward. "My dad always told me, Act like you've been there before.' Once I'm in the end zone, I give the ball to the referee."
To be sure, Jackson had predicted a 2,000-yard season for himself in taking over for Edgerrin James, a first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts and the first running back chosen in last April's NFL draft, but he insists he didn't mean that in a boastful way. "The way I look at it, if I shoot high and I don't quite make it there, I'm still doing pretty well," he says. On Sunday, Jackson got a pretty fair start toward his 2,000-yard goal, rushing for 89 yards against a team that was No. 1 defensively against the run last year and No. 2 overall in the final Associated Press poll. His backup, Najeh Davenport, gained 83 more but tore the ACL in his right knee and could be out for the season.
Having vanquished Ohio State, Miami now aspires to even bigger upsets when it hosts No. 2 Penn State on Sept. 18 and visits No. 1 Florida State on Oct. 9. That it can even think in these terms would have been unimaginable two years ago, when the Hurricanes had only 58 players at spring practice, far fewer than the number at other big-time programs. Miami, which had won an NCAA-record 58 straight home games from 1985 to '94, went a shocking 5-8 at the Orange Bowl from November '96 through October '98. Just as things seemed to be improving last season, the Hurricanes were routed 66-13 at Syracuse in a game to decide the Big East championship. The following week, just as unpredictably, they recovered from a 17-point deficit to knock third-ranked UCLA out of national championship contention, 49-45.
Miami finished the year 9-3 but called to mind a hopelessly inconsistent downhill skier—clinging to his edges one minute, crashing into trees the next. As it happens, senior left guard Richard Mercier knows something about the slopes. As a 15-year-old in Montreal he was a 6'1", 250-pound elite junior moguls skier, racing over the bumps before completing two full somersaults. Two years ago, by now an even more formidable 6'3" and 290, Mercier didn't like seeing Miami football in so sorry a state, so he joined several of his fellow linemen in doing something about it. On Saturdays during the off-season they gathered to study film, lift weights and run an obstacle course, during which they took turns pushing center Ty Wise's 1993 Ford Ranger 55 yards...after it was loaded with fellow linemen to a total weight of more than 4,000 pounds.
The camaraderie among the truck-pushing linemen was infectious, and players from other positions soon joined in. Looking ahead to the Kickoff Classic, the Hurricanes knew they could be embarrassed by Ohio State. At the end of the informal practices, the players would run several 110-yard sprints. "Just before we were about to drop, someone would yell out, 'Buckeyes!' " says junior linebacker Dan Morgan, who with his classmate Nate Webster would combine for 17 tackles against Ohio State. Thus motivated, the Hurricanes would ignore the swelter of August in Miami and run one more 110-yard sprint.
A few days before the start of official practices in August, redshirt sophomore quarterback Kenny Kelly arrived on campus in a 1985 Buick Regal, which he'd renovated with a new engine and interior, a paint job, custom wheels, a stereo system, a TV set and a Sony PlayStation. Kelly had spent the summer hitting .275 and playing a sweet centerfield for the Class A St. Pete Devil Rays. His tuition was being paid by the Devil Rays, who in 1997 signed him to a four-year contract with a $450,000 bonus. Unlike many other top prospects, Kelly was undeterred by the NCAA penalties when the Hurricanes recruited him. In fact, he had the Miami emblem tattooed on his right arm weeks before he signed his letter of intent.