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"Being a Conch, there's just a feeling of closeness you get down here," he says. "Everybody is like family. They don't baby me, they don't treat me like a star, they know the true me and they let it go at that."
Mira's father, George Sr., was a 5'11" All-America quarterback at Miami in the early '60s and a pro for 13 years in the NFL, the CFL and the defunct World Football League. Called by former Nebraska coach Bob Devaney "the greatest college passer I ever saw," George Sr. never quite set the big leagues on fire. But he scrambled and clawed and worked miracles in college, and his greatest moment came in 1961 when he threw a left-handed pass for the winning TD against hated Florida while being dragged down by his right, or passing, arm. He is one of only two Miami quarterbacks to have had his jersey retired, the other being Vinny Testaverde.
George Sr. is in Key West when George Jr. arrives at Grandpa James Mira's house on Packer Street. James, 70, bought the place back in 1943 for $650 in war bonds, and it sits so close to the adjacent houses that one could reach out any side window and open a neigbor's curtains. The three generations of Mira men sit on the front porch and chat, with grandpa lounging in a barber chair that was once frequented by Harry Truman during his Key West days.
The subject of toughness comes up, and the men agree that the trait goes back to George Jr.'s great-grandfather, Jose Mira, who was only 5'3" but totally fearless. George Sr. recalls that Jose once decked 235-pound Uncle Mario for some impropriety or other, after which the old man told Mario, "If you ever say that again, I'll knock all your teeth out." Grandpa James himself was a prizefighter in Tampa before moving to Key West during the Depression to work in the city icehouse. Five years ago he coldcocked a 33-year-old man with a left hook. "He said I was too old," shrugs James.
George Sr. knew that Junior had "a little mean streak in him" at age three, when the youngster would continually slam headfirst into a sliding glass door at the family home. "You've got to have that streak to play the position," says Senior.
And how tough is George Jr. now? Tough enough that he firmly shakes hands with acquaintances even though the little finger on his right hand is broken. And tough enough that in the spring of '85 he survived a 65-mile-an-hour motorcycle crash on the Dixie Highway with only a separated shoulder and road burns.
"A truck hit the front wheel of my Kawasaki 750, and I started tumbling over and over," he says. "My helmet came off, but as I was bouncing I kept working my way to the curb. When I finally made it, I retrieved my cycle and rode to a gas station to call Dad. The guy running the station saw the whole thing and he looked at me and said, 'I can't believe you're alive.' "
And what did Dad say? "I said, 'You have two choices: Sell the bike or scrap it.' " George sold it. It would have been nice if Dad had said the same thing to Testaverde right then, a year and a half before the Heisman winner-to-be swan-dived off his bike, a motor scooter, and caused enough damage to keep him out of the East Carolina game. But at Miami it seems you crash first, then you take precautions.