Football at Florida Atlantic University was a newly hatched and likely crazy notion back in 1998 when Howard Schnellenberger got an idea to grow interest in his nonexistent team.
I had to have some type of poster to put up around campus, he recalled Monday in that resonant baritone rumble of his. It turned out to be a harbinger.
The poster was entitled FAU: Football In Paradise. It showed four young boys photographed sitting on the sideline at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, looking up at the sky as if daydreaming their futures. Up in the clouds, under a rainbow, a receiver drawn in an FAU Owls uniform was about to catch a perfect pass ahead of a cornerback who happened to be wearing orange and green.
And it looked like that defender had a U on his helmet but you couldnt quite tell because of the clouds, Schnellenberger said, eyes shining, trademark mustache lifting slightly at the corners.
See, the old coachs dream for FAU was that the program would have symbolically arrived when it finally saw Miami on its schedule. That was the carrot.
Now, 15 years after the chase began, that harbinger Schnellenbergers vision and hope finally comes true this Friday night at Dolphins stadium.
The Miami Hurricanes play Florida Atlantic for the first time ever to open this college season, and anybody who knows either program might as well call this what it is: Howard Schnellenberger Week in South Florida. Because it was this man who was really starting both programs at the end of the day, as UM coach Al Golden put it Monday.
Schnellenberger did that figuratively for the Canes, as the iconic symbol of UMs 1983 national championship, the first one, the one that started it all.
He did that literally for FAU, as the man who founded the program from scratch and left it two years ago with a little gem of a new on-campus stadium as his legacy.
This was the day I dreamed of, he said. Miami vs. FAU.
Schnellenberger kids about being in my declining years at 79. But it is no joke how right it feels that this occasion happened with the coach still around to enjoy it.
This will be the first of three meetings over four years, hopefully with many more to come.
Who will the patriarch be rooting for Friday night? The answer may surprise you. That he isnt feigning neutrality may also surprise you.
My heart is at FAU, he said. Then, that sly smile again: Of course it is. Itd be ridiculous me pulling for those powerful, five-time national-champion bullies playing lil old guys who are still wet behind the ears!
Schnellenberger also is being pragmatic, since FAU has paid him to be an ambassador at large spearheading fundraising efforts ever since he retired from coaching after 11 years at the Boca Raton university following the 2011 season.
Make no mistake, though. His five years at UM (1979-83) own a piece of his heart, too. Thatll hit home as the 30th anniversary of that 83 championship team is marked at halftime of Fridays game, after a private reunion on campus Thursday night.
Schnellenberger will be an honorary captain of both teams at the pregame coin flip. UM invited him to be its honorary captain: I said only if I could serve in that position on the other side, too.