Hall of Fame wide receiver and Hurricane great Michael Irvin stole the show from the ESPN cameras at the NIT championship game on Thursday.
His genuine expressions that shifted with every twist and turn of UM’s crushing 66-64 overtime loss to Stanford resonated through the Hurricane faithful both watching at home and live at Madison Square Garden.
School president Donna Shalala, in the waning months before she takes over as president and CEO of the Clinton Foundation, made time in her busy schedule to fly to the game, but it was Irvin who captured the passion of all Canes following through the cameras watching his every move and was even trending on Twitter.
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University of Miami royalty was in attendance, but they weren’t the only ones donning orange and green in a crowd at the Garden that filled about three-fourths of the lower bowl.
With a strong alumni base in the New York/New Jersey area, University of Miami fans dominated the stands despite falling in a title game that came down to the final shot with significantly louder roars whenever UM scored.
Probably the loudest it got in the Garden outside of the final minutes was when Irvin appeared on the big screen during a first-half timeout flashing the U. Irvin also took photos with several fans sitting in proximity to him before the game and stole the show from the
Stanford didn’t fly its band or cheerleaders across the country, so during every timeout, it was UM cheerleaders pumping up the crowd from the floor.
After the initial disappointment of falling short of the NCAA Tournament, the Canes responded with a thrilling surge to the NIT final, and Hurricane fans are feeling optimistic about the future of the program.
“I think they’re going to go a long way in the NCAA next season. That’s a given,” says Raymond Roy, a former headmaster at Boca Raton St. Andrew’s High School who has been going to UM football games since 1949. Now retired, he lives in New York near Columbia University and made it to the semifinal and championship game.
With the core of the team returning next season, fans are already punching tickets deep into the Big Dance next season.
“I think this is an Elite 8 team next season,” says Justin Friedman, a senior at Penn State who was born and raised in South Florida and attended Plantation American Heritage. “We don’t lose anyone. Angel [Rodriguez is] going to be a year better, Manu [Lecomte is] going to be a year better, [Tonye] Jekiri’s obviously going to grow more into his frame. We can win the ACC next year.”
Friedman made the four-hour drive from State College, Penn. and stayed with his girlfriend in New Jersey, calling it an “easy decision” to attend the championship because he doesn’t get to see his hometown team play much.
Another plus for the program with its NIT run is the potential spark in recruiting from the exposure, especially for young athletes that noticed Irvin’s support.
“Unfortunately for Miami, there’s only one spot open on next year’s team for recruiting, so it’s not going to have immediate dividends for freshmen next year,” says Roy, speaking of graduate forward Joe Thomas as the lone member of this season’s squad moving on – a spot already filled with the commitment of St. Petersburg Lakewood forward Anthony Lawrence.
On top of Tuesday’s semifinal and Thursday’s championship, there were other festivities in the city that never sleeps for Canes fans.
Melanie Ferras, a 2012 UM alumna who grew up in Miami but has lived in New York since graduating, went to a pregame party at a Brother Jimmy’s bar and restaurant near Madison Square Garden.
“Brother Jimmy’s is always the official UM alumni watch party [in New York],” Ferras says.
On Thursday night, the official watch party was live at MSG, and it felt like home for a number of fans.