Jungle Island must have seemed more like Hurricane heaven to the more than 500 fans, friends and family members gathered Thursday night for the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
There was the Houston Texans’ Andre Johnson and Miami Heat’s James Jones and former Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins star Clinton Portis. And that was just the beginning.
In walked Heat president Pat Riley and later Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, then former Super Bowl champs Warren Sapp and Michael Irvin.
The list went on and on, everyone there to be honored or honor the eight newest Hurricanes being inducted: Johnson, Jones, Portis, Wyllesheia Myrick (track), Jeff Morrison and Javy Rodriguez (baseball), Lamar Thomas (football) and Rio Ramirez (diving).
“This is really special,” said Horace Copeland, 43, a UM Sports Hall of Fame member who came from Spring Hill to support his close friend and former teammate Thomas. “Lamar and I played together so many years, first here at UM and then we got drafted the same year by Tampa Bay, and then Lamar went to the Miami Dolphins and I followed.
“When he found out he was going to be inducted he said, ‘Hi-C, are you going to be there for me?’ I said, ‘What kind of question is that?’ ”
Thomas, who recently took a job as the Louisville receivers coach and will meet the Hurricanes on the other side of the field in the season opener, was in awe of donning the tan blazer. “I put on the jacket and this is what I’ve been waiting on for a long time,” he said. “I didn’t know if this day would ever come. I’m very happy.”
Said Jones: “When you think about the University of Miami you think football, baseball, track and field. As a basketball player, it gives me a lot of pride knowing that the time I spent there laid the groundwork for that perception to be changed. Now you think about all the programs being top notch.
“I’m as much of a fan of all my Hurricanes as anyone else. I always look at their accomplishments as something special and mine as just another day at the office. At heart I’m a football fan.”
Johnson, who helped bring the last national title to Coral Gables in 2001, said he was “incredibly honored.”
“It means a lot to be here with all these guys — Clinton, Lamar, a guy I watched growing up; and James, a guy I went to elementary and middle school with. I said I wouldn’t know how I felt until it sunk all in, but to be inducted with all the athletes that went to this school is pretty amazing.”
Added Portis, who grew up in Gainesville: “Miami is my home, and once you realize the elite company you’re in, that makes it even more spectacular.”
Equally gratified was Morrison, 55, a great Hurricanes left-handed pitcher who led the Canes to the College World Series from 1979 to ’81.
“The fact that I’m older than the other inductees and have grown children that I can share it with, and yet my mom is still here, and my brothers, it means a whole heck of a lot and brings back a lot of great memories. I think I appreciate it more and have a lot of perspective.
“It’s always nice not to be forgotten.”