The pain of former running back Willis McGahee blowing out his left knee in the Fiesta Bowl was excruciating, as was the controversial, double-overtime loss to Ohio State in that game, which gave the Buckeyes the 2002 national championship the Hurricanes believe they deserved.
But the joy of getting the call that told him he would be inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame?
“That is correct,’’ McGahee, 34, said Tuesday of the UM Sports Hall of Fame awards banquet Thursday night at Jungle Island. “It was priceless.
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“When I got the phone call last fall I was like, ‘Holy [expletive]!’ Oh man, I was excited because those are a bunch of great athletes that have come through that UM Hall of Fame. You’ve got to take that and run with it, because when you’re in the NFL, no team is loyal to you. But in college, Miami is the one team that you can get branded on you, tattooed on you, and not have to worry about erasing it.’’
McGahee, who lives in Davie, is one of three Hurricane football players who will be inducted Thursday. The others, who shared in the 2001 national title season with him, are right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez (1997-2001) and tight end Kellen Winslow (2001-2003).
McGahee (2000-2002) said he’ll be accompanied by his mother and aunt at the awards banquet, which still has tickets available to the public.
Current football coach and former UM quarterback Mark Richt will speak at the ceremony, which includes a full dinner and begins at 7 p.m. (preceded by a cocktail hour). Quarterback Brad Kaaya also will be honored as the recipient of the 23rd annual Walter Kichefski Endowed Football Scholarship.
McGahee’s honor comes after a 12-year NFL career that spanned four teams and ended in 2013 with Cleveland. At UM, he had six school records en route to rushing for 1,753 yards on 282 carries and scoring 28 touchdowns in 2002, his last season at UM. Despite what could have been a career-ending injury, the consensus All-American and finalist for the Heisman Trophy and Doak Walker Award was drafted 23rd overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 2003 NFL Draft.
He gained 8,474 yards and 65 touchdowns in the NFL, but his college memories are what he treasures most.
“I can say I was part of the best team that ever graced the University of Miami,’’ McGahee said
The others who will be honored Thursday night: Will Allen (basketball 1969-71), Megan Bradley Rose (tennis 2002-2005), Charlie Hodgson (swim coach 1973-1986), Tamara James (women’s basketball 2002-2006) and Jon Jay (baseball 2004-2006).
Tickets to the awards banquet can be purchased for $100 a person through Wednesday by calling John Routh at 305-284-2775 or Ken Lancaster at 305-666-6000.