David J. Neal: Local football fans of Hurricanes, Dolphins must live in the present
01/15/2014 12:00 AM
01/15/2014 12:37 PM
Because human nature doesn’t change, history does tend to repeat itself. Because technology advances, it tends to repeat itself in tighter and tighter cycles of time. The stories and back stories of sports history often play bump-and-run with our social history.
But South Florida football fans need to clip the umbilical cord with their football history to move forward.
I’m speaking more to University of Miami fans than Dolphins fans. That said, every time the Dolphins reach a crossroads, an ever-graying chorus calls for Don Shula or Dan Marino to emerge from emeritus to save the aqua as coach, general manager, vice president in charge of football operations.
Don Shula spends most of his days enjoying the spoils of being a legend, father, grandfather and widow fortunate enough to have found a second successful marriage. We should all be so lucky to reach that stage. Or, just reach 84 years old.
Marino works Sundays in CBS’s New York studios during the NFL season. His oldest kids can put him in the grandfather business soon, a business that puts much more enjoyable claims on your time than minicamps and pro days. Fantasy football drafts don’t require you go to Mobile for the Senior Bowl.
He doesn’t coach. Few gods of their athletic craft do.
Marino arrived down here the same season the University of Miami won its first national title. Despite being a quiet Midwestern teenager, I loved those teams.
I smiled when Howard Schnellenberger ordered a run-it-up field goal as vengeance on orange-throwing Florida fans in 1980. I cackled at the big Orange Bowl upset of “greatest team ever” Nebraska. I furiously argued at a party my senior year in college that if not for the bad Cleveland Gary fumble call, UM would have beaten Notre Dame and, therefore, actually was the nation’s best team (again).
Then, I moved down here and covered them often my first couple of years. They said what they would do to you, sometimes while they did it, did it to you, then said after the game “We told you we were going to .” Their very existence called out the various hypocrisies of big-time college sports. A unique team, perfect for their time.
And UM fans need to understand that time is gone. It’s entirely possible UM’s baseline is where it is now.
Look at UM’s football history. The 1980-1994 era stands as an anomaly for any stretch longer than a decade. To treat an anomaly like a birthright is foolhardy by definition.
Not saying a run such as 2000-2004 can’t happen again. But the decade-plus of 10-win seasons and annual shots at the national title became possible by a confluence of circumstances that don’t exist now.
When Schnellenberger declared “The State of Miami,” Florida State counted as a new curiosity on the national scene. Reconstruction ruled in Gainesville. UCF toiled in Division I-AA (now FCS). South Florida? FAU? FIU? They played baseball and golf. They barely had campuses.
They don’t compete for the same players. You don’t have to, however, to remove a school’s margin for recruiting error.
And that’s just in the state. Schools around the nation found prospects easier to keep close to home than they do now. Only ABC showed college football nationally on a weekly basis until 1981. Until 1979, ABC decided its schedule before the season. That meant year after year, their two regional games and one national game each week showed traditional powers.
That gave those traditional powers an edge. Oklahoma could come into Miami-Dade County and get Buster Rhymes and Elvis Peacock. Riviera Beach Suncoast wide receiver Anthony Carter listened when Michigan told him, yes, if you come, we will throw the ball more than every other solar eclipse.
But West Virginia needed to bring a map and the deed to a coal mine to get a sit-down with a South Florida prospect. What did some kid from Carol City know about Clemson or Colorado? But Coral Gables? OK.
Now, via satellite dishes protruding from homes in even the roughest neighborhoods, young men everywhere see the options each Saturday and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or on SportsCenter.
Down here, they see The U documentary, hear the stories of the camaraderie, see the busloads of Hurricanes in the NFL. But Michael Irvin stories go only so far. Someone quoted Baylor coach Art Briles saying Tuesday that high school kids don’t care about anything that happened before 2010. They care about right now.
It would be nice to stay close to home and play for the program that still makes your uncles slap skin talking about Randall Hill up the tunnel. But if that means probably sitting for two years versus a decent shot at playing now, well, you can keep up with the family via texting, Skype, Facetime, maybe the occasional old-time cellphone call.
Though South Florida players still have a reputation for cleaving closer to home than most from other regions, some actually want to experience life elsewhere.
Besides, didn’t we see this before? Former UM player Randy Shannon brought in that stellar 2008 class loaded with local talent. Just like the good ol’ days well, no.
College dynasties don’t last as long these days. Nor do revivals of Golden Ages (right USC, Texas?). So until the Canes return to national championship contention, appreciate what they are instead of pouting wistfully about what they’re not.
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