Greg Cote: A night to look back at glory of ’83 champs, ahead to Gators
08/31/2013 12:06 AM
09/08/2014 6:50 PM
Everything fast-forwards now in a blur. Heck, did that even wait for the game to end? The University of Miami kicked off its 88th year of football with a perfunctory, never-in-doubt dispatch of overmatched Florida Atlantic on Friday night at Dolphins stadium, and the postgame parking lot hadn’t even thinned yet when Hurricanes fans surely were savoring what’s next — and why not.
Who’ll be chomping whom is the question to be answered in one week here on ESPN in these former traditional and bitter rivals’ first meeting since 2008 and last in who knows how long. Florida is ranked No. 10 in the polls and UM is trying to get there, so the measuring stick for this Hurricanes season of such high hopes is smack upon us.
Even Canes players’ minds might have been distracted by what’s ahead, considering Friday’s 34-6 swat of FAU hardly was the rout it might have been. Sophomore running back Duke Johnson impressed with a career-best 186 rushing yards, but UM’s overall performance was by-the-numbers, as you’d expect with a major red-circle game pulsing on deck. If the Hurricanes were looking ahead, you know Canes fans are starting their Gator Week tailgate parties over breakfast this morning.
Friday’s opener drew a credible 50,151 spectators. Next Saturday they’ll wish they had a bigger stadium.
Can we wait just a second, though? Can we hit pause on Gatormania just a moment to appreciate how The U’s past glory and its percolating dreams intersected so sweetly Friday night?
The school’s 1983 national-championship team, UM’s first of five, was honored at halftime to mark the 30th anniversary of that watershed feat, and everything about what current coach Al Golden hopes to recreate was embodied in the parade of former stars.
They are right around 50 now, give or take, most of them unrecognizable from their younger versions who made history.
“When that dream of ours came to reality, Hurricanes football was born,” as the old linebacker Jay Brophy put it Friday, three decades later. “All we want to do is be remembered.”
Consider it done.
What is that they say about having to know where you’ve been to navigate where you’re going?
The ’83ers created the template. It was Cinderella stuff, then. Maybe that’s why old coach Howard Schnellenberger, now 79, chose a very simple theme in addressing his old players in a private campus reunion Thursday night.
“We exemplified that nothing is impossible,” he told his guys.
Friday had to be most special for Schnellenberger, who of course coached those ’83 champs and later raised FAU football from nonexistence and coached the Owls 11 years, through 2011.
Schnellenberger was a part of the recent White House visit by the 1972 Perfect Season Dolphins (he was the offensive coordinator), but Friday night was more personal for him. These were his babies, meeting for the first time ever. The team he carried to the summit. And the one he made from nothing.
I asked Howard what would be the ideal result for him. The familiar push-broom mustache, now snow white, can hide his smile. But the smile is still there.
“I’m hoping for a 7-point win for Florida Atlantic … University … of Miami,” he answered.
Schnellenberger’s championship quarterback was a fellow named Bernie Kosar.
He showed up Friday looking great. He has fought to win back his old self after ballooning too close to 300 pounds. He has lost 65 pounds.
“Awesome feeling. Really special,” he said.
He meant this 30th anniversary celebration, not his own health.
Football took Kosar’s body and beat it up. Badly. It jarred his brain and wracked his bones.
“The dizziness, the equilibrium issues, the noise in your head, the insomnia,” he described it Friday, so matter-of-fact. “The bleeding and contusions in my head …”
Once, though, in 1983, Bernie was a 19-year-old freshman finance major who caught lightning, and lifted a team, and a city, “and Hurricanes football was born,” as his old teammate Brophy had put it.
Now, Hurricanes about the same age Kosar was then are trying to create something special. Those include the game-breaking sophomore running back Johnson, who slashed though FAU’s defense Friday for a touchdown run of 53 yards, another of 43, and a 38-yard catch.
The Duke of Gables is one of UM’s most electrifying players in a long while, and this looks like one of Miami’s best teams in as long — an ACC title contender, and a team poised to declare its sights on the Top 10 if it can topple the Gators next week.
What a strange entrée into this season.
So much optimism and hope, and yet all of that bears the heavy caution of the still-looming NCAA investigation in the Nevin Shapiro matter.
Additional penalties beyond what Miami already has self-imposed the past two years might still be in store; it’s the not-knowing that is most maddening.
All these Canes can do is shoulder ahead and through this and try to get a little bit closer to 1983 with every step forward.
Friday night was a solid start.
Now comes the first telling test, and it only requires a single word.