Did you miss us, America?
You know you did. You’re just not ready to admit it.
The Miami Hurricanes are back, the destination for better than 15 years, since the school’s fifth and most recent national championship in 2001. The return of relevance is all around this week as one-loss Notre Dame, No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings, plays in Miami for the first time since 1989. UM won the national title that season. UM could again now, with an 8-0 record and No. 7 ranking heading into the program’s biggest game in years.
Back means ESPN’s College GameDay show is on UM’s campus for the first time ever Saturday, and in Miami for the first time since the show emanated from the old Orange Bowl in 2006.
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Back means national prime time on ABC for Saturday’s 8 p.m. kickoff inside a Hard Rock Stadium that will be jammed and busting decibel records.
Back means UM (a three-point underdog) could lose this game and still be back, because coach Mark Richt has a young team headed right. Annually competing for the ACC title and having a chance to be in the mix for national championships — that is what back means.
Miami surfs a nation-leading 13-game winning streak dating to last year, Richt’s first here. Miami’s 2018 recruiting class currently is ranked No. 4 in the country and first in the ACC. The feeling of rising is palpable. The Canes have arrived and they ain’t goin’ anywhere, so get used to it:
The team America loves to hate has returned.
And it is wearing a gaudy, blingy, ostentatious, in-your-face “Turnover Chain” just to remind you why you all hated UM to begin with. The jewelry that defensive players wear on the sideline after causing a turnover is so perfect, so Miami, so in the spirit of those 1980s and ’90s dynasty Canes that were The Best And Baddest Teams in America — teams fueled by the scorn of others.
Hatred, disrespect, doubt — those are this program’s performance-enhancing drugs.
And it’s good to be hated, whether the animus is earned or irrational. It is good for college football to have a villain. It is good for Miami.
Canes fans always took pride in the outside hatred, embracing it, not denying it. So did Heat fans during the Big 3 era, when America’s scorn sounded a lot like plain jealousy. In sports it is easy to be loved, special to be hated. The Yankees are the Yankees because they are despised, a thin disguise for envy.
The funny thing is, there is no real reason to hate these modern Canes, who are closer to a feel-good story, although that Turnover Chain is all that’s needed for those who want to see it as too hip-hop, too black, too showy, too whatever. The Turnover Chain fits this program’s bloodline, fits the time when the controversy was earned. And that’s reason enough for those who stubbornly still play word-association with “Canes” and “thugs.”
That is why ESPN’s cartoony Paul Finebaum, the grand marshal of the hate-the-Canes parade, continues to make a cottage industry of his comically venomous criticism of UM.
The irony? Hurricanes fans get accused of tethering their identity too much to the past, when all the detractors are doing that exact thing.
The Canes are clean, doing right. Richt is all but a saint. But haters wanna bring up old ghosts. Still wanna picture Jerome Brown in battle fatigues? Toss in a random Nevin Shapiro reference? Dredge up that 1995 Sports Illustrated story advocating that UM drop football altogether? Knock yourself out.
UM football has broad enough shoulders to take it all on.
Richt says of today’s Canes: “We are just fighting like men trying to learn how to win and do things the right way.”
At the same time, though, the swagger and bravado and chip on the shoulder still associated with UM football and embodied so perfectly in that Turnover Chain — all of that stuff is handed down. It’s a family tradition. There are echoes of the glory days, including everything that first made the Canes hated, as The U fights its way all the way to back.
And Miami, university and city, wouldn’t have it any other way.