Greg Cote

Dolphins? Heat? Nope. This is why Miami Hurricanes football now owns this sports town

Miami Hurricanes starting cornerback Trajan Bandy (2) wears the Turnover Chain after intercepting a pass against Notre Dame last November. No. 8 UM opens its season on Sunday night against No. 25 LSU in Arlington, Texas.
Miami Hurricanes starting cornerback Trajan Bandy (2) wears the Turnover Chain after intercepting a pass against Notre Dame last November. No. 8 UM opens its season on Sunday night against No. 25 LSU in Arlington, Texas.

This isn’t science. There is no way to quantify it. You feel it in the gut. You hear it when fans get together. Something is happening in South Florida sports.

Miami Hurricanes football is taking over the town.

UM is poised to do it in a way and to a degree not seen even as it was winning those five national championships across a 19-season span from 1983 to 2001.

The rising Canes are shoving aside the mediocrity-stuck Dolphins and galloping past the downsized, post-Big 3 Heat.

The tectonic shift is happening partly because the Dolphins — off a 6-10 season, ranked 32nd and last in ESPN’s Power Rankings, and 0-3 this preseason — are giving so little indication they’re headed right or ready to win big anytime soon. It’s happening partly because the post-LeBron Heat have abdicated the crown they briefly wore, now seeming far, far away from NBA title contention, and with beloved Dwyane Wade approaching what likely will be his final season.

But mostly this is happening because the No. 8-ranked Canes — who open the new season this Sunday night vs. No. 25 LSU in Arlington, Texas — are resurgent, and winning. Coach Mark Richt has created genuine enthusiasm, and strong recruiting suggests sustained success. UM is earning the excitement. Symbolically, the blingy Turnover Chain reintroduced the swagger so indicative of the program’s halcyon days when the juggernaut was so good, and so hated (envied) outside of South Florida. Attitude is back.

I never felt Canes football owned this town during its championship run the way it is poised to now — simply because the Dolphins were consistently competitive back then, too. Remember, Dan Marino was a sensational rookie that same 1983 season that saw UM’s first title. The perfume of perfection, of 1972-73, still was in the air for the Fins as Marino’s emergence made the Dolphins exciting and Don Shula’s stature made them relentlessly matter. The Fins had only one losing season during UM’s 19-year title run.

Post-Marino, maybe we have forgotten to appreciate the power of the superstar, rock star quarterback beyond wins and losses. I covered the Dolphins full-time in the early ‘90s, traveling with the team and saw first-hand the throngs of fans clamoring for No. 13 in hotel lobbies, in every city we visited.

UM’s re-emergence came with Richt in 2016 but, for me, really took off during two glorious weeks last November, in consecutive prime-time home wins over No. 13 Virginia Tech and then-No. 3 Notre Dame. The sold-out crowds for those games were electric, like nothing heard at Dolphins games. ESPN’s College GameDay was here for the visit by the Irish. It was as if UM football had been ceremonially reintroduced to America and was back in terms of national stature.

Three losses to end last season pricked the balloon and verified Richt’s program wasn’t back all the way yet. But the No. 8 preseason ranking, UM’s highest since 2004, verified faith in Richt and the program’s direction. Miami may be favored in all 12 regular season games this season.

(A quick aside on UM opening vs. LSU in a neutral-site, prime-time matchup. I’ve heard more than one Canes fan call this the biggest opener in school history. That’s myopic. Twenty-three times in its 82 seasons, Miami has opened vs. a ranked opponent, and 15 of those times, the Canes also were ranked. But only five times, and not since ‘04, has Miami opened vs. a ranked foe when itself ranked as high or higher than its current No. 8).

Our premise here admittedly is fragile.

It might change if the damned Dolphins would ever win a playoff game again for the first time since the 2000 season.

It might change again if the Heat find a way to reprise the excitement and national buzz of 2011-14.

Meantime, Hurricanes football owns this town.

Now all they have to do to keep that crown is to keep winning. And winning. And winning.

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