This was the night Howard Schnellenberger had imagined, even dreamed of, for many years: the Miami Hurricanes, the football program he saved and made national champions, playing a game for the first time at Florida Atlantic University, the program he started from scratch. And in the “House That Howard Built,” the campus stadium he saw rise from his own vision, ingenuity and fund-raising knack.
“Everything about this evening and everything that led to it was sitting there to be exalted,” Schnellenberger, now 81, boomed dramatically in that baritone voice of his.
But then lightning struck Friday night. Weather was happening. Players were ordered off the field, headed for shelter. Then the sold-out crowd dispersed to do the same. And Schnellenberger’s perfect night no longer was.
The patriarch of the evening was not pleased.
“God in his divine wisdom decided we needed a lightning delay,” he said, ruddy complexion offsetting red suspenders. “Then somebody decided to call one even though we saw no lightning and not a drop of rain, because someone was covering their asses. Go ahead and write that!”
Schnellenberger, now retired from coaching, did not appreciate the abundant caution that had put a slash on his personal Owls’ Picasso and also delayed a UM game by more than an hour for the second straight week.
On either side of the delay, though, for much of the night, Schnellenberger and FAU had more to feel exalted about than Miami did.
It was the Canes and coach Al Golden who for much of Friday night had more concerns to deal with than the inconvenience of another unexpected delay.
See, it almost looked like another of Schnellenberger’s dreams was coming true.
For most of one night, at least, it seemed his Owls, 18-point underdogs, had grown up fast and were standing toe to toe with bigger, more pedigreed UM.
That changed, of course. The Hurricanes pulled away late and comfortably won 44-20 — order restored — as UM running back Joe Yearby surpassed 240 yards rushing and catching and the Owls gifted Miami five turnovers.
For much of the long night, though, it was a result-in-progress that had Owls fans celebrating, and Canes fans finding their dislike of Golden being fed.
This was Howard Bowl II. Miami had hosted and won the first meeting 34-6 in 2013, and Friday’s rematch was supposed to be a similar rout and have a simple storyline. Right?
But is anything simple with these Canes?
The story was supposed to be that UM, after dispatching smaller schools Bethune-Cookman and FAU routinely in the first two games, was finally about to start its season for real by hosting Nebraska next Saturday.
Maybe that was the problem.
One team treated Friday night like a Super Bowl while the other (for too long) seemed to look past it.
Emotion was surely with the Owls. This was the biggest home game in FAU’s program history, surely the biggest in its new stadium, which opened in 2011 and was filled beyond its 29,419-seat capacity to a record 30,321 with Friday’s evenly split crowd.
“Not even close,” said Schnellenberger of the magnitude.
Ceding emotion to the hosts, the Canes might have been forgiven the human nature of taking the heavy-underdog Owls lightly and gazing ahead to the looming challenge of Nebraska — except that Miami, evidently, isn’t yet good enough to take anybody too lightly.
Even a breezy win by the Canes Friday such as last week’s 45-0 spanking of Bethune would merely have held Golden’s army of loud detractors at bay.
The least struggle to beat FAU, on the heel of last year’s 6-7 season, would feed the animus that didn’t even wait for the game to start to show itself again.
It showed in the banner being pulled languidly above the Owls’ neat little campus stadium. The message was suitable to both the political season and to how so many Canes fans feel about their incumbent head coach fighting for reelection.
“MAKE MIAMI GREAT AGAIN,” advised the banner, “BUTCH DAVIS 2016.”
Points for creativity, at least. Those blunt-force “FIRE AL GOLDEN” banners had grown tiresome, thoroughly lacking for subtlety or nuance.
Seeing that banner before this game even kicked off seemed like a bit of a cheap shot. Struggling for much of the night to beat FAU, though, won’t ground that banner, or the disenchantment that lets it fly.
UM is now 2-0 by a combined score of 89-20, and yet Nebraska next Saturday is going to feel like a must-win game, bigger than it should be. Heavier.
It has reached a point where, for Al Golden, every game will now.