Greg Cote

Greg Cote: The planes overhead are coming for Al Golden

Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden leaves the field after defeating Nebraska Cornhuskers 36-33, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, September 19, 2015.
Miami Hurricanes coach Al Golden leaves the field after defeating Nebraska Cornhuskers 36-33, at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, September 19, 2015. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

We can all but guarantee those small planes pulling those “Fire Al Golden” banners will be staying in the hangar next week.

Of course that’s only because the Miami Hurricanes don’t play next week, and even the most disgruntled fans might admit that renting a plane to fly over an empty stadium with no football game in it seems an expenditure both foolish and ill-timed.

If the Canes were back home playing next weekend, though, I’m not sure what happened Saturday would have been enough to keep the planes and the animus grounded.

What happened was an escape.

What happened was the narrowest avoidance of what would have been one of the biggest collapses and embarrassments in Canes history.

UM outlasted old rival Nebraska 36-33 here Saturday in overtime, but only after frittering away a 30-10 lead and hanging on to this victory the way people in movies hang on to ledges by fingertips.

“It was a good win,” Golden said afterward.

I’m not sure the agreement on that would be universal.

The Hurricanes blew a 33-10 lead in the fourth quarter, but survived. Sept. 19, 2015.

In the end, there was the sound of relief as much as cheering from what was left of the buoyant crowd of 53,580 — and the serendipity of a team named Cornhuskers having been vanquished by a Hurricanes hero named Corn.

It was Cornelius “Corn” Elder’s interception of Nebraska to start overtime that led to Michael Badgley’s winning 28-yard field goal.

Miami had unraveled to bring it to that point of desperation. There were two touchdowns negated by penalties, there were two defensive players ejected, and there were too many Nebraska points late, 23 unanswered to be exact.

All of that late bad stuff overshadowed a lot of good, including Brad Kaaya’s career-high 379 yards passing, Joe Yearby’s 125 yards rushing and Rashawn Scott’s 151 through the air.

Then, finally, a kid named Corn and a kick managed to put a smile on it all, albeit a nervous one.

Can you imagine if UM’s collapse had been full-blown and we were picking Sunday through the debris of such a calamity?

Oh, my, but the next home game might have seen enough fire-Golden banners overhead to comprise an armada qualifying as the world’s biggest independent air force. Local supply and demand would have seen those who rent sign-carrying small planes making down payments on French villas.

(Quick aside: The various banners flying overhead before UM games have begun to show a modicum of creativity, variety and humor. One on Saturday beseeched Golden’s firing soon, with the explainer, “THESE BANNERS ARE EXPENSIVE.”)

The question now is whether UM fans ought to be thrilled to beat Nebraska and be 3-0 or feel lucky to have escaped and still not be at all sure sure how good these Canes really are?

Clearly, Saturday’s visit by Nebraska had the window dressing of a big game. Didn’t matter much that neither team came into this game ranked. It still was an “event” game. It felt special. The stage was big. Anticipation was great. ABC carried it. The crowd was large. There were the distant echoes of UM’s three national championships won at Nebraska’s expense, and Nebraska’s one over Miami.

The result would be symbolic as much as anything.

But also clearly the renewal of a series that once defined the highest echelon of college football is now a shell of its old self.

Once, four national championships were determined (three in Miami’s favor) when Canes vs. Cornhuskers topped marquees.

Now it was two once-great programs trying to recapture old mojo and climb back up into national relevance.

The Hurricanes are closer. Say that. They haven’t proved they’re close yet, but they just proved they’re closer than Nebraska — if only by a millimeter or three. I guess that’s OK for one day’s work.

The plane renters at the visible forefront of Golden’s unpopularity in the wake of last year’s 6-7 record — they won’t quit.

They don’t care about 3-0. Guaranteed they see Saturday for its collapse more than for its escape, a glass half empty.

It’s a weird thing going on right now with lots of Canes fans. Their disapproval of Golden has left so many seemingly at odds with themselves and conflicted about their interests. Real UM fans should be rooting for their team and for this season, right? But didn’t the people renting those banners prefer that Miami lose Saturday to enhance their grassroots overthrow attempt?

The banners could be counterproductive on many levels. They convey unfaithfulness in the fan base that might be off-putting to potential recruits. They are mean spirited enough to perhaps rally sympathy or support for Golden (at least until the first loss). And I can tell they make UM athletic director Blake James angry. If making a coaching change after this season is a close call for him, I doubt James will want to be perceived as having been unduly influenced by those banners.

In any case, three tests much greater than Saturday’s still await UM and Golden: Oct. 10 at No. 9 Florida State, Oct. 24 vs. No. 11 Clemson, and Nov. 21 vs. No. 14 Georgia Tech.

The Canes must avoid stumbling in the lesser games and then win at least one of those big three games if this season is to be special and maybe finally clear the skies of venom for their coach.

Much less than that and Golden might be thankful those planes are carrying only banners, not weapons.

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