“What you lookin’ at? You all a bunch of fuckin’ assholes. You know why? You don’t have the guts to be what you wanna be? You need people like me. You need people like me so you can point your fuckin’ fingers and say, “That’s the bad guy.” So… what that make you? Good? You’re not good. You just know how to hide, how to lie. Me, I don’t have that problem. Me, I always tell the truth. Even when I lie. So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!”
-Tony Montana, Scarface
Every story has a bad guy. A heel. A villain. The truth is, whether we admit it or not – we need the bad guy. In places that we don’t talk about, or scarcely even acknowledge, there are demons to be found. There’s a dark side to all of us. “Some men”, in the words of Alfred from Dark Knight “just want to watch the world burn”.
In the world of college football, that team is Miami. Since the early 1980’s, no other team has been so polarizing, drawn as much ire and enmity, as the Miami Hurricanes. While most of the college football world undoubtedly skirts NCAA rules, conferences like the SEC hide their cheating behind a façade of gentile southern mannerisms. An “aw shucks, we didn’t mean it” dismissive flippancy. Not Miami. Miami flaunts it. They’re brash, arrogant and in your face. They’re a big, throbbing middle finger to the establishment. To many, Miami represents the epicenter for shameless, “me first” self promotion and braggadocio that has pervaded the modern commercialized game like a cancer. They’re thugs. They scare the shit out of white people.
Although these thuggish labels persist to this day, and I am as guilty as any for letting the rampant transgressions of the 1980’s inform my bias of the school, the reality is that the University of Miami is a far different place than historical perceptions of their football team would belie. The school itself is actually a smaller, elite private university that ranks atop the major Florida schools. Standing university President Donna Shalala, a former Clinton advisor, has made strides to restore integrity to the program despite her dubious ties to the Nevin Shapiro recruiting scandal which implicated over 72 former players for past violations. Under her watch, however, the graduation success rate (according to official NCAA statistics) among football players at Miami has swelled to 94% in 2012. Read that again – 94%. Miami. If those are thugs, than they are smarter classroom thugs than both Duke (92%) and Stanford (90%).
But whatever perceptions you choose to believe about Miami, and it’s a polarizing place to be sure, college football is better when the Hurricanes are good at being bad men. At their best they play tough, cocky, perhaps even dirty football. But they win. A lot. During a decade long stretch from 1985-1994 they won 58 home games in a row, the longest such streak in NCAA history. Nobody is indifferent towards Miami, and with morbid fascination, I wanted to stare into the belly of the monster first hand. The Hurricanes were hosting Virginia Tech for a Thursday night primetime tilt, and it would make the perfect front end of a Sunshine State weekend doubleheader.
I rolled into Miami on a Thursday morning, navigating a few exhausting miles of moveable walkways at the airport before reaching the rental car center. A few hours later I meet Chrissy in South Beach, and we cruise the tiny Ford Focus northward up Highway 1A, the main artery on the island. The road is flanked by sparkling South Beach glamour. Palm trees line the medians, while brilliant yellow Ferraris and pearl blue Maseratis speed by our tiny shitbox. A line of massive yachts are moored alongside the highway, deck crews out polishing the brass and steel detailing on the floating fiberglass palaces.
We stop for lunch at Le Tub Saloon, a burger joint I’d been assured was the best in Miami from Sports Illustrated writer Andy Staples. Situated in the Hollywood area, it’s a bayside shack that looks like a Jimmy Buffet inspired nightmare, with goofy beach kitsch adorning every surface. A bright green iguana keeps us company while we settle into a creaky wooden table, opting for the one least speckled with bird shit. The burgers are excellent though, wrist thick 13oz monsters, expertly cooked medium rare. Paired with an orange sun settling over the water and an ice cold Yuengling Lager, it makes for a fine late lunch.
Driving over to Sun Life Stadium, home of both the Dolphins and Hurricanes I begrudgingly fork over 30 bucks to park in the featureless lots surrounding the venue. Like most NFL stadia, the place is completely sterile. Situated over twenty miles from The University of Miami campus in Coral Gables, the venue is well removed from the bustle and energy of a college campus. Culture is distinctly absent. The stadium itself is an unfortunate concrete eyesore, a giant octagonal fortress plopped coldly into a sea of asphalt like an invading spaceship. Even the “Sun Life” branding is tacked up on vinyl, easily torn down for the next highest bidder on naming rights. NFL stadiums are soulless.
We meet up with James, a friend I’d met through the website after he’d heard about my adventures and invited me for a few cold ones at his tailgate. A Notre Dame undergrad and Miami law school grad, I grimace at the internal conflict James must endure being a fan of such two polar opposite schools. A practicing attorney in Miami, his delightfully rowdy tailgate resembles a Miami Bar Association meeting, including the gin box and beer pong table. James welcomingly thrusts a beer into my empty hands, and, along with his gracious family, we chat about some of the adventures he’s had chasing the Irish and Hurricanes around the country. Following a shot of gin, another beer is forced into my empty hand, the can lying on its side this time with a quarter sized hole punched near the base. Following the usual rabble of smack talking, the entire Orange garbed group encircles, pounding the brews in unison “shotgun” fashion. After 13oz of burger, I chug mine deliberately. It’s impolite to spew the contents of one’s lunch onto an esteemed tailgate such as this. Especially in mixed company. Despite my caution, the fizzy beer still traces a small trail of foam down the front of my green shirt, specially chosen to blend in with the Hurricane crowd. My stomach rumbles in agony. With that, we make ready for kickoff.
Ambling our way into the stadium, we find our seats in front of an elderly grandmother. An obvious transplant with an insufferable New York brogue, she’s intent on chewing my ears off and continually reminding the portly fellow a few rows below to “sit down in front” – including key 3rd downs. Along with the senior citizens surrounding us, the entire atmosphere feels more like a bowl game. While Thursday night games may satisfy our weekday urge for televised football, in person they are decidedly second rate. Despite the official attendance of 37,219 on this night, the stadium feels empty and lifeless. Most of the crowd noise comes artificially pumped in over the loudspeakers during key third downs. The upper tiers of the giant bowl are nearly uninhabited. Even the student section stands listlessly in the endzone, their numbers clearly diminished.
Shortly after the Scorpions’ “Rock you Like a Hurricane” pumps through the loudspeakers, the Miami squad takes the field, emerging from a giant inflatable helmet in a haze of smoke (the now ubiquitous smoke entrance is a tradition Miami claims to have invented). They make fast work of the Hokies early, jumping out to a 14-3 lead after the first frame. The Hurricanes take advantage of a few rare miscues by Virginia Tech special teams, or “Beamer Ball” as it’s colloquially known for head coach Frank Beamers renowned emphasis on special teams play. Miami blocks a Hokie punt on one drive then returns another kickoff for 81yards on the next drive. Despite the early onslaught, they play sloppy from there. The offense struggles to find a rhythm and sputters on key third downs, but they do enough to chip in a few intermittent field goals. Although the Hokies outgain Miami in total yards, they cough the ball up three times. Despite two of the ACC perennial powerhouses on the field, it’s a sloppy game punctuated by a few key special team gaffs that make the difference. In the end, Miami prevails 30-12, in front of a largely aloof Thursday night crowd.
Admittedly, I feel like I need another visit to truly get the entire Miami football experience. I was warned by James that a Thursday night game would be rather tame, and he was certainly correct. I came in expecting the place to be intimidating and dangerous, a hard world of hard men, maybe even borderline criminal. I wanted to see the beast. Instead, what I saw was soft. It had all the actors of a football game, but was hollowed by two mediocre teams playing on a Thursday night in front of half a crowd. Indifference is not a true hallmark of Miami.
I know Miami is far badder than that. So I want to see them again, but at their apex. The monsters unleashed. When they are good at being bad again. Indeed, when they’re at their very worst…
Thank you to James along with his wonderful friends and family for the great hospitality and warm welcome at their tailgate. Look forward to seeing you guys on January 7th!
Special thanks again to Chrissy for sharing another adventure this fall!
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