The Miami Hurricanes have long been seen as a premier destination for student-athletes from across the country, and not just because of the sandy beaches and warm weather. While the geographical advantage may have swayed a player or two, it’s more likely that the football team’s five national championships in an 18-year span is why “The U” is seen as the cream of the crop in the world of college sports.
Part of what makes the Hurricanes so attractive is the boundless swagger that spools out of Coral Gables whenever the ball club takes the field. Players and fans alike greet one another by making a “U” sign with their hands (all four fingers on each hand upright, with the thumbs joined together.) Smoke billows out of the players’ entrance, while songs such as “In the Air Tonight” and “Rock You Like A Hurricane” fill the open space at Sun Life Stadium. Opponents may view all the grandstanding as being a bit cocky, but for Miami fans, the pageantry merely represents confidence and pride.
The university first entered the competitive football arena in 1926, but an actual hurricane delayed the debut of the freshman-only team. One season later, the inaugural varsity squad arrived. While the early years did little to add to the trophy case, there were some highlights, such as qualifying for the school’s first bowl game in 1933 and beating in-state rival Florida for the first time in 1938. By 1954, the Hurricanes had climbed into the top 10 of the Associated Press poll. A storm was brewing in Coral Gables, but it wouldn’t be until the ‘80s that “The U” really began to soar.
After taking over in 1979, Howard Schnellenberger guided the ‘Canes to 9-win seasons in both 1980 and ‘81, and in his final campaign, he helped seize the school’s first national championship on the gridiron in 1983. While coaches Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson would capture subsequent titles in 1987, ‘89 and ‘91, it’s the 2001 team that is regarded as one of the most dominant squads in college football history. For further proof, consider that more than 40 members from the 2001 Hurricane family would make it to the NFL.
For all the talk about taking home top honors, fans still value beating Florida State over anything else. The spirited battles between these two programs can best be summed up with the phrases “Wide Right” and “Wide Left.” While many of their contests have been close, the Hurricanes forced the game to be decided on the final play in ‘91, ‘92, ‘00 and ‘02, and each time, an FSU kicker missed the potential game-winner to give “The U” the triumph they craved.
In Coral Gables, success is expected, but that doesn’t mean that pleasant surprises are entirely ruled out. For instance, who would have ever guessed that a defensive tackle from the ‘91 football team would become one of the biggest stars in entertainment? Big wins, minor victories, it doesn’t matter. The Hurricanes and their fans will take it all.