The Year The "U" Started Becoming The "U"


Central Michigan v Miami

No fan base has lived more in the past than fans of the Miami Hurricanes. No team draws more media attention in the discussion of whether they are back or not. And here comes the next big game where we all will measure if the Canes are among the nation's best. Miami plays at top ranked Clemson Saturday night. As I have said in this space earlier this week and on the radio show, Miami is not back regardless of what happens in this game. A team is back, from wherever they were, when they put a string of seasons together where they compete for their conference title and are among teams in the hunt for a playoff spot. That means Miami would need 3-4 seasons of 10 or more wins. You can't do that with one game at Clemson.

But it was 40 years ago when the building really started. In 1980, Howard Schnellenberger was in his second season as the Canes' head coach. After a 5-6 year in 1979, Howard was beginning to build his wall around south Florida. He focused on getting the best players in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. His 80' team featured Mark Richt as a backup quarterback to a guy named Jim Kelly. The likes of Art Kehoe, Jim Burt and Tony Chickillo were a few of other names who led the Canes. 

Miami opened the season with four straight wins, including victories over 18th ranked Houston on the road and a Orange Bowl win against 9th ranked Florida State, the only regular season loss for Bobby Bowden's team who went on to play in the Orange Bowl game later in the season. But after the win against the Noles, Miami vaulted to 13th in the poll and headed to South Bend to face Notre Dame. The Irish easily won the game 32-14 and Miami would then lose to Mississippi State at home 34-31 in front of less than 19,000 at the Orange Bowl. The losing streak hit three after a road loss at Penn State.

After sitting at 4-3, the Canes came home in front of a crowd of 11,000 to beat East Carolina. They won at Vanderbilt and beat North Texas State to sit at 7-3. It set up a big season ending game at Gainesville where Jim Kelly tossed a pair of touchdown passes and the Canes beat Florida 31-7.

Schnellenberger's team had beaten both FSU and Florida and clinched a spot in the Peach Bowl, when it was played in Fulton County Stadium. Miami beat Virginia Tech 20-10 and finished 9-3. And many believed Howard had changed the program.

In 1981, Miami was on probation for improper benefits and a booster making a downpayment on a car for a player(no, baby Nevin Shapiro was not there at the time). But that team went 9-2 and finished 8th in the polls.

Two years later, the Canes won the national championship and the "U" had indeed arrived. But as Miami gets ready for the next "ARE THEY BACK" game, you can look back 4o years and remember when Howard Schnellenberger really built the "U" to establish one of the great runs in the sport's history...

Notes: Tom Brady didn't know it was fourth down?...UCF, Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston and SMU give the American its deepest group of top teams in the league's history...Florida has played once at Kyle Field in College Station. In 2012, the Gators beat Johnny Manziel and the Aggies 20-17...What is 331-121? Wichita State's Gregg Marshall's record as coach of the Shockers. Those wins and NCAA tournaments would be the reason the school chooses suspension over termination in the wake of a six-month investigation that reportedly shows Marshall intimidating, striking and belittling players and more...Dwight Howard winning a title in Orlando, while playing for the Lakers, just remains odd in so many ways...

Final thought: The word "swims" looks the same upside-down.


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