I’ll start out with the warning that this will be a long rant, so be prepared. As you guys have surely seen the Canes lost 40-3 to LSU last night. Now yes this bothers me, however what bothers me more is erosion of the UM mystique that has occurred under Larry Coker. After the game there was a fight that left 2 Hurricanes unconscious after being hit by a swinging helmet (this story was on cnn.com, not cnnsi.com the sports site but the NEWS site CNN.Com, so we looked pathetic to the whole world including non-sports fans). This is not the UM that we have all come to know and love. A real UM team wins the game and the fight after, even in a down year we at least win the post game fight. So in this post I’ll outline the problem and what’s got to be done to reestablish the UM mystique that is so sorely lacking.
You might be wondering “what about all the work that the University has done to improve the team’s image and distance itself from that mystique?” Well sure, that has paid off in some respects. UM has an incredibly high graduation rate by any standard and it’s especially high when one considers the graduation rates of other schools that are football powerhouses like UM. Also off the field incidents by Hurricanes are among the lowest in the nation, this is especially clear when compared to other Florida schools that have no shortage of incidents at any given time. All of this is wonderful stuff, but unfortunately it really doesn’t matter because the rest of the country wants to hold on to the idea of the UM bad boy teams of the 80’s and early 90’s. Every time there’s even a small problem it is magnified and people moan and groan about the “thugs” down in Coral Gables (yes, those “thugs” mentioned above with an 80% graduation rate1 and very few off the field issues). Why does this happen? It’s simple, people watch the Hurricanes because they either love us or they hate us, even now that our program is as clean as any other in the nation. The Hurricanes are a cash cow to the networks who can promote a classic Good v. Evil match up in any game we’re in by keeping us the villains.
Case in point was the rap song that got leaked out earlier this season. Three years ago a few guys on the team got together and made a (horrible) rap that was as disrespectful to women as just about any other rap song playing in a club on South Beach. The song got out and suddenly people were outraged at the misogynistic UM players (which could be true) but the media and fans paid much less attention to the fact that our opponent that week had a player who was ordered by a judge to play despite facing felony drug charges . A bad rap song or felony drug charges, which program is out of control?
One more short example is our recruiting Willie Williams, a player who had some problems with the law. Sure, he had problems but once again this was treated as though we had just signed Charles Manson to play middle linebacker. In reality it was the first time in over a decade that we had signed a player with such a troubled past and Williams is a guy who got good grades and test scores (for a world class athlete). So of course we give one special case guy a chance and we’re back to being thugs in the eyes of the majority of fans and the media.
Now, what do we do about this you ask? I say play into it. Turn to the dark side. Turn heel (in wrestling terminology). Let’s face it, UM will only be seen as thugs from now until eternity so if we tap into that image maybe the players can acquire some of the swagger that led to a 56 game home winning streak and 4 of the school’s 5 National Titles. I’m not saying that we encourage players to commit crimes or that the school have a financial benefits program like it did in the past, but there are some simple steps to take that will reinforce the image that will always be the face of UM football.
1. Give Sebastian back his cob pipe.
In the 90’s UM thought a smoking mascot sent the wrong message, I think it’s time that the school reconsider. Nothing says dominance like a school who’s mascot may or may not be smoking an illegal substance.
2. Let Luther Campbell back on the sideline.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s rap star and First Amendment pioneer Luther Campbell roamed free on the UM sideline and funded the afore mentioned financial aid program by paying players $100 per sack and $200 for an INT returned for a touchdown. I say put him back on the sidelines as a decoy and police him to ensure no money is changing hands. Think about it, if you played quarterback for the other team wouldn’t you feel less comfortable having to wonder if the Cane’s D-line saw you as a money tree waiting to be picked?
3. Let Trick Daddy on the sineline.
In the 80’s and 90’s we only had one rap star on our sideline, now we can have two. Miami rapper Trick Daddy is such a Canes diehard that he even goes to the Women’s basketball games. I think loyalty like that should be rewarded. It would also allow Luther to eventually pass the torch to the next generation of UM rap star sideline mascots.
4. Get involvement from more former hurricanes.
Former Canes and Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin is a regular around the team, but we need more like him. Luckily our options are nearly endless. I have a short list of former Canes with which I’d start a mentoring program with all incoming freshmen. For starters I’d enlist “Warren Sapp, Ray Lewis, Cortez Kennedy and the Rock, who in '92 chased the San Diego State mascot into the stands, screaming, "I'll kill you," back when he was a defensive lineman who went by the name Dwayne Johnson.“2
These suggestions are just a start, but I think they’re a start in the right direction. There are times in life when a person, or a school’s football team as the case may be, must look at themselves honestly and see what it is that they truly are. No matter what UM does it will always be the villain to most of America, so I say we start playing and acting like it.