Melvin Bratton, Hurricane Throwback

Before there was a Willis McGahee running wild at Miami, before there was a Clinton Portis slashing away for big yards in the Orange Bowl and before Edgerrin James ran the Canes back to national prominence while rockin' the number five jersey in orange and green, there was a Melvin Bratton. We sit down with Melvin in part one of a two-part series.

By the time he left the University of Miami after the 1987 season, Bratton would leave an indelible mark on the Hurricane record book. His 32 career touchdowns ranks third all-time behind James, Stephen McGuire and tied with James Jackson. His career total of 2,597 all-purpose yards ranks him in the top 15 all-time at UM. These numbers are made more impressive when you consider that Bratton had to share time in the backfield with such talented colleagues as Alonzo Highsmith, Warren Williams, Daryl Oliver and Cleveland Gary.

Bratton was the prototypical halfback/fullback in Gary Stevens' sophisticated multiple set, pro-style offense. He was big and strong enough to get the tough yards inside, fast and shifty enough to break long runs on the outside. He possessed the hands of a wide receiver and the feet of a dancer that allowed him to cutback and crossover on defenders like an Allen Iverson. And he could block like a sixth offensive lineman.

He was the complete and consummate football player.

Bratton would sign with Miami in 1983 after graduating from Miami Northwestern High- long a Hurricane pipeline that has sent players like Brett Perriman, Tolbert Bain, Roland Smith, Nate Webster, Magic Benton, David Williams and Travarious Bain to Coral Gables- to play for an upstart program led by coach Howard Schnellenberg.

Although he would redshirt during Miami's first national title season, he did play a key role in the Hurricanes thrilling 31-30 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl Classic.

"I contributed a lot to that team," said Bratton. "I portrayed the role as Turner Gill, their quarterback on the scout team. I got the defense kinda frustrated because of being a shifty lil' guy at the time."

He would never don the pads in an actual game for Schnells, as the coach would make an ill-advised move for a job in the short-lived USFL that never came to fruition. A relatively unknown Jimmy Johnson would be brought in from Oklahoma St. to take over the reigns of the Miami football program.

"At that time we went to school for Howard, Howard was the guy that recruited me and trusted my career and life within his hands and we didn't know what was going on because Jimmy didn't come in until the fall," said Bratton, of that tumultuous period in 1984. "We didn't know exactly who was our coach but the thing is, our mentality here is that we didn't care who's our leader. We're going to give 110-percent anyways. We just had that competitive temperament and that certain chip on our shoulder as far as us as players."

So while he signed up for Schnellenberger, he got Johnson.

"The difference between the two guys- and I always get asked this question- Schnelly was more of a business-like, Bear Bryant-type, no-nonsense type guy," explained Bratton on the differences between the two. "Jimmy, was more of a motivator, he can have you so motivated to the point he'd have you run through a wall. And Jimmy was a guy that really was just a motivator. And I tell you what, his enthusiasm, just his energy, it picks you up and makes you want to play for him."

The Hurricanes would stagger to an 8-5 finish in Johnson inaugural season in 84. Hampered by a porous defense the Canes would be involved in some of the decades most memorable games down the stretch- all of them high-scoring losses. Most notable of all was the late November showdown with a Boston College squad that was led by a certain 5'7 quarterback.

Bratton, on that wet and windy afternoon would have his coming out party on national television. Replacing an injured Highsmith, Bratton would rush 15 times for 134 yards, catch six passes for 82 yards and score four touchdowns. His third was a 52 yard scamper around and through the B.C. defense where he would take a hand-off and find a crease and burst down the Hurricane sideline, then he would cut clear across the grain, outrunning the entire Eagle defense to the opposite side of the east end zone.

"WHAT A TOUCHDOWN RUN BY BRATTON!!!," exclaimed Brent Musberger, who was calling the game for CBS. His fourth and final touchdown was a one yard dive- a Bratton trademark- gave UM a 45-41 lead with less than a minute to go in regulation. The day should have been remembered for the trio of performances put on that day by Eddie Brown( 10 catches/220 yards), Kosar( 447 passing yards) and Bratton.

Instead, it got overshadowed by a certain 'Hail Flutie'. Bratton would be the forgotten man in that historic game, which is remembered almost exclusively for Doug Flutie's long fling to Gerald Phelan to end the game.

"Yeah, I get that all the time," he admits. "It's like I had one of my greatest games ever and it got overshadowed with that throw. But the thing is that it's still one of the classic games ever of all-time. But if I had to write that script all over again, my game that night, Eddie Brown's game that night and Bernie Kosar's game that night- you had four guys who were 'most valuable' in that game."

Bratton would set a trend that day. They say, 'big time players, make big time plays' From 1984 through 1987, he did that as well as any Hurricane. When the lights were on, the chips were down and the whole nation was watching, Bratton made plays.

He would conclude his redshirt freshman year with nine catches in the Fiesta Bowl against UCLA and score two touchdowns. The second coming with 2:58 remaining on a three yard toss from Kosar to give the Canes a 37-36 lead. Only to have the Bruins drive back down against the Miami's 'defense' and take the game 39-37 on John Lee's last second field goal. What can you say, Melvin just couldn't catch a break that year.

In the 1986 season opener at South Carolina on ESPN, Bratton would need just 10 carries to tally 107 yards. But it was his three touchdowns that electrified the national audience. He would score the first touchdown of the year on a 34 yard burst where he would dive head-first into the end zone. And then just minutes later he would scamper around right end for an 11 yard touchdown jaunt that would see another Bratton leap to pay dirt. He would cap off the scoring for the Canes with another touchdown dive to seal an easy 34-14 victory over the Gamecocks. He had become the modern day Sam 'Bam' Cunningham.

"When he gets to the three yard line he turns into Superman," said ESPN's Mike Patrick, of Bratton's high flying act. And color commentator Pat McInally, after one of Brattons slashing runs, compared his style to that of O.J. Simpson- the runner, not the husband.

In Miami's pulsating 26-25 comeback win over FSU at Doak Campbell Stadium in 1987, it was Bratton's 49 yard catch-and-run late in the third quarter that would ignite the Canes from a 19-3 deficit. Against Notre Dame later that season he would get things started again by scoring the opening touchdown in Miami's 24-0 blanking of the hated Irish. His 11 touchdowns that season led the national champions and for his efforts he was named Sun Bank's Hurricane Offensive Player of the Year.

On a team that had a roster full of superstars like Michael Irvin, Jerome Brown, Bennie Blades, Danny Stubbs, Vinny Testaverde and Steve Walsh, Bratton was one of it's emotional leaders. The 80's Hurricanes brought a new brand of football and attitude to the landscape. This was not your fathers college football dynasty. These were the brash, arrogant, cocky and swashbucklin' Canes. They weren't about the traditional college atmosphere, marching bands and letterman jackets. These bunch of Canes, many from the inner city, were about hip-hop, bandannas and touchdown dances.

It was simply called 'Hurricane Football' by the players. It was a style that you either loved or loathed. They would be made infamous by their attire coming off the plane for the 87 Fiesta Bowl, they would meet teams on the hash-mark for coin-tosses and talk trash like a team of Gary Paytons.

They were Miami's mavericks. The renegades of college football.

"Every game, every game we'd bring it," said Bratton, of his teams style of play. "Jimmy would actually get upset with us. He wanted us really- against the lesser teams- to tone it down an lil' bit, the Tulsa and those schools right there. But we didn't care, we treated everybody the same, whether it was Oklahoma, Florida St., Notre Dame, whoever. We came out with that mentality, we played with a chip on our shoulders and people gave us the tag as being ' the Raiders of college football' and we were like, 'Yeah, ok, fine, we'll take that tag' but it was just an arrogance and a lot of people hated us for that. But we didn't care, it was like 'us against the world' type mentality that we knew we had a family and we depended on each other.

"And when you got a team that you can look in the fourth quarter and it's hot, like the Florida St. game, we played up there in 87, down 19-3 and basically the game is over, people thought. But we're like, 'NO!' and that's when I ignited the touchdown, 49 yards and Michael Irvin took Deion twice. So we played with an arrogance, we were never out of a game, we never thought we could lose any game."

Which was displayed with the traditional 'four fingers' at the start of every fourth quarter that UM made famous.

"And everybody argues who started that," Bratton says. "But I think we started that as far as, 'That's the fourth quarter and we're never out of the game.' Whether we we're up or behind, we were never out of it."

And it was during this period where Miami forged it's 'road warrior' mentality. They'd play any time, any where, any place. It may have all began with the 1985 game against the top ranked Oklahoma Sooners in Norman. The players set the emotional tone early with a players-only warm-up session in which they proceeded to taunt, shove and point fingers at anyone in red and white.

"When we first went up to Norman and Jimmy had gotten beat by those guys for years at Oklahoma St. and Barry Switzer pretty much owned Oklahoma," Bratton recalled of that game, which from 1985-87 ended up in a three game sweep for the Hurricanes. "And we had heard all these stories that Jimmy had never won there and the whole deal. We didn't care about that, he went into war with a whole new crew. So when we went to Norman and we hear about the intimidation factor, Oklahoma and Bosworth- we didn't care about that. We went in there and started out in the beginning and let them know."

"And Jimmy was shocked, like, 'What are you guys doing? This is Oklahoma' He was surprised at the mentality, that's when he knew he had something special. We walked into Oklahoma and just took it to them.

"We broke Troy Aikman's leg, sent him to UCLA and made him the first pick in the draft. So that whole deal was an experience in itself and we didn't care about anybody. I mean you could bring on the Raiders or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whoever, we would have played them. We may have lost because of experience and strength but I tell ya what, it would have been a helluva fight. We would have went out bloody nose and everything else but we would've fought till the end.

"We felt like we could in go anybodies backyard and this is one of my quotes in Sports Illustrated, 'We feel like we could go in anybodies backyard, turn over the garbage can and walk right out the front.'"

And could they have played ball any other way?

"No, no," said Bratton. "We were not raised like that, a lot of it came from Tolbert Bain and myself, Jerom Brown and Alonzo Highsmith, the inner city. We had that attitude, that no-nonsense attitude. Coming from the city of Miami, it's so competitive as far as Little League up until everything else. And we took that swagger with us to Miami."

But that style was not popular with opposing fans, the media or even from within their own university. While some of the criticism is warranted, in his book, 'Turning This Thing Around' Johnson wrote that some of the backlash that came against his players had a cultural and racial element to it. In short, they may have been 'too black' for some.

Bratton agrees with that notion.

"Oh yeah, very much so. We were inner-city 'thugs' and all that, but our graduation ratio was so high to the point where they tried to criticize us in every area but they couldn't," said Bratton, who graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelors of Arts Degree in Business Management." We handled our business on the field and also in the classroom, so where did that come from? 'Miami thugs' and the whole deal, we didn't buy into that and we didn't allow the media to dictate to us. We dictated the media."

The 'Miami Vice' image was firmly embedded after the Canes heartbreaking loss to Penn St. in the 87 Fiesta Bowl. The sight of Miami players marching out in fatigues and walking out during a streak fry is what people seem to remember the most- even more than Testaverde's five interceptions that night in Tempe. Like all the Canes on that team, that game remains Bratton's biggest regret at Miami.

"Yes, yes," he admits, freely. "Without a doubt because the whole fatigue deal, y'know, people took it as arrogance but we took it and turned everything into a positive and I think if we would've won the game, fatigues would've been a national fad."

And now Bratton deals in what has become an international fashion fad that looks like it's here to stay. It seems now you can't turn on the tube and see some athlete or celebrity wearing some sort of authentic sports paraphenalia. Go to any mall and you'll see scores of kids with this type of apparel. But what has really taken off are the retro jerseys of past players- just ask LeBron James- the retro look is very much in style.

Bratton, along with his long-time friend and former teammate Tolbert Bain, have decided to get into this market with their own niche- original, vintage, collegiate sports jerseys. His companies name is 'College Throwback'(

"'College Throwback' is a company with Tolbert and myself, we're high school buddies, childhood friends since the age of seven. And what we've done is that we saw that the retro market is very hot with the pro's and only one company was doing it, 'Mitchell and Ness' out of Philadelphia and the rappers and the urban market really took this concept and took it to another level.

"So what we did, we said, 'Well, no one's done it in college' So we started last year researching, went and met with the NCAA, sat down with them and said, 'Listen, we have a system that we're going to implement where we pay the players royalties and also the school royalties' There's enough money to pay a mark up in there and the universities been getting slammed for so many years for not paying athletes. This system right here is bring money back into players pockets for his collegiate days and it's a win-win situation for everybody."

So far they have deals with Kellen Winslow Sr., Reggie White, Deion Sanders, Anthony Carter, Warren Moon, Tony Dorsett, Billy Sims, the estate of Jerome Brown, Bernie Kosar- and of course, Melvin Bratton, among others.

Bratton now spends his days working the phones, dealing with manufacturers, negotiating deals with players and searching through media guides and other publications to cross-check the authenticity of their product. He and Bain are in the process of setting up a sales team to hit the pavement.

"I just met with an e-commerce company that'll be able to take it on-line and do on-line ordering."

And pretty soon, this Hurricane throwback will be in business.

* Coming up in Part II- The most bittersweet night of Bratton's career and how it changed his life forever. Bratton talks about life after football and the tie that bonds all Hurricanes long after they leave the program.

(Steve Kim, is a freelance journalist and owner of He is an avid fan of the Hurricane football program and has been logging onto since 1998. For questions or comments, he can be reached at

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