The 10-2 season of 1994 ended with a narrow Orange Bowl loss to the National Champion Nebraska Cornhuskers while the regular season provided a thrilling home beat down of defending champs Florida State and another undefeated year of BIG EAST action. There is the "glass half full" approach to the situation. Unfortunately a dark cloud loomed in the distance. Sanctions were a comin' and Coach Erickson was on the first plane out of town.
Set change. Exit Dennis, Enter Butch.
In his first head coaching stint since Tulsa Rogers High School in 1978, Coach Davis would take this first step in attempting to right so many of the present Canes' wrongs. It was housecleaning time for the Miami football program and you could smell the stench a million miles away -- or at least as far away as SI's Headquarters at Rockefeller Center in New York City. When the overrated, opinionated rag hit newsstands on June 12, 1995, there were the eight nastiest words in the English language emblazoned on that hunter green cover:
I doubt Alexander Wolff set foot on the Coral Gables campus before writing this blasphemous piece, if ever. What could this Yankee possibly known about football down south? Has he ever sat through sixty minutes of that annual battle we call Miami vs. Florida State? Was he in the stands when the 1983 Canes shocked the planet in the form of 31-30 over ultra-favorites Nebraska? Could he feel our pain when Vinny's ill advised pass found its way into Pete Giftopolous' hands in January 1987? Did he cry when Jerome Brown put his Corvette into a pole on that rainy Florida afternoon or when Shane Curry's life was cut short by a thug's bullet? I think it's safe to give a collective "hell no" to each question I've posed.
This man wouldn't know the difference between the Orange Bowl and an Orange Julius.
According to CNN/SI.com, Wolff's area of "expertise" is basketball. Raised in Rochester, New York – where college football is that damned sport on TV the day before the Bills lace 'em up. He has covered a variety of sports including tennis, cycling, the Olympic Games and oh yeah, football. This begs the question, why did this football phony and his sensationalized editorial earn the prized cover slot? One word -- controversy. Stir the pot. Sell some magazines and damage a university's struggling reputation in the meanwhile. One thing Alexander Wolff never expected -- the resurgence. Yo Wolfie, Miami is most definitely back. Would you like a little salt or pepper on that crow you are about to eat?
The article opened with the phrase, "Broken Beyond Repair." Dismantle the football program and salvage the school's reputation were Wolff's marching orders. He went so far as to call our beloved program "a cancer that is steadily devouring an institution that you (Foote) have worked so hard to rid of its image Suntan U." Ouch. A little whine with that cheese, Alex?
A cancer, huh? Is that what you call four National Championships and a 168-39 record since 1983? What about CFA recognition eight of the past nine years for exceeding a 70% graduation rate among its football student athletes? One of only eight universities to achieve this feat. Last season's Sugar Bowl berth paid the university and the BIG EAST Conference millions upon millions of dollars. Miami's football program deserves to be put on a pedestal – not crucified. A cancer? I think not.
There was a bit of swagger in the 80's that might have rubbed those outside of Coral Gables the wrong way. Still, when you are on top there is always a bulls eye on your chest.Not everyone loves a winner -- let alone a cocky and confident one. Miami always seethed arrogance and never sported the "aw shucks" type of coach that could turn on the Southern charm, crack a corny joke, do a few Burger King commercials and shift to focus off his team's internal issues. We were the best, we knew we were the best, we were fearless and if you did find a way to beat the Canes you'd have better savored the moment because you just made history, amigo.
Mr. Wolff, if you'd have gotten your wish there would be a tremendous void in this sacred sport. Even you have to realize that by now. The college football world needs the Miami Hurricanes. You called Butch Davis "Mr. Clean, but he also may be too late?" Still feel that way? Butch made a mountain out of a molehill. Michael Irvins were replaced by Magic Bentons. Dade County's NFL superstars of tomorrow were packing up U-Hauls and heading to Gainesville and Tallahassee. Still, Butch didn't panic. No cutting corners. No "win today at all costs" mentality. Knock it all down and rebuild from the ground up. Think long term.
Take a chance on a running back from Immokalee, Florida with a hard-to-pronounce first name and see if he can produce. -- Thanks Edgerrin, you were amazing. UCLA fans are still nauseous after that 298 yard clinic you put on in 1998.
Or take a 5'9" 170 pound walk-on track star from Carol City and make a receiver out of him. -- Good luck this season in the Big Apple Santana. Your #83 jerseys are already selling like hotcakes. They're already saying "Keyshawn who?"
You're right Wolff, demolish this program. Bouncing back from the shady eighties could never happen. Or so you thought.
The Butch Davis era provided the squeaky clean image that the college football world was looking for. The only headlines the Canes were making were in regards to amazing graduation rates, community service efforts or how the mighty had fallen in that disastrous 5-7 season of 1997. Pot shots at the once mighty always make for good reading. The dominance and fear Miami Football once struck into opponents' hearts was a thing of the past. The Canes had been written off by everyone but themselves. Climbing the ladder of success rung by rung, earning every victory, appreciating every random milestone, tasting the agony of defeat all too often and getting used to postseason bowl games that former Miami teams would have turned their noses at -- these were the Canes of the late nineties.
This was a program that was used to "reloading" – not "rebuilding" in the truest sense of the word. But they did. Day by day. Game by game. Season by season. Take back the BIG EAST title. Beat Florida State. Win a major bowl game. Earn the preseason top spot in the polls. Snatch up those blue chip local athletes. Instill fear into opponents again. Make playing in the Orange Bowl hell on earth for the guys on the other side of the ball. Like Sinatra, the Canes did it their way. To hell with the doubters and the haters. Now back on top, a lot of people owe the University of Miami Football program an apology. The first name on that list is Mr. Alexander Wolff.
You were quick to write a seven-page article in 1995 when you needed to sell some magazines and make a name for yourself, Wolff. Where is your follow up? What do you have to say for yourself now that your asinine editorial holds no water? What will it take for you to right this wrong?
Miami paid their price for inappropriate behavior – now it is your turn, brother. You owe this university, its players and its fans an apology. Nothing more than seven pages of praise and glory will be acceptable. A real man can face the music and see the err in his ways. Are you a real man Alexander Wolff? Here's your chance to prove it. Admit you blew it. Admit that ordering Tad Foote to dissolve the program was a ludicrous request.
What's right is right Wolff. Shower the Canes with love and deal with things like a respectable human being or we can go a savage route.
You vs. me, three rounds in the ring, with gloves and headgear all for charity. Either way Cane fans everywhere will rejoice when you walk off with a bruised ego or black eye.
You can choose to ignore this letter Wolff, but you can't ignore this: You were wrong -- Miami is back. I'll look for you in Pasadena in January when you're begging your way into the locker room for that post game interview. Oh wait a minute, you'll probably be gearing up for that big Winter Olympics article by then.
Until then stay out of our way because it's almost September 1st and we have some business to take care of.
Born and raised in Miami, Chris Bello now lives in San Diego, CA and works as a freelance writer. Feel free to send your comments or to contact him for potential writing assignments at firstname.lastname@example.org