A Time For Reflection

Typing on my laptop on our way back from a comfortable victory against Pittsburgh where the score wasn't indicative of the dominance, my mind was wandering from one thought to another at lightning speed.

And although only a few of those thoughts had to do with football, taking both an expedition to Shanksville, PA and Driving up the Garden Sate Parkway with a view of ground zero still smoldering in smoke for a view of some 50 miles away, I was able to put together enough thoughts on College Football: Miami, our arch-rivals,The National Scene, and The BIG EAST, in proportionately descending order.

My first thoughts upon seeing This new Heinz Stadium and Sports Complex is how deferential the Pittsburgh Steelers were to be willing to share in both the expenses and usage of the new Stadium without making it appear as if it were a College team appropriating an NFL Stadium for a Big Game. From the walls of the interior of the stadium covered with Panthers logos to the Painted End zones to the Panthers mascot painted in the grass at the fifty yard-line to the prominent BIG EAST Logos, the only way that a visitor to this field would know that it is shared with an NFL team is to walk from the college players parking lot at the practice facilities and in to the conjoined lot for the Steelers players' cars and see how the average price of car per player's parking space goes up exponentially. And their state of the art Workout facility is second to none. Walt Harris was doing an outstanding job beating out Penn State for recruits in Western Pennsylvania in recent years before he had this new facility. He should have so problem keeping his recruits home now that he has facilities that compete with those that used to help Big Ten Schools invade his home recruiting turf and lure away players. It was very smart of the Pittsburgh Steelers to have helped The University get its facilities up to the state of the art, because The Steelers recognize how important having a great college team can be to help grow support for their beloved professional team in football crazy – where the casual fan follows top prospects from the early days of their careers playing Pop Warner – Western Pennsylvania. If you are a new jack to the scene who thinks that Pitt won a lucky National Championship about thirty years ago under washed up Johnny Majors and maybe one other lucky one in the past century, put your dunce caps on and study your history. Pitt has won more National Football NCAA titles than Miami (4) and even Notre Dame (7). That is right, Pitt has a storied football history that includes NINE national championships! Walt Harris knew what he was doing when he turned down the Ohio State job in turn for a long-term contract at Pitt. Phil Simms has called him "…The best coach I have played for at any level." Pitt's one weakness this year is at QB, where they lost the poised John Turman and do not seem to have any player willing to step up and take the reigns. This is unfortunate, because Coach Harris, known as meticulous in every part of the game, is particularly known for grooming young quarterbacks. He's not fretting, however, because he's instead licking his chops in anticipation as he has a legendary High School All-Everything that some are already calling better at this stage in his career than ANY WESTERN, PA QB BEFORE HIM (although I remember the same accolades being lauded upon a certain Ron Powlus) verbally committed for next season. His name is Tyler Palko, and according to Insiders101.com Top National Prospects, he is the number two QB in all of prep football and the number eleven prospect overall regardless of position. Couple that with the fact that he has a true Western Pennsylvania pedigree where they breed QBs the way South Florida breeds skill players, with a history (leaving off major names) including Joe Montana, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino alone in the last generation. Palko hails from Western Allegheny and is already a solid , legit 6-2/ 210 pounds. If he even is within the same time zone as any of those three in terms of talent, then Pitt will be a legitimate Top-Ten team by his third year there as coach Harris has already said that (barring injury) Palko will NOT be red-shirting next season.

Of the Florida Schools, I was literally sickened – not surprised in the least, but truly sickened – by the behavior of Coach Spurrier and The Gators Saturday evening as they continued to throw over the top for the ENTIRE sixty minutes of the game with neither Rex Grossman nor Brock Berlin giving any marching orders other than to pile up as many points as you can in regulation in retaliation for being beaten soundly by The Mississippi State Bulldogs' last year and in the hope that by keeping his regular rotation in throughout the entire game his stats would overwhelm the voters into putting his team back in to the top spot. On that point, I have several arguments against his thinking – ESPECIALLY in the coaches' poll. The only people who really wanted Florida to use their regulars throughout the game were the gamblers who took the Gators laying the points. Similarly, the only people who would feel ill will towards the Canes for "Calling the dogs off," – quoting Kirk Herbstreidt of ESPN – would again be the gamblers who took the Canes and the points. In all likelihood, the Coaches Poll will keep Miami in the number one position, possibly even widening the gap in points. Notwithstanding the general dislike for Spurrier among the coaching fraternity, the majority of Major College coaches' generally realize that as soon a team has a game thoroughly in hand (as Miami did a few minutes into the third quarter of every game the Canes have played), it does not make sense to keep your key players in a game where they may be susceptible to season ending injury nor does it do you any good to give your opponent a reason for revenge. How stupid would Spurrier have felt tonight if Alex Brown had gotten injured in the last defensive series with two minutes left on the clock had Alex Brown been caught in that final pile-up and emerged with a severely sprained or tore an ACL simply to ensure his shutout. Now that The BCS has made relatively clear that margin of victory should not be a factor in choosing a team's position in the polls in what was essentially a call for the powerhouses to stop seeing who could outdo each other in outlandishly one-sided scoring games, I believe that the classy coaches like Larry Coker, who immediately removes his first team (and their regular subs – for that matter) once the game is out of reach, will be rewarded by the other coaches in the poll as ALL of the coaches have at least once been on the losing side of an embarrassing score. To quote coach Coker himself: "Frankly, I know that if it was our goal to go out and beat a team 100 to nothing, we could probably do that. But what type of lesson does our team learn in the process? I think the idea of running up scores for the sake of impressing pollsters is ludicrous."

Conversely, although I feel that it is likely that the Media Poll will likely narrow the gap between The Canes and The Gators, my hunch is that Miami will hold on by a handful of points, but there is a slight chance that Miami may drop to second by that same slim number of points, as many of the media voters do not even watch the out of town games but merely look at the point spread versus the actual point differential. What strikes me as ironic is at least half of the major preseason football guides ("Athlon's" comes immediately to mind, but it was the trendy preseason pick) had the Pitt-Miami game as one of their "Upsets of the Year". If Miami does drop in the media poll, their will be so much criticism written about the fickleness of the AP Poll voters by legitimate NATIONAL College Football Columnists that as long as Miami wins the Troy State Game by double digits, they will be back at a Unanimous Number One going in to Tallahassee.

That is why, despite the fact that I found myself getting frustrated at the third team defense for Miami in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter for giving up two touchdowns, the level of frustration WAS NOWHERE CLOSE to my level of anxiety when I saw D.J. Williams carted off to the locker room after the first defensive play of the night. Luckily, having a sideline access pass allowed me to speak with D.J. just before the team came out for the second half and he assured me that although Doctor Uribe was not at the game because his plane was postponed, the team surgeon for the STEELERS took X-Rays of his ankle, sent them via a 3-D computer to John Uribe so that they were in agreement, and then they informed D.J. and the coaching staff immediately that it was a moderate sprain that he should keep his weight off of for the next several days, but should be fully healed in time for the Troy State game (although I think patience will be a virtue and he will let this ankle rest until Miami starts preparing for Tallahassee, and in talking with him on the record he said that Coach Coker will likely shut him down from any game speed action until the FSU game. In the interim, it was pretty awe inspiring seeing the son of a solid NFL player (Derrick Crudup, Jr.) make a beautiful pass to a son of an NFL Hall of Famer (Kellen Winslow II) and hand off to the son of another NFL Hall of Famer (Jarrett Payton) on consecutive plays. It is pretty much consensus among pro football experts that Kellen Winslow II and Jarrett Payton's fathers' weren't just Hall of Famers, but rather each (Kellen and Walter, respectively) revolutionized the way his position was played and each is considered the greatest who ever played Tight End and Running Back in the history of the game. Those are some pretty impressive bloodlines gaining valuable experience that will help the Hurricanes down the road far more than leaving Clinton Portis in for the second half to tie a rushing touchdowns in a game record set by Melvin Bratton in The Eighties.

Having just watched the tape of the PITT game for the first time late Saturday night, I was going out of my mind when I heard the announcers say that Pitt really "has the Miami defense back on their heels", and only making a passing reference to the fact that our defensive stalwart D.J. Williams went down on the first play, thus never giving the defensive unit its introductions and not even mentioning that having Square and Vilma switching up the linebacking corps so early in to adjust for D.J.'s unexpected departure was not even mentioned as to why Miami were driven on so easily on the first series by PITT. To add insult to injury, it wasn't until there were only minutes left in the game (a solid hour and a half after I was filled in on the sidelines) that Dr. Jerry Punch reported on the extent of Big #17's injury. If I was watching from home as opposed to the from behind the Miami bench, I would have pulled out my hair trying to find out if the injury to Williams was going to be season-ending. Interestingly, I interviewed Earl Little just before half time on the record, albeit informally, and he said that while he is elated to be playing for the Browns and to have had an interception last week, he wanted to comment on what is a well known tragedy among followers of the Canes. He said that, much like the country at large (himself included), he also lived through a horrific personal violation when his roommate and best friend were killed on campus at U. of Miami in Dorm 36 while still a Cane, and he wanted me to spread the following: He never thought he would ever get over his feelings of uncertainty about his own safety and the safety of his loved ones after having his best friend and former Hurricane Marlin Barnes and Barnes's girlfriend bludgeoned to death in his apartment during his junior year. Interestingly, although he admitted to taking a few ill-advised turns on his way back to acceptance, he eventually got there. Although he would not want to go in to depth about his support system or what therapies he used while dealing with Marlin's death, he did say: "The country need to realize the five stages of grief that they teach you about in counseling – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Those are no joke. The American people will realize that as they deal with what happened on September 11th. I know I will." On a similar note, The University of Miami Press recently contacted me (actually, it was in February of 2001) and they told me that they were publishing a retrospective of the decade of the nineties with articles and editorials that were published in their student newspaper. Since I own the rights to all of the material of my words that have appeared in print, I feel that in this time of healing it would be appropriate for me to end this article with an article that I wrote slightly less than a decade ago as a sophomore at the University of Miami for the "Miami Hurricane". So that you understand the time and tumult of the period, there is a brief preamble included (also my own words, thus, allowed wherever I wish them to be included).

Incidentally, the Coffee table book is expected to be available by Christmas, 2001:

MY EDITORIAL REPRINTED (WITH PERMISSION) FROM JANUARY 31st, 1992 FOR THE MIAMI HURRICANE-- RETROSPECTIVE OF THE DECADE OF ANDREW (1991-2000)

INTRODUCTION: After a horrific bus crash that killed two Notre Dame swimmers, and temporarily made a paraplegic out of the heroic Haley Scott on an icy winter night in the final days of January 1992, I was just arriving at the South Bend Campus to visit my girlfriend. Having just completed my first week back at classes for the second semester of my junior year, I was looking to celebrate the fact that Friday was upon us when I completed my twenty-six hour solo marathon jaunt from the Coral Gables campus of The University of Miami for a weekend in South Bend, and I could not understand why the Fighting Irish were not celebrating like the arrival of a typical weekend. That is, until I was made aware of the accident, at which time I realized that it was my reaction -- though I was unaware about the happenings of the accident -- that was sophomoric and juvenile. I present to you the article, written at 25,000 feet on my way back from my weekend excursion to see my high school and college sweetheart {Note: I left my car on campus in Indiana, as there was no way in Hell that I was driving back through a blizzard.}

The following was published in The Miami Hurricane & The Notre Dame Observer concurrently two days after my return to Miami, and later picked up by The AP news service and printed in over 50 newspapers across the country, from The Chicago Tribune to The Miami Herald, from The Boston Globe to The New York Times.

RIVALRY REQUIRES RECOGNITION OF REALITY

Published Friday, January 31st, 1992

Much has been written about the intense, often mean-spirited rivalry between the University of Miami (FL), and the University of Notre Dame. The reason for the contempt between the two schools is obvious: jealousy.

AT UM, we have the palm trees, the great climate and beaches and the international flavor, the dynamic city and night life, an aggressive campaign to raise our school's academic prestige to reach that of an Ivy's ilk, and a football program whose prowess and dominance over the past decade is unparalleled and cannot be challenged. Our academics are consistently and systemically improving -- make no mistake -- and our curriculum, while excellent indeed, has not yet reached the caliber of that of some of the private, elite Eastern institutions with histories hundreds of years longer than ours: But we're on our way.

At Notre Dame, there is a close-knit community second to none ever seen on a college campus, an intense school spirit, the academic excellence that Miami is striving for and an athletic, particularly football, tradition that is second to none. Although, thankfully, their legendary and at a time seemingly immortal and unbeatable football teams no longer carry a mystique when they walk on the field simply because they are The Fighting Irish. Other schools with solid football programs now realize that they are lining up eleven on eleven: and that no longer do Knute Rockne, The Galloping Ghost, The Four Horseman, Angelo Bertelli, The Gipper, Touchdown Jesus, Joe Montana, nor even Rudy Ruettiger strap it up on the other side of the ball. This is a good thing in that it levels the playing field and the players so that the current Irish teams go toe-to-toe against the visiting squad, who are more than likely with each passing year to be oblivious to the mystique, never having heard of many of the legends in the first place, which in and of itself is a shame.

Lost in the comparison of the two schools is one important element: The realization that students at both institutions are rightfully the envy of their secondary school peers. Mention to any high school classmate that you attend UM or ND and you're likely to hear a response with the same meaning but only slightly less nerdy than: "Wow! You are so lucky!"

The weekend of Thursday, January 23, to Sunday, January 26th, 1992, I was visiting my girlfriend at Notre Dame. Literally minutes before I arrived at Notre Dame via a 1986 Buick in the wee hours of Thursday Night / Friday Morning in the midst of a ferocious ice storm, the normally picturesque -- but seemingly on this eerie morning haunted -- campus, tragedy struck the South Bend college.

Early in the morning amid treacherous road conditions, the Irish women's swim team embarked on an ill-fated trip home from a dual meet at Northwestern University. In those early hours, the driver of the women's bus lost control on an icy exit ramp and the bus violently overturned, taking the lives of two freshman swimmers, paralyzing a third, and injuring a majority on the squad, a team with over 30 members in all.

Needless to say, the entire Notre Dame Community -- myself included, as well as Irish Catholics nationwide (who for some glorious reason feel a connection to the school) and in particular in the country's heartland -- was deep in mourning throughout the weekend. This accident, as terrifying and horrendous as it was, helped me put the healthy competitiveness between Notre Dame and Miami in perspective.

Yes, Notre Dame is our deepest and richest rival (along with that upstart former all-girls school known as FSU) IN SPORTS, a far cry from being an enemy IN LIFE. It is important that students at both schools recognize the magnitude of the rivalry, and realize that the "Catholics versus Convicts" mantra was more hoopla and hysteria created more so by 'Canes players and fans. Such hoopla is good-natured ribbing, not an insult, and is practically embraced with more vim, vigor, and pride by Hurricanes fans than it is intended malice by those Leprechauns anyway. It may have been a catch phrase on the ND campus, but leave it to the Miami students to Copyright it and turn it in to a cottage industry.

To us Miamians, it is far more important to understand that the students at Notre Dame -- regardless of race, creed, or religion -- are our Brethren in a love for higher learning. Embed this thought into your head: We are ARCH RIVALS, not ARCH ENEMIES, on the playing field. First and foremost, we are all collegians – brothers and sisters dedicated to achieving an education.

I am still an avid ‘Canes fan through and through, and that will never change. This article is not intended to persuade one student or alumni of either institution (of the official variety or, as ND has such a large faction of in the Northeast in particular, the "subway variety") that our rivalry has diminished one iota. Incidents like this one just help remind me to realize how trivial sports are in the GAME…make that the REALITIES of life. Make no mistake, though, I will still have every raw recruit of our University's football team scouted for my armchair quarterbacking talents, which just may be second to none.

Ergo, all kidding aside, the students at ND are every bit as valiant and resilient as the students at our University. Our hearts should and must -- and I know this goes without saying -- go out along with our prayers to all who suffered losses in this horrific accident.

Scott C. Martineau

Scott Martineau is a freelance journalist who periodically submits pieces to grassy.com. If you would like to contact Mr. Martineau, please e-mail him at Smartin780@aol.com if you feel he could be of any assistance to you.

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