Trust me on this Miami faithful; the college football world respects the Hurricanes even if they aren't doing a good job showing it. They are displaying a "differential regard for" us. We are "esteemed" by both our colleagues and enemies.
As Cane fans we are always quick to spout the mantra, "hated by many, loved by few, respected by all" in regards to our precious little program. Yet when we are attacked, bad mouthed or not given the credit we feel we deserve as of late, we get defensive and argumentative. Why?
I pose this question to my Hurricane brethren: Who gives a damn what the rest of the college football world thinks? Are we not yet used to it being "us against them?"
Since when have Miami fans been so caught up in the media's perception of us? We used to take pride in being loathed and not given the credit we deserve yet these days we seem to feed off the approval of play-by-play announcers and adoration of newspaper writers nationwide. What gives?
I'll tell you – it was last season's love affair with the Canes. Most of the college football world was crying in their hankies with us when we got snubbed and we ate it up after falling out of the spotlight for too long. Nothing more than a great story for the media to latch onto and we bought it hook, line and sinker.
"Poor Miami – they rebuilt, did it right, kept their noses clean, lost early in the season, won out and deserved a shot at mighty Oklahoma." It was music to our ears. Someone out there felt our pain. Yet like every tragedy you inevitably become yesterday's news. From media darlings to an unproven No. 1 almost overnight. How soon everything has changed.
Personally, I love the criticism. I'll take that No. 2 ranking and run with it. I think it is great that we are a mere four games into the season and have been counted out of a spot in the National Championship game. Computer geeks and number crunchers already pointing out our strength of schedule before we have even faced Florida State, Washington or Virginia Tech? Talk about putting the cart before the horse.
I welcome the challenge of Florida State weekend being a lose-lose situation for Miami. Should we thump the Noles, then they are obviously not an elite team. Should they make it close or pull off the upset, well then the Canes are just another overrated bunch.
Dear College Football World,
Please keep the insults and negative chatter flowing. It is the fuel that this team needs to be successful. It's food for Hurricanes' souls. We thrive on it and when the time is right, you'll pay. Trust us.
Miami tasted No. 1 this year and I didn't like the way we handled it. The 61-0 rout of Rutgers was marred with 127 yards worth of penalties. That is how the Canes reacted to snatching the top spot after the opener against Penn State? Next, a Thursday night meeting with Pittsburgh after a nineteen day layoff brought 120 penalized yards as well as a lack of emotion from the second team – allowing 14 points in the latter half of the 4th quarter. Protecting that lead was not the priority it should have been. A 43-7 beating was the statement the No. 1 team in the nation needed to make. Instead, the Canes got fat and happy and they know it.
Center Brett Romberg is quick to direct some criticism towards his partners in crime on the offensive line.
"Last year, we seemed more hungry, more aggressive," said Romberg. "We've been playing pretty good, but we're not as hungry.
"We looked like animals last year. This year, we look like fat cats. We're lazy. We're the No. 1 offensive line in the nation and it's like, ‘Thanks for the name. We'll take it.'"
Line coach Art Kehoe is also quick to chime in about his boys' lackadaisical play. "It's like they think they can do no wrong," Kehoe said. Not the vote of confidence we were looking for, Coach.
When complacency sets in a reality check is in order and that comes this weekend in the form of a 60-minute battle at Doak Campbell Stadium.
Snatched of their No. 1 ranking by the Associated Press, the Canes strut into Tallahassee quietly doubted my many. Favored by more than a touchdown, Miami is in many ways has become the underdog. Untested. Unproven. A team that has beat up on lesser opponents and is taking untapped talent to the toughest college football stadium in the nation to steal a win from. Word on the street is that Florida State is not as pathetic as their 41-9 beating at the hands of North Carolina. Rumor has it that Bowden is reverting back to his ol' riverboat gambler ways with two weeks to prepare his depleted squad. Former Nole greats are calling current players, stressing the importance of defending the streak. The tables are being set for a potential upset and that is just what Miami needs to play inspired football.
Fine by us. The Canes respond best when their backs are to the wall.
Neither fans or players are accustomed to this top ranking. Last time we were the nation's best the "other" George Bush was preparing to leave office and the Canes were preparing for a Sugar Bowl showdown with Alabama. Since then we have ridden that probation train and sunk to lows we never expected. High profile editorials, major television exposure and phrases like "College Gameday LIVE From the Orange Bowl" were not frequent occurrences. We put our heads down, quietly went back to work and slowly crept back into the spotlight. Now that we are on top, we've forgotten how to respond. We've failed to realize that all eyes are always on No. 1. The nation watches when the top dog plays a Troy State. They pollsters expect the favorite to cover that 52-point spread – not fall 21 points short of doing so. They notice when you let up on a Pittsburgh late in the game. Blowouts are not only expected, they are welcomed when you are the nation's best team. It becomes your rite of passage.
The drop to No. 2 came at the most opportune time. The Canes have been called out. Expect them to respond. They've heard the chatter. They've read the stats. The secret is out. Miami beats up on lesser talent – they don't deserve that top spot. What better weekend than to shut everyone up that with a win at Florida State where no opponent has departed victorious in 10 years? The stage is set for the Canes to prove their worth.
Miami fans need not fret about where the chips may fall come season's end. We are no longer the favorite to win it all. Embrace that. We need to play the role of underdog. We have always thrived on being hated. Give the Gators and Sooners all the spotlight. Let them wilt under the pressure while we're down south playing Hurricane-style football. Thrive on the drama and controversy. Keep quiet, strike hard and take care of business week in and week out. We've always done our best when counted out and hated. Do we really want that to change? I'd rather be a well-kept secret than America's Sweethearts any day of the week. There's no room on this bandwagon for late coming hacks. I never want to hear the praises of Brent Musberger or Lee Corso – please guys, continue bashing us. I don't need the guy next to me at the gym wearing a Canes shirt but doesn't know Portis is the starting tailback and can't find the Orange Bowl with a map. I prefer people telling me that "Miami sucks" and that we "don't play anybody." I just nod, smile and remember their faces. We'll meet up again. We always do. Hopefully next time it'll be post-Rose Bowl and I'll be sporting my National Champs shirt where I'll again nod, smile and go about my business. I won't have to say a word – they'll already know.
This weekend the "hated by many, loved by few, respected by all" Canes will take care of their business in Tallahassee on their terms.
Normalcy has resumed and it's back to us against the world – just the way the we like it. Respect is earned and we must remember this season is a marathon, not a sprint. Those thinking a win Saturday will bring complete redemption are sorely mistaken. The Canes are still eight wins away from attaining the level of respect we feel we deserve. A win at Doak is merely the first step in the right direction.
Miami 34 Florida State 16
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
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