Feldman Talks 'Canes

Bruce Feldman, a featured writer for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com will be signing copies of his book 'Cane Mutiny,' which gives readers an in-depth and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Miami Hurricanes' football dynasty, at All Sports this Thursday evening from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Feldman, who is one of the most respected writers on the college football beat, in recent years has done feature stories on 'Canes like Willis McGahee, Ed Reed and Dan Morgan. He is also a University of Miami graduate, having attended UM from 1990-92 after transferring in from Marist. He put himself through school with two jobs and earned a degree in journalism.

For Feldman, the time was right for a book of this nature.

"Initially, my agent had said that they thought it would be a great idea for a UM book and just because it's uncharted territory," Feldman says." There really hadn't been much written about it even though it's won five national championships, produced all those NFL guys and larger-than-life personalities.

"And I said, 'It's actually more interesting than that,' having known the UM background of when Schnellenberger took over. It was an awful program, no facilities and just on it's last legs. That's what started it."

And thus began the process for a 'Cane Mutiny.'

"The more we talked about it, the more it started to take shape and I had done some research on UM and done a bunch of interviews back before I even started at ESPN, 10 years ago. Talking with Ruben Carter and Fred Marion and a few guys from that era and a couple of guys from the Russell Maryland era, talking about the rivalry with Notre Dame and where it came from," Feldman explained.

"So I was kind of familiar with the older history, I thought there's definitely something here. So as we start proceeding on it, it's going into the Fiesta Bowl, about 20 months ago."

Feldman believed that his book, like Miami's sixth national championship and back-to-back titles, would be crushed underneath the weight of Terry Porters late flag.

"I go out to Arizona with the idea in my head that this is going to take shape and it's an amazing game, it plays out and after about an hour after the game it dawned on me, 'Oh, my God, I bet the book is now over. They're probably going to scrap it,'" thought Feldman in the midst of Miami's heart-wrenching 31-24 double overtime loss to Ohio State. But fate would be on Feldman's side.

"As things shook out, two, three months later when all the ACC stuff kicked up and Miami was in the news every day, it just kind of showed you how big Miami football was because it was the linchpin in all this movement," said Feldman, who soon saw his project revived. "They were like, 'We really think there's a book here. Let's still proceed.' Sure enough, there it was."

Now, brace yourself, Feldman actually grew up a Buckeye fan (gasp!!!).

"It's funny because I grew up for some reason an Ohio State fan," admitted Feldman, who grew up about an hour-and-a-half north of New York City. "The first time I would see games it would be Ohio State-Michigan on Saturday afternoons with the Art Schlicter teams. It was right at the time of Earle Bruce. There was a period of about a four, five year run it was a lot of Ohio State and then I started to like Miami or be interested in them when they were playing Oklahoma around '86 or so."

Like many other youngsters of that era, Feldman was drawn in by the trademark swagger and cockiness of the 1980's Canes.

"I was attracted to it," he admits. "There are a lot of people that look down on all that kind of bravado or whatever you want to call it. I like it, I like FSU, I was a Deion (Sanders) fan. I love that there's personalities in the game. I just hate that the rules committees are trying to take it out. I was out at the ACC kickoff thing and the head ref there was talking about some of the rules they're going to put in now. And if a guy's going to signal first down after a third-and-short is converted, it's going to be a penalty."

Looks like more 'Miami rules.'

"It really is," he agreed, "but it's like ruling out the emotion and I think it's great (the emotion). I'm a big fan of all those guys and I think the people who sit and watch on TV, if you see somebody's personality, you only know what you see of them on the field. And I think that's short-sighted and I'm sure there's other reasons why people have hostilities towards it. But I was always drawn to it and I wasn't going to condemn it. It's football, it's between the lines. I wasn't offended by the 202 penalty yards against Texas or anything like that. I don't care about touchdown dances, I don't take it as a personal offense."

Spoken like a true 'Cane fan. But being a writer, how did he separate himself as someone who is not only a fan but an alumnus of the school, against his duties as a journalist?

"You cover guys and you write about guys, especially with a magazine, you tend to spend more time with subjects than what you get to do with newspapers because our deadlines are more flexible and you have more time to work on things, you kind of end up rooting for the people you cover," he admits. "It's curious, but there are certain things I like, just because there are players that I root for, I want to see them do well or what not.

"I've obviously spent a lot of time around Miami so there's definitely lots of guys I want to do well or guys I think a lot of. It works the same way with coaches you tend to like but," adds Feldman, "you've got to at the same point be truthful to who your audience is. And so I always try to keep that in mind."

Feldman isn't hesitant to tackle uncomfortable issues, such as the relationship between hip-hop mogul Luther Campbell and the program in the late 80's to early 90's.

"That's why I talked to Luther Campbell a lot for the book because a lot of people, I don't want to say misunderstood everything that happened, but I think there's definitely more to it than people want to see. And I'm not saying everyone who doesn't understand it is a hypocrite or anything like that," said Feldman.

Campbell was a regular presence on the UM sidelines during Dennis Erickson's run as Miami's coach. Campbell admitted to having a pay scale for Miami players based on big plays they would make in key games. In the book it's revealed that Erickson would even seek his counsel with a wayward player. Like Erickson, not everyone comes out in the most flattering light.

Feldman in many respects wrote 'Cane Mutiny' for those who have an open mind about the program.

"I almost never talk sports with other guys if I go out drinking or something," he says of his fellow writers and journalists, "because you have your opinion about this and I have my opinion about it. I'm pretty sure you're not going to change my opinion. And I doubt I'm going to change yours. So I wrote this book - and a lot of the reason is I think Miami football is a phenomenon and I think there's a lot of people who are Oklahoma fans or aren't Gators - for pure football fans to see how amazing this run is. And UM people have come to terms with 'the dark days' or whatever. There was definitely some stuff that went on that they probably weren't proud of and I'm not talking about the on the field stuff. I'm talking about the Pell Grant things and things they got in trouble for."

But this book doesn't just dwell on the negative (far from it) and even an educated observer like Feldman had his eyes opened at several aspects of this football program.

"Some of the things about Schnellenberger and what he was able to do there. The more you look into it, the more you're really impressed by the fact they were scraping nickels and dimes because their budget was poor. That opened my eyes."

And what was also noteworthy to Feldman was the bond of past and present players.

"To be around the program in the offseason is really amazing," Feldman says. "There was a day I was there with Ed Reed, there's Reggie Wayne, there's Edgerrin James and a couple of other NFL guys. And to see them around the Kevin Beards and the Javon Nantons, it's pretty amazing that it cuts across generations of guys."

And whether you were an All-American or a little-used reserve at the U, you got treated with respect within that fraternity.

"Nothings even close to that," Feldman says of other programs. "Look at the example of last spring when Chris Rix and Chris Weinke kind of got into it, a feud. And you could never imagine that happening with Kyle Wright and Steve Walsh. At Miami it's the complete opposite. I talk to Ed Reed every so often and just from the guys he knows and has gotten to know, they're probably 12 years old when he first got to Miami, seven years ago or whatever. But it's like this brotherhood.

"If you wear those colors, they embrace you because they know how hard you must work to keep them."

(All Sports is located at 5831 Ponce De Leon Blvd, Coral Gables, Florida 33146, adjacent to the University of Miami campus. For more info, call 800-226-IBIS. 'Cane Mutiny' retails for $23.95)

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