‘National Champs' hold court

The University of Miami football team gathered some lofty credentials on their way to the 2001 national championship- records for points scored; shutouts on defense; and 12 straight victories, resulting in an unblemished record.

But what they accomplished Friday afternoon might have topped it all as downtown Miami came to a halt as fans decked out in orange and green, city leaders and school officials all came together to honor the Hurricanes with a ticker-tape parade that concluded on the steps of the Dade-County Courthouse.

UM players, coaches and their families paraded from Bayfront Park as they made their way west down Flagler Street on convertibles and fire trucks, while tons of confetti rained down from office buildings. Once they arrived at the courthouse the Hurricanes were greeted by thousands of spectators, which included City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Miami-Dade County Mayor Manny Diaz. UM public address announcer Jay Rokeach gave the riled up crowd even more to cheer about when he declared ‘Isn't great to be a Miami Hurricane?'.

As part of the rally, UM head coach Larry Coker presented with several proclamations with school president Donna Shalala and athletic director standing by his side. Coker was visibly moved as the crowd greeted him with chants of ‘Larry, Larry'. Coker praised the efforts of all his assistant coaches and also credited the work of former Miami head coaches Howard Schnellberger, Jimmy Johnson, Dennis Erickson and Butch Davis. "This was the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of people," Coker said. Everybody associated with this program should be very proud of themselves. We couldn't have done it without them."

Then it was turn for those who made it happen on the field have their say- the players. Starting quarterback Ken Dorsey, offensive-lineman Joaquin Gonzalez, fullback Najeh Davenport and safety Ed Reed all spoke to the masses.

Dorsey drew a loud response as he ran down the list of teams UM defeated this past season and even delivered a jab at a hated rival the Hurricanes will be facing in the near future. "We're not done," said Dorsey. "We gonna take care of business in the ‘Swamp'". Miami plays Florida in Gainsville next September.

Gonzalez, who was on the 1997 team that finished 5-6, reminisced about the struggles of the program just several years ago as they battled NCAA sanctions. Gonzalez recalled coming to Miami when the program was taking a pounding nationally. Gonzalez, of Cuban decent, also thanked the Hispanic community with several words in Spanish that were also well received.

"Nobody belived in this program and to think we've come this far is just an unbelievable feeling," Gonzalez said. "Words can't describe what I'm feeling right now. A national championship, wow".

Coker, who was hired last February after the departure of Davis, impressed the same feelings. "This is truly overwhelming," said Coker, who rode in a classic Dodge con`vertible along with his wife Dianna. "This is my first ticker-tape parade, but obviously the fans here are used to it because they gave us a great response. They've been great and I'm glad we could get back here and make it all worth while."

Winning a national title was extra gratifying for linebacker Jon Vilma and receiver Andre Johnson, who both attended local high schools and grew up in the Miami area.

"This is so much fun," said Vilma, a Coral Gables High product. "To be here with all these people is really special, man. It finally has sunk in, ‘We're national champions'."

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