1-on-1 with Michael Irvin (Part II)

Michael Irvin would sign a letter of intent to attend the University of Miami in the aftermath of their shocking win over Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl, which catapulted the Hurricanes to it's first national championship. But he would never get an opportunity to play for coach Howard Schnellenberger who left UM a few months later for an ill-fated job in the USFL.

Into the breach stepped a well-coifed coach from Oklahoma St. by the name of Jimmy Johnson. At that point there was mass confusion and turmoil within the program. One of the stipulations put forth on Johnson by athletic director Sam Jankovich was that Johnson had to retain Schnellenberger's staff through the '84 campaign.

Not only that, Irvin feared that this coach from Big 8 country would have him blocking all day and having a pass thrown his way every other game.

"I was, I really was worried," admitted Irvin. "And I had a meeting with Jimmy and Jimmy said to me, 'Michael, I know you're worried. But let me promise you this, I will be here as long as you're here. But don't worry about it, you won't get into all this coaching change and everything.' So it gave me comfort and I'm very close with Jimmy."

Irvin and Johnson quickly formed a tight bond. In certain ways the coach filled the vacuum that was left with his fathers passing in 1983.

"One of my greatest goals in life, I always wanted-because I respect him as a man so much- him to look at me and say I was one of his greatest players," Irvin says. "If someone would ask him, 'Which player meant the most?' or 'Who is one of your greatest players?' I wanted him to say, 'Michael Irvin.'

"He said after Schnellenberger left, 'As long as you don't lie to me, I'll back you to the wall.' And he's been nothing but everything he said. So I have a great deal of respect for him."

The two went together like Tubbs and Crockett, the cocksure, flamboyant flanker, being coached by the ultra-confident and brash coach. The 80's Canes brought their own brand of football which was a swashbuckling, swaggering, confident, downright arrogant style of play that came with plenty of trash talk and touchdown dances. They didn't just toe the line of what was considered acceptable behavior on the gridiron, but instead they trampled all over it with their own unique style.

And their coach didn't just tolerate this style of play, in fact, he seemed to embrace and encourage it. Johnson was the perfect coach for the 'Canes.

"It was what we needed and almost a new age of coaching because nobody was really allowing anything," agreed Irvin. "It was always, 'This is right' and Jimmy just said to us, 'Hey guys, you win and I'll deal with all this, whatever it is, just win. All of this, I'll deal with it. Don't worry about it.' We would look at each other like, 'Hey, you heard what coach said.'"

But Irvin and the rest of the Canes had an agreement they held with Johnson- they had to produce, or else.

"So when we were in a game and got down- and make no mistake about it, Jimmy's no joke- if you lose, you will deal with all his mess. When you lose, you can't talk on the plane, can't talk on the bus, the training table may not be right," said Irvin, of the possible consequences of dropping a game or playing poorly.

"So we would be in the game, it would be the third quarter, we're backed up and it's 3rd and 20 and we're looking on the sideline and Jimmy looks mad, me and Melvin Bratton, we're talking about the sideline, about the cheerleaders, the ladies and right before the play, 'Hey, c'mon let's get serious' and Mel would say, 'We better stop playing around, Jimmy looks like he's getting mad' and all of a sudden we'd be up on Arkansas by about 30 points."

And then you had Johnson's own version of the college waiver wire.

"He said, 'You better read the fine print, the fine print says they are one-year renewable, these scholarships. I mean y'all better get in gear and if I don't see you practicing hard, I won't see you practicing out here anymore,'" recalled Irvin, with a hearty laugh. "So there's no doubt people were like, 'What a great team!' But if you want to see some great football? You should've been at our practices after one of those Jimmy Johnson speeches. Oh God, that thing got loose!!!"

No player embodied the spirit and emotion of the Hurricanes like Irvin. Who can forget his celebration with the west end-zone fans after his touchdown against Oklahoma in 1986? Or the pure jubilation he showed against South Carolina in '87, where he proceeded to point at a Gamecock defensive back around the 15 yard-line going in for a touchdown and then putting the partisans into a frenzy by playing to the Orange Bowl crowd on the sideline.

Nobody played the game with as much exuberance and heart as #47.

"Let me tell you something," says Irvin, getting excited all over again, "this game is about emotion, that's what this game is about. We call it 'momentum. Ah, they have the momentum.' Momentum, is nothing but another word for, 'that teams more emotional' and in a positive way. That's what builds momentum. We're feeling good about ourselves, we're doing good, we're feeling good and we're starting to show it all the way around.

"Imagine Barry Sanders, they said, 'Barry's a professional, he just turns the ball to the referee.' Imagine though, if Barry lost himself a lil' bit, he runs into the end-zone, scores a touchdown and everybody's going crazy, he does a lil' something, something.

"Now, his defense is HYYYYPPPPED!!!! Because now watching him, they're hyped and they go out there and they stop somebody because they're hyped in watching Barry. I understand that Barry's a professional but emotions and momentum play such a big part of this game, why play it emotionless? Why would I do that? It doesn't make sense?"

Irvin and his mates never had to worry about that, no team in the country played with as much feeling and passion as the Canes. ‘Hurricane Football' was what the players called it. And if you saw it, you understood exactly what it meant. In many ways their play mirrored the changing times and the place they represented. It was a seminal change in the culture of athletics. Pat Boone had been replaced by a 2 Live Crew.

And they would set the tone in warm-ups. Many times, stretching sessions would be mundane affairs, not with Miami. They would jaw with opponents and sometimes even walk through their side of the field. Then after storming onto the field with a cloud of smoke marking their appearance, you'd see the whole squad on the hash-marks for the coin toss. That, was 'Hurricane Football.'

"It says something, it says something," says Irvin, his voice rising with emotion. "The 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Miami lost to Ohio St. a couple of years ago. I'm watching that game and we're going into the second overtime. Ohio St. is walking to the middle of field holding hands, we send out Ken Dorsey, alone. I said to myself, 'Miami just lost this game. Just lost this game.' But not with emotions there, but this was a time to assemble and say, 'Hey, we're not going down and you can't divide us, you're gonna fight us all night long.'

"A subliminal message was sent in that Fiesta Bowl to Miami from Ohio St. and I'm sitting there in California, I was like, 'Ewwwwww, Miami just lost' and that's what happened. Because they came out saying, 'We're not going to lose and we are together, now, what do you have to say about that?'"

Irvin and his Canes, would always display a unified front.

"That's what we tried to portray and try to give people when we pulled up, 'Hey, you know we're talented but you don't know how together we are. We were not going to lose.'"

It was a style all their own, but it was not a style that was universally embraced. At times it seemed that Miami's own administration, led by school president Tad Foote, was against the football program and it's image.

But for the team, it was all part of the 'Us against the World' mentality that became one of it's trademarks.

"It made for our badness, we needed that, "Irvin says, unequivocally. "Nobody agreed with us and it gave Jimmy all the ammunition he needed because he would comes to us and say, 'All right men, I want you to look around this room. These are the only people that care about you. Now, your own administration, you're making millions of dollars for them, see how they're treating us?' And we'd be like, 'Yes coach, let's show the world. We're not going away.'"

Irvin still gets emotional in recalling those moments.

"I mean, I'm tearing up just telling you this story, thinking about it, "he admits. "We would just go out there and be like, 'Yeah, OK, nobody understands us, not even our own kind.' You'd start talking crazy and get yourself hyped up, you'd be able to do anything."

Critics would label them among other things: unsportsmanlike, rogues, classless and unsavory. But just don't call them 'undisciplined'. Sorry but you don't win as many games as these guys did without having discipline. To Irvin and his teammates, discipline was more than just giving the ball to a referee after scoring a touchdown and trotting off the field stoically.

"That's why we were so good, "he explains. "We were disciplined enough to know that all we have to do is win and we can have as much fun as we wanted to. I can stick to what I have to do, do what I need to do in order to win- that's what I call discipline.

"What they're saying," he says in pointing out their detractors and the media, "is they want me to be in line, they want me to be them. It's not that I'm not disciplined, I'm NOT them. They would act this way in this situation, not that it's the disciplined way to act, it's just the way the way they would act. I'm very disciplined, how do you think I can play football at this level? How do you think we're doing what we're doing, together, unless we're disciplined?

"It's really them saying, 'This is how you should be and this is what you should do.' So we're not conforming to your ways and what you say is right, that doesn't mean we're not disciplined."

Whether you liked it or not, the Canes style of play was revolutionary. It altered the way the game was played. It ushered in a new hip-hop age of sports. All across the land, kids that watched the 'Canes were influenced, forever. And before there was a Terrell Owens and his Sharpie and a Joe Horn on his cell phone, there was a Michael Irvin.

"I do know when I walked up in New York and a guy we call the hip-hop king for now, Jay-Z, I walked in his '40/40'club, I walked in his personal room and the first thing I see is an Irvin jersey," he says, proudly. "And he tells us, 'Man, we've been watching you for years, the way you did your thing, man.'

"That, I get a great pleasure out of hearing. Because I watch these guys now and how they do it and every time, Miami gets it, 'We got it from you, man. You started this, you got it started' I get it from Ray Lewis, all those guys. Everybody that comes out of it, 'Michael you started it, we got this from you, this is how it is.'"

(In Part III with Michael Irvin, he talks about how 'the Playmaker' moniker was born and his on-field exploits at UM)

Steve Kim is a freelance journalist, who also runs his own website at Maxboxing.com. Steve is an avid Hurricane fan who has been logging onto Canestime.com since 1998. He can be reached at k9kim@yahoo.com.

Part I with Michael Irvin

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