Thursday, January 03, 2002

Miami returns to title game with new image

AP Sports Writer

        PASADENA, Calif. — No football program has ever had as much defiant swagger as the old Miami Hurricanes.

        Remember the 1987 Fiesta Bowl? Dozens of Miami players got off the plane wearing combat fatigues, then walked out of a pregame steak dinner because they didn't want to eat in the same room with Penn State players.

        What about the 1991 Cotton Bowl? The Hurricanes racked up 202 yards in penalties, many of them for personal fouls and unsportsmanlike conduct during a 46-3 win over Texas.

        There also was the time when Miami players surrounded and taunted the LSU tiger in its cage, and when the Hurricanes fought with South Carolina during a game and traded punches with Notre Dame in the tunnel before a game.

        “Back in the day, they were a show to watch play, weren't they?” Miami running back Clinton Portis said. “I'd love to watch them. Who didn't enjoy their personality? It's just that now we don't act that way at all.

        “I don't think that's really how any of us want to act. Coach always says to act like we've done it before. So we try to act with some class.”

        The Hurricanes certainly have polished their image. They had little choice. The NCAA slammed the school with probation that resulted in 31 lost scholarships over a three-year period beginning in 1995.

        Now, as top-ranked Miami (11-0) plays No. 4 Nebraska (11-1) in the Rose Bowl on Thursday night, the Hurricanes want to make sure everyone knows they are much less insolent than their predecessors.

        “The guys we're winning with this year are a lot different than it's been like at Miami in the past,” said tackle Joaquin Gonzalez, who grew up watching the Hurricanes play for six championships between 1983 and 1994. “We have a lot of character.

        “We've gone from the Dumpster to the top of the mountain and we've done it the right way with a lot of class.”

        So much has changed since the Hurricanes last played for a national title.

        One in seven players on the 1994 team had been arrested, and the coaching staff hid Warren Sapp's drug test to keep him eligible. The program's on-field behavior also was excessive, so much so that the first nine plays of an NCAA video showing outlawed antics involved Hurricanes.

        Then in May 1994, The Miami Herald reported that for the past decade, players had received as much as $500 for a touchdown or a big hit in a plan bankrolled by former players and 2 Live Crew rapper Luther Campbell.

        The pay scale dropped to $200 for returning an interception for a touchdown, $100 for a sack and $50 for causing a fumble.

        Not surprisingly, the NCAA investigated Miami, and eventually placed the school on probation mostly for improper allotment of federal Pell Grant funds. Coach Dennis Erickson left amid the controversy

        Butch Davis took over in 1995, working with athletic director Paul Dee to bring strict discipline, needed stability and higher standards. They changed nearly every aspect of the program.

        “The turnaround started with the way coach Davis recruited,” Gonzalez said. “He recruited a lot more character than he did athletic ability. A lot of guys can jump high and run fast, but there's very few that can do all those things and have great grades and be respectful and all those things.”

        The Hurricanes have five starters in graduate school, and every senior is on pace to graduate. They also have had few off-field problems.

        Miami's biggest misconduct this season came when fullback Najeh Davenport used his cleat to scratch a big “UM” on Florida State's midfield insignia the day before the game.

        That wouldn't even make the top-10 list in the old days.

        It does show that these Hurricanes still have swagger. It's mostly a byproduct of winning 21 consecutive games by an average score of 42-12 and returning to national prominence.

        “You've got to be confident to play this game,” receiver Daryl Jones said. “Any team that wins championships, they have a swagger about them. But we're not cocky or anything like that. That was the 'Canes of old.”


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