Friday, January 3, 2003

These Hurricanes won't produce many gale-force headlines

Gannett News Service

TEMPE, Ariz. - The Miami Hurricanes are in town for a bowl game, and you know what that always used to mean. Controversy, commotion, unrest, outrageous statements.

So it's been for this Fiesta Bowl. But enough about Ohio State.

Miami? Miami is a pond at dawn. Miami is a flag in no wind. Miami is room temperature.

Miami used to be "The Jerry Springer Show." Now it is "The Lion King."

You've come looking for the old Hurricanes? The arrogant, brash band of ruffians, with equal potential to top either the latest poll or police blotter?

Sorry. Wrong century.

Miami will start five college graduates Friday night in the Fiesta Bowl.

Miami won a national championship last year with 11 players drafted by the NFL ... and 10 named to the Big East all-academic team.

Miami's shocking headlines are all on yellowing paper. There hasn't been an ugly incident in years.

A reporter from a San Antonio newspaper did a computer search looking for any legal troubles for the Hurricane program over the last few seasons. It covered 101 players.

He found only four charges - riding a jet ski after dark, illegal fishing, one unruly intoxication, and one fake driver's license. You could find more than that in Congress.

Still, part of the public will certainly turn on the television Friday night, see a vaunted Miami team in uniform, and immediately think villainy.

They will never be cuddly. They will never be lovable. They will never be the good guys. Not to some.

"People who haven't tuned in haven't realized we're not out in the streets fighting, we're not wearing camouflage anymore, we're not talking trash in the paper until the cows come home," linebacker Jonathan Vilma said.

"If you're not tuned in, you think we're still a bunch of thugs. But if you've been paying attention, you know we're a different team."

If it's boisterous Miami behavior you've come to see, I don't know where to send you.

The affable head coach sounds like a high school history teacher. It would take a cold heart, or Buckeye blood, to root against Larry Coker.

The polite quarterback worries only about disappointing his teammates. Ken Dorsey, 38-1 as a starter, mentioned his one defeat the other day.

"The worst feeling I have ever had is when I felt like I let my teammates down. I don't want that feeling again."

The star lineman is a quote machine, but not without purpose. Brett Romberg was talking about how Coker runs each recruit through a players' group, like Butch Davis did before.

"If we give them a thumbs down, if we don't like their character or we don't like their pride for UM, he won't recruit them," Romberg said.

"We get kids who come in and they're used to hearing they're the greatest thing since sliced bread. Players come out of high school a little too cocky and we're not like that. We're humble, and we earn our rights."

The assistant head coach has been at Miami for 22 years, through all the turbulent days.

But Art Kehoe's memory is of what Davis did upon arriving; sequestering the staff for two weeks and dissecting each player, right down to his rap sheet.

"We uncovered every rock and crevice in this program, trying to make it better," Kehoe said.

Miami is now back on top, as a program that wins the way it once did, but does not act the way it once did.

Still, reputations die hard. The Hurricanes are engaged in a remarkable quest, going for 35 straight wins. But the guess is they will have most of the interested populace against them Friday night, because they are Miami.

That's no reason.

Not anymore.

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