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Sunday, December 29
Updated: December 31, 9:19 AM ET
'Canes know where they stand -- and don't care

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN The Magazine

PHOENIX -- Saw the Fiesta Bowl trophy today. You can't miss it. The thing is as tall as Larry Coker and looks as if it were made by someone with access to a welding torch and an opium den. Put a coat of white frosting on it and you could serve it at the Sapperstein wedding.

Let's see, there's some type of kitchen counter-type base, followed by four guys doing a clean-and-press, followed by a smaller secondary base, followed by four guys in a John Blutarsky-outside-the-Faber College-administration building-crouch, followed by some sort of mini-Renaissance drapery, followed by something stolen from the Vatican, followed by a Fiesta Bowl football ornament. Anyway, whoever designed this had a hell of a hangover the next day.

Ken Dorsey
Ken Dorsey and Miami have always taken the high road to the anti-Miami bias that's sweeping the nation.
Of course, Miami or Ohio State will be happy to lug the thing back home. You can never have enough national championship trophies, even if this one looks like an Antiques Roadshow reject. The Hurricanes have five, the Buckeyes have between four and six, depending on what you consider a legitimate national championship. The point is, there's some football pedigree here.

And yet, the more you talk to Miami's players, the more you sense that they feel their accomplishments -- both past and present -- haven't been properly acknowledged. The Hurricanes don't come right out and say it -- that would be bad form. Instead, they'll pause for a moment, compose themselves, and then deliver a calm, reasoned response.

The truth is, there does exist an anti-Miami bias of sorts. Perhaps it began here in the Valley of the Sun nearly 16 years ago, when the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes arrived at Fiesta Bowl festivities wearing battle fatigues. I can't remember for sure, but that might have been when the late, great Jerome Brown, bless his soul, said something to the effect that the Japanese didn't share a dinner table with Pearl Harbor residents before the bombing, so why should the Hurricanes act civil toward Penn State?

By the way, Pearl Harbor won the 1987 Fiesta, 14-10.

Miami also didn't help its warm-and-fuzzy quotient in 1991, when it vogued its way to a 46-3 win against Texas. Later, there were NCAA violations, scholarship reductions, assorted PR gaffes. Miami's finest hour, it wasn't.

It was easier to dislike the UM program then. You had the arrogance of Jimmy Johnson. You had the taunting, preening performances at the '91 Cotton Bowl. You had the NCAA investigation and findings. There was some meat on the bone.

But this latest backlash is more subtle, more discreet. Think about it: Taken as separate pieces, Miami is a program to admire.

  • Coker is a career assistant who lucks into the head coaching job. . . and hasn't lost since. Better yet, he's 10 of the nicest people you'll ever meet.
  • Quarterback Ken Dorsey wins games, is Eddie Haskell polite, and wouldn't know controversy if it gave him a worse haircut than he already has.
  • Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork is dealing with the mind-numbing loss of both his parents.
  • Tailback Willis McGahee is a momma's boy.
  • Center Brett Romberg is funnier than Saturday cartoons.
  • Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma sounds like a U.S. Senator.

    But taken as a whole, you're left with Miami as the Death Star. UM is working on a 34-game win streak and back-to-back national championships. The Hurricanes averaged nearly 42 points per game this year. They toyed with teams. They won even when they weren't all that interested.

    Somewhere along the line Miami quit getting the benefit of the doubt. After all, how many times can you watch Bugs Bunny trick the Tazmanian Devil before you start rooting for Taz to have a little rabbit stew? That's because America has a soft spot for underdogs. These days, that's whoever is playing the Hurricanes. This Friday it will be Ohio State.

    Now then, Ohio State is a program you can wrap your arms around. Geez, it has Script Ohio, those Buckeye helmet stickers started by Woody Hayes, the Victory Bell, two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, the storied Big Ten, and Goodbye, Columbus. Miami has tan lines, palm trees and its share of wonderful players, but Hurricane football didn't really assert itself until the early 1980s.

    Miami is respected, but it isn't beloved -- at least, not nationally, it isn't. Did you see the Heisman Trophy ceremony? McGahee was the best player I saw all year. Ask opposing coaches which Miami player has to be stopped first and the answer is always the same: McGahee.

    He finished fourth in the Heisman balloting. (Disclosure time: I had McGahee No. 1 on my ballot.)

    Ask those same coaches to name the leader of this mini-dynasty and the answer is always the same: Dorsey.

    He finished fifth in the balloting. (I had him No. 3.)

    The Hurricanes knew it was going to happen. UM offensive guard Sherko Haji-Rasouli, along with several other teammates, watched the Dec. 14 Heisman show. They were making bets on who would win. Nobody picked McGahee or Dorsey -- not because they didn't deserve it, but because they could sense the voting sentiment.

    "And we were UM guys," he said.

    Someone is going to pay for the slights. Dorsey thought about popping off about his and Miami's critics earlier this month, but he took the high road. In fact, the Hurricanes have generally taken the high road all season.

    Friday evening will be when Miami makes its statement. Put it this way: I wouldn't want to be Ohio State when the Hurricanes clear their throat.

    Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at

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