Saturday, November 17, 2007


The most recent November 2007, 48-0 drubbing that the Miami Hurricanes took at the hands of the mediocre (despite their record) Virginia Cavaliers seemed most fitting even as Miami was celebrating their seventy year home venue in the Orange Bowl. The Hurricanes are seemingly going the way of the deteriorating Orange Bowl which is scheduled for demolition in early January 2008. I for one find this trend most predictable and very satisfying – a payback for all those years of thuggery that gave football yet another black eye and set the stage for the lack of integrity that the game now, uh, enjoys?

A proud institution with a great reputation, football or not, the University of Miami seemingly put all its eggs in its football basket even in the wake of a 1995 NCAA declaration that the University had, “lost institutional control over its athletic program.” That was soon followed by a controversial Sports Illustrated cover story urging the university to drop their football program.

That didn’t happen and Hurricane football fortunes didn’t appear to suffer as Miami continued to build one of the great dynasties of college football earning bowl berths in all subsequent years and BCS national championship honors in 2001.

Still they couldn’t shake the reputation and historic image as a haven for thugs as they continued to recruit convicted felons (Willie Williams, 2004). Their arrogance and on-field play contradicted the magnitude of their “honorable” achievements. The trash/smack-talking Hurricanes have evolved their football game to the level of television wrestling where players having tackled a runner and ended a play, have routinely held the runner down and then stepping even on his helmet as they leave the area. No wonder lineman and other players immediately come to the aid of their fellow players as they unpile - lest they are injured.

Miami Football evolved into a gladiatorial, aggressive in-your-face encounter in the hood seemingly epitomized the startling recent taunting incidents that have plagued both college and professional football. Witness the recent Kevin Burnett (Tennessee not Miami) of the Cowboys who was recently fined $5,000 by the NFL for a taunting incident involving the NY Giants huge running back Brandon Jacobs. Burnett looked down at Jacobs who was still on the ground - on his back - and was screaming manically at him. While anyone who stops this incredibly talented, 6’ 4” 264 pound running back should be very proud, that little outburst cost the Cowboys dearly and potentially the football game. It’s good to see the NFL take action.

As an old hockey player I guess that intimidation is OK to a degree but when trash mouthing, cheap shots, other unsportsmanlike conduct and playing to the referee (REALLY, I caught it!) becomes an integral part of the game, it’s time to reset our clocks. We need a new mind set that will elevate the might of right and not the lowly behavior of thugs that characterized Miami football as late as 2006.

What about the December 2005 Peach Bowl where the LSU Tigers hammered the hapless Miami team 40-3. Miami’s violent mindset and attitude got them in trouble again when after the game LSU receiver Dwayne Bowe, from Miami, playfully took a Miami football from good Friend and Miami linebacker Joe Beason while the two teams were leaving the field. Some Miami players saw Bowe with a Miami football and to the horror of Beason assumed the worst and confronted Bowe in the LSU exit way (smart!). Helmet swinging and the fighting began with Miami coming up well short in this confrontation (violence begets violence). I ask, where were the coaches?

September 16, 2006 appears to be the acceleration of the great decline, witness the Hurricanes away game with the Louisville Cardinals. Before the start of their contest damn near the entire Hurricanes' roster jumped up and down on the Cardinals logo at midfield – behavior that could only have been construed as the ultimate lack of respect and unsportsmanlike conduct. The Louisville Cardinals responded by punctuating that ridiculous act by pounding the Hurricanes 31-7. I ask again, where were the coaches?

Not even one month later who can now forget the chilling third quarter of the Hurricane’s October 14, 2006 game with cross-town rival and substantial underdog Florida International University (FIU) which had only been playing football for five years. Miami and FIU engaged in a free-for-all brawl in which players threw punches, swung helmets and heaped even further disgrace on their program.

Doug Lederman of captured the essence of the problem at Miami when he wrote in 2006, “Perhaps the most troubling moment came once the melee had ended, after police officers had driven the teams back to their respective sidelines. There, as the referees decided what penalties to mete out and the two teams’ coaches tried to restore peace, the Miami players huddled en masse and began jumping with their helmets aloft, in apparent celebration. After what had just unfolded, what they were celebrating was not clear.” Where were the coaches?

The red warning flag should have already been flying like the hurricane flags before Hurricane Katrina especially noting that the above was the third on-field incident in seven games not including other off-field incidents that included shootings and accusations against Miami football players. Perhaps we can get Mike Nifong a job in Miami – lots of fertile ground and he wouldn’t have to lie?

Following the Miami-FIU brawl, University of Miami President Donna Shalala exacerbated the situation as follows.

“I believe that the young men we have recruited for our football team are young men of great character. But they did a very bad thing. This university will be firm and punish people who do bad things. But we will not throw any student under the bus for instant restoration of our image or our reputation. I will not hang them in a public square. I will not eliminate their participation at the university. I will not take away their scholarships. It’s time for the feeding frenzy to stop. These young men made a stupid, terrible, horrible mistake and they are being punished.”

Though, no doubt, some players should have been charged criminally, Shalala’s idea of punishment was one game suspensions as the football players laughed all the way to their lockers.

Peter Roby, Director of Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society reflected more macro concerns. Roby wondered about the messages being sent to our youth and the potential of criminal charges that should have been filed (that never were) against the involved football players. Further exclaiming that the local district attorney had the right to say, “We can’t allow this type of thing to happen just because it’s on the field of play.”

Many years ago (for two years) I refereed in the Cobb County, Georgia Youth Football League. One of the stipulations of that league was that all players on the roster were required to play. Midway through the third quarter I always conferred with the coaches and let them know that I would be expecting to see all players get some game time.

As expected, many games were competitive with fourth quarter performance critical to the outcome of the game. Yes, those that were riding the bench were probably the least talented on their teams though they had the right to be involved in the game per league rules. When I invoked the rules the anguish/vitriol and profanity that gushed from the parents in the stands was incredible. I was chewed out and threatened (nose to nose) time after time by onerous parents that were living vicariously through their kids who witnessed these immature outbursts. This then is the tone and the values that many of these kids grew up with and took to high school and college. Needless to say, many officials, including me, quit because of this abuse.

I am reminded of the Comcast Sports Southeast color analyst and former University of Miami player Lamar Thomas who, as the Miami and FIU brawl raged out of control, exclaimed on live national TV,

"Now, that's what I'm talking about. You come into our house, you should get your behind kicked. You don't come into the Orange Bowl playing that stuff. You're across the ocean over there. You're across the city. You can't come over to our place talking noise like that. You'll get your butt beat. I was about to go down the elevator to get in that thing. I say, why don't they just meet outside in the tunnel after the ball game and get it on some more? You don't come into the Orange Bowl, baby," Thomas said. "We've had a down couple years but you don't come in here talking smack. Not in our house."

By the way, this is the same Lamar Thomas who was:

· Arrested and jailed for aggravated battery for attacking his pregnant fiancée with a deadly weapon.

· Arrested for violating probation.

· Detained for brandishing a handgun and threatening suicide, prompting authorities to check him in to a mental institution.

· Did jail time for again violating probation related to the battery charges, when he was arrested for again choking his fiancée. His six-month old son was present at the scene.

Fittingly, and a sign that business is slowly coming to its senses, Lamar Thomas was fired for his ridiculous, immature outburst. If he had only been held to a stricter standard before then maybe he wouldn’t have had his trouble with the law and still have his job with Comcast.

Maybe when the University of Miami administration gets their heads straight and the Hurricanes move to Dolphin Stadium in 2008 there can be a new start and parents will, once again, want to send their talented sons to the University of Miami to play football. Until then, if you continue to recruit thugs you’ll get hoodlum activity on the gridiron. Goes around, comes around.


Ned Buxton

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