Living with the Commoners: The U’s March Toward Permanent Irrelevance

In the moments after a failed fourth-down pass attempt sealed the Miami Hurricanes’ sixth consecutive defeat to Florida State last Saturday, I was once again forced to confront a core fact of rooting for a team firmly in college football’s middle class: I have to measure success in bowl appearances and conference-title-game berths, not championships. Of course, this expectation seems obvious to fans of Illinois or Washington State or Boston College, who have been reared on an uninspiring medley of seasons ranging in outcome from “embarrassing” to “hey! we’re ranked!,” never reasonably expecting to go down in the annals of football lore.

Miami fans, however, have had a hard time adjusting to having to go to the NCAA Safeway with the commoners after decades of spending exorbitant amounts on exotic produce at Whole Foods. As unsympathetic as that probably makes me sound, even if you’re a fan of purple asparagus and satsumas, you have to consider my gilded introduction to the world of college football.

The first college football game I watched from beginning to end and understood completely was a game between Miami and Washington in September 2000, which Miami lost in heartbreaking fashion. At the time, even being eight, I probably thought something like, “Hmm, well, teams lose sometimes. I would know; I go to Marlins games regularly.” The Hurricanes then proceeded to summarily crush my expectations that teams sometimes lose by tearing off a ten-game winning streak (including one against top-ranked Florida State in the Wide Right III Game) to end the season, culminating in a BCS title game snub and a dominant Sugar Bowl performance against Florida (!!!). Sounds good. Sounds like a high bar to set for a young fan, especially with the air of prestige that surrounded the program following four national championships in the ‘80s and early ‘90s that everyone’s dad couldn’t shut up about.

THEN came the 2001 season. Given that you are experiencing this in text form, you cannot see that I am foaming at the mouth at the mere idea of the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, a team that went undefeated, beat two top-15 opponents in consecutive weeks by a combined score of 124-7, and was able to play their backups in the National Championship in a thorough spatchcocking of Nebraska in the Rose Bowl. Of course, “backups” might not be saying much, when you bear in mind that Frank Gore was the third-string running back, and Sean Taylor was behind Ed Reed on the depth chart. Indeed, 39 players on this team were eventually drafted, meaning that the entire starting lineup on both sides of the ball could have been composed of NFL-caliber talent. Throw in another undefeated regular season in 2002 and a sham of a Fiesta Bowl, and my personal record as a fan of college football sat at a decent 34-2.

All of this is to say that you should, at the very least, feel a little bad for me in the present day, as I continue to follow a team that last won a bowl game after the 2006 season. The MPC Computers Bowl. Played on the gimmicky blue field in Boise. Against Nevada. Nearly nine years ago. The descent from “best team ever” to “unsurprisingly losing by 11 points to Cincinnati” has been maddening enough on its own, and I haven’t even come to terms with an even bleaker possibility still: that the team has fallen into the gaping maw of mediocrity PERMANENTLY.

Take for instance, the case of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Unknown to essentially every living person who is not from Minnesota, they were a dynastic force in the college game way back before World War II, claiming five national titles from 1934-1941, under the stern but gentle hand of Bernie Bierman. I don’t know who the hell he is, either. In the ensuing 74 years, they have not won a single championship (except for one that the university claims in 1961, when they went 8-2 and lost their bowl game. The Crooked Scoreboard poll retroactively puts them somewhere below #1 that season.) The eight-year-old kid who went to every Golden Gophers game in 1934 and witnessed five championships by his fifteenth birthday surely thought that he’d see at least a few more parades (if they had those back then?) in his lifetime.

Now, in 2015, this hypothetical Minnesotan child is pushing 90 years old and, on top of probably being dead, has not even seen a top-15 finish from his beloved squad since the Kennedy administration. This person’s adult grandchildren have no delusions of grandeur, and were pleased to see their boys make the Citrus Bowl last year. The team continues to exist year after year, a part of the football ecosystem that exists to most people only as ESPN ticker fodder. This is but one fate that potentially awaits the University of Miami, a relatively small private institution whose profile better matches that of a basketball school, as SEC powerhouses continue their incursion on the incredibly fertile recruiting ground surrounding the campus. Or maybe I’m wrong. Let’s catch up in 2082.

***

Jaime Alayon is a writer and number cruncher who’s lived in every NL East city except New York. You should follow him on Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *