It’s Not About the U . . . It’s About all of Them

Yes, I am ready for some football.  And the football season begins, for me, with tonight’s Miami game.
It doesn’t matter who they’re playing, because it IS all about the U, at least for me.  I was in grad school at UM during 1981-1983, and even though I only went to one game while I was there — Bernie Kozar was quarterback — I carried back to VA a love for UM, Miami, Coral Gables, Shorty’s Bar-B-Cue, and the ‘Canes (and, by extension, the Dolphins) that will never, ever die.
Let me recommend two books you should read if you want some insight into both football and Miami ball: North Dallas Forty and ‘Cane MutinyNorth Dallas Forty is the seminal football novel, written in the ’70s by an ex pro player.  ‘Cane Mutiny is nonfiction — a history and a no-holds barred expose of how the Miami Hurricanes became such a powerhouse.
I mention these titles here because if any football books have captured the essence of contemporary football, these two have; and you should read them not because one is about Miami and one is a good story, but because these books illuminate a much larger truth about what has become Professional Football.
And make no mistake: it may not be the NFL, but College Football is now, in every way, Professional Football.  It is just as tough, just as aggressive, and certainly just as dirty.
The recent booze, sex, cash and partying allegations against players on the Miami team from 2002-2010 are nothing unusual.  The players at Miami have had a long history of bending the rules.  Hell, while I was there, the players weren’t living in dorms — they had large on-campus apartments, complete with patios and charcoal grills.  Rumors talked of kick backs, free cars and hookers — rumors that, apparently, were true after all.
They were, after all, our version of royalty.  They were Miami’s stars.
And they still are.
The Miami situation became so visibly bad that Sports Illustrated published an open letter to UM President Tad Foote (“…and that foot is me…”) in 1995.  It remains a razor-sharp reprimand to Miami’s players and their both criminal and Bacchanalian excesses — and to the boosters, professors, coaches, cheerleaders, administrators and all the others who coddled and catered and drew their luxurious baths.
Honestly: I have no doubt that UM’s players took advantage of the many and anonymous gifts they were given.  What bothers me is that much of America now believes that Miami is the only school whose players are corrupt, or criminals, or worse.
They’re not.  Every single school has this problem, which is why the NCAA has powerful rules against it.
For every high school ball player UM scouts have courted, Notre Dame and Oklahoma and Ohio and VT and UVA and every other big school has done the same thing: offered potential players and their families substantial perks, and continued to spoil them throughout their marginal-college-education, optimal-college-football careers.
To play football, you have to be tough.  Tougher than others.  Mean.  A fighter.  Unmerciful.  In the late ’80s, Bernie Linciome wrote in the Chicago Tribune
This is a grubby bunch, this Miami menagerie, about as far from the college ideal as a tire iron is from an ear swab.  And this is the best college football team in the nation . . . I am not without some gratitude for Miami collecting dangerous young thugs and giving them a place to be angry.  Better in Coral Gables than on public transportation.
Gentility is not a virtue when you’re talking about football players.  The Rule of Excess is the norm at all the universities — every damn school — across the country.  Peter Gent, author of North Dallas Forty, knows this is true.  In the introduction to the 2003 edition, Gent admits
I loved writing North Dallas Forty because it allowed me the rare pleasure of sinking myself in the ocean of memories from those years — a hard, violent and painful life.  I spent it with 40 of the most fascinating, intelligent, cunning and dangerous men I ever had the pleasure to be around before or since.  They were football players.
Anybody who makes it as a professional football player has survived the horror of real violence, facing the monster that lives in his heart — these men were true gods in ruins.  Whether he stays a man is still a question of fate because the monster is always straining to be loosed again.
We should not be surprised that college ball players are of the same mettle.  The stakes for college ball are the same as pro ball: it all boils down to money, and being able to buy the meanest, biggest thugs to cross that goal line and beat the other guys senseless.  Money buys players who win; and winning teams bring in millions of dollars in revenue for the schools.
The thuggery and meanness are built into the football machine, and it’s just as inbred and professional in college ball as it is in the NFL.
You can blame the Miami players for being who they are — but when they’re no different than the other teams, you’re just lying to yourself about the system.
It’s not about the U.  It’s about every team.
The system breeds rule-bending and body breaking — because the players have to bend and break to show the world just how tough they are.
This is war, after all.
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