The completely biased and very random season diary for the Florida Gators skipped Toledo, and started with Miami. It gets weird.
1. There was a guy we'll call Uncle Fred. Uncle Fred had on a kangol and a flowy, loose, guayabera-style button down, and he was sitting in the parking lot of Traz-Powell Stadium leaning on the trunk of his car. Booker T. Washington High School and Miami Central were just getting underway inside. Uncle Fred might have been forty, or fifty, and he had a bottle of Remy-Martin open on the trunk. Uncle Fred was not going to join the security lines on either side of the stands. He would not follow us under the gap in the fence and into the stadium, where a lady with a golf cart hounded us out for sneaking into a high school football game. Uncle Fred was there to sit, drink, and chill out in the parking lot as teenagers wearing "DEEZ NUTZ" t-shirts passed by, eyeballing everyone around them with the pathological and barely concealed self-awareness of teenagers. Uncle Fred stood there, quietly emanating a low pulse of William DeVaughn even though no radio was playing, and if there was it certainly wouldn't be playing "Be Thankful For What You Got," which I swear I heard somewhere in the distance past the giant billowing cloud formations blooming across the sky like pillowy tumors.
2. Booker T. Washington would win the game 28-17. I don't know because I got kicked out of the game, because as an adult man with children I tried to sneak into a sold-out high school football matchup. An unprecedented matchup of two top five teams in the same county, yes, and a game that was Miami/Florida in miniature, the same people who would feed into the machines at Florida, Florida State, and Miami. The difference would be that instead of walking around outside in a crowd of boosters, students, and townies at these three schools, you could come to Traz-Powell and do it in Dade County. More specifically, you could do it with Overtown, and with those who grew up up west of I-95: black high school kids in outfits coordinated from the neon shoes to the accent colors in the t-shirts, adult men with sculpted beards holding single tickets to scalp in one hand and red solo cups in the other, a few PTA ladies pushing Booker T. Washington scarves and gear from a table on the side.
3. The Miami beard is the strangest creature: shaped, well-trimmed, and entirely incongruous with living in a blazing climate whose lows bottom out somewhere in the sixties on a brutal January evening.
4. The game was sold out, and that was how we met Golf Cart Lady. The fence around Traz-Powell Stadium runs right down into the water of a canal running along one side of Miami-Dade Community College: if you want to sneak in, you either go over double barbed wire (nope) or you get wet, and possibly expose yourself to brain-eating amoebas in the name of getting into a high school football game. We opted for the hole in the fence, torn there by someone long ago for another long-gone football game or criminal expedition. Golf Cart Lady picked us up from two hundred yards away, so I tried to explain that we were media, and just trying to find the media entrance, which was decidedly not a hole in a fence ten feet from the evil putrid water of a South Florida drainage canal. She did not believe us, because Golf Cart Lady was not stupid.
5. Okay, not all the way stupid, but Golf Cart Lady had an ounce of stupid in her. She told us to walk through the back of the stadium itself--which, to be fair, was the only way directly out to the parking lot, but she still routed us straight past no fewer than four most unguarded entrances into the stadium. I couldn't even think about darting into the stands and melting into the crowd: not only was I really white that day,* but I was wearing a loud red shirt that eliminated any chance of having a cover, and the only other white guy in the stands close to my age was Andy Staples. The black dude with us could have tried, and almost did, but Golf Cart Lady saw his shoulder twitch toward the gate and yelled out 'DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!' We exited without protest. There are no laws in South Florida. We could have been thrown in Miami football jail for all we knew, and though it does not exist, you do not want to think about being in Miami football jail.
*and most other days, actually
6. The little we saw of the game through a fence. Later, we watched some of the Boston College vs. Wake Forest game. The high school game appeared to be of much higher quality.
7. "Where's the Marlins batter's lounge?"
Sunlife Stadium is a horrendous venue: an orange, tiered block O slapped into Miami's attic and bracketed by vast parking lots. The stadium itself has gone from Joe Robbie to to Pro Player to Dolphins Stadium to Landshark, and the things in it have been named and renamed so many times no one really knows what anything is in it. Will Muschamp was supposed to have his press conference in the Marlins' Batter's Lounge, a thing no one knew by its name because the Marlins had long gone, and the branded name had died stillborn seconds after it came out of some exec's email.
Fortunately Will Muschamp was easy to find. He was the one loping along flanked by the Florida athletic staff, the one who I nearly blocked from coming in the door until someone yanked me aside hissing "he's riiiiiiiiiiight there." His face was drawn, the color gone from his skin. I don't know if you can see this adequately on television, but coaches who lose football games really do look like they just watched someone die in the postgame. Muschamp blanched and changed just a shade paler with each mention of the word "turnovers," and repeated that over, and over again. It may have been restraint that kept him from exploding, but it seemed like something else: nausea, or at least a sickness coming in waves as he spoke. He didn't look broken. He looked like someone in the first uncertain stages of food poisoning, listening to his intestines gargle and recoil and hoping this would be over as soon as possible.
8. The people inside SunLife Stadium, however, were fine. Miami-Dade has little resembling a middle-class, so when things are good, they're very, very good, and when things go badly people live in houses with holes in the wall and zero air-conditioning in subtropical climate. This dynamic applies to the Miami fanbase, as well. If the team is horrendous, you will get that same picture of the stadium tweeted across your timeline every week: a sea of orange seats, a few thousand fans dotted through the stadium, and a merciless sun frying everything stupid enough to show up for a little peace and quiet in the middle of a football season.
9. This was not that crowd. This crowd was a high-tide, boom-economy Miami Hurricanes crowd, wearing Al Golden tie t-shirts, and pleasantly free of tradition. Some fanbases might have a problem with a mascot who once got arrested--like really, properly, and totally arrested--and at Miami it is a source of pride, because people forget exactly how close to the edge of America you really are. Fans eat whole pizzas in the stands.
MIAMI FAN EATING A WHOLE DANG PIZZA LIKE A BOSS: pic.twitter.com/Fsw52TvbMN— edsbs (@edsbs) September 7, 2013
They are fine with piped-in music, and with dancing to that piped-in music as Sebastian douses them with a fire extinguisher. They are fine that there is no song unremixed, and with singing along with "Seven Nation Army" like this isn't a tired thing, because it is a hit, and was once a hit, and feels good to sing while your team is dragging its way to a win against a team that, in semiannual bursts, we hate. Play the hits, and we will sing along to them. Refuse, and we will go do something else in another location between the Broward County line and Islamorada.
10. Did they play Pitbull? YOU'RE DAMN RIGHT THEY PLAYED PITBULL. They also played Tootsie Roll, and a good quarter of the stadium did go to the left, then to the right, and then to the front and to the back. Sliding occurred, as well. This man beheld it all. If you can hate this, we disagree fundamentally on what is good in life, and cannot continue this conversation.
We still do not understand what the arm sleeves are accomplishing here, but admire the ingenuity.
11. Despair didn't really set in until the fourth quarter, because...you have to understand. Even from the pressbox, you could see Miami drop men into coverage. Like, at least 30 of them, and all watching Jeff Driskel's eyes, and drifting along with him like dogs watching a piece of chicken dangling from your hand. And you know despair when you see this, and see a close game, and know that the ball is going to be thrown, and thrown late and into an area of the field where four defenders are, and it happens. Florida could have come back after that. That's a possibility. But despair ignores evidence: the 400 yards offense, Driskel playing reasonably well in every other facet of the game besides "not turning the ball over when we could least afford it," the 22 first downs on the day. Despair is believing that with four turnovers, your team will belch another one like a shark throwing up a diver's boot. This is exactly what Florida did. Despair can be right.
12. Stephen Morris scares the shit out of me. Fortunately, he scares the shit out of Miami fans, too, because on long play-action passes he is beauty incarnate, and on anything less is a rolling fireworks cart pushed into a cat shelter. That can be fun, and we hope Miami fans realize this. He is high-risk, high-reward, and extremely dangerous. You just want him to be the kind of danger that works for you, i.e. the one who played the first quarter, and ran fakes and roll-outs with ease. You do not want him to be what he was the rest of the game--something that admittedly has a bit to do with Duke Johnson being bottled up by the Florida defense, who played well in a game where the Florida offense went up like a meth lab. This has happened before. It will probably happen again.
13. Walking out of the stadium was the only time we heard a Miami fan call someone a homosexual, so that's improvement. For the record, it was Holly on the receiving end, and the guy had a chinstrap beard and a sleeveless t-shirt, less a person than a spirit-cliché summoned from the black marl of South Florida by a Hurricanes win.
14. That night I woke up at five in the morning to make a flight. I was staying on Miami Beach in a tower of condos built with laundered money. There is no industry in South Florida, or at least not enough to support the gleaming barnacle of Miami stuck to Florida's hull. It's money from drugs, or from something else you don't want to know about, and the cheapest way to pass it through the membrane between the black market and legality is by building condos. You could possibly afford one of these, at least on a couple of professional's salaries. The houses across the water--dedicated to a name, a person, a spot on a tax roll and not a shadow corporation--those places on the channel start at the price of crime, and go up from there into a stratosphere where few can breathe.
15. I watched Notre Dame and Michigan play after Will Muschamp made his bad-shrimp face, and after the quick hop onto county roads and into a media hotel built around gigantic banyan trees the size of missile silos. Michigan played "The Chicken Dance" when it was over, a direct kiss-my-ass in the direction of Notre Dame. I went to the last Texas/Texas A&M in 2011. That felt like the signing day for divorce papers, with neither side quite understanding the other. Michigan/Notre Dame seemed like the good kind of divorce, the kind that ends with both parties roaring off in new, unaffordable sports cars. It felt less like the end to a rivalry than a giddy, permanent separation. Rivalries end in different ways, but they sort of require you to, in some sense of the word, need the other party, to want them around for the game. Miami football, like Miami, is in its own universe, and much further away from the rest of the universe than you remember it being. Other people, other teams, other cities, only make cameos.
16. The main character is always the city, and doesn't really consider the rest of the universe to be worth an equal spot in the credits. Their football team follows suit. You are a detail secondary to Miami and will be until the great flood, and then even possibly afterwards.
17. That morning, I drove over the Tuttle Causeway, and past the elementary school and the Metro/PCS shops that might sell anything but cellphones, past the cranes from the port still lit up in the distance, and onto I-95, nearly empty in the early morning and populated only with weaving, bleary stragglers just leaving parties. In a hundred years, everything around me could be underwater. The second floor of a money-laundered condo tower would be the first. SunLife Stadium--or whatever it would be called by then--would be a coliseum prepped for naval gladiatorial combat. The University of Miami, kept low to the ground by Coral Gables zoning, would be mostly submerged. Miami--the rivalry, the city, the idea of the place--will be something you see from the shore, covered by the slow rise of the seas. For some reason, you'll miss it. Howard Schnellenberger, having grown gills, will swim with the tides, a manatee with a pipe paddling slowly through a patch of seagrass, trailing quiet puffs of smoke in the orange light of morning.