The dictionary definition of swagger simply does not cut it.
In fact it seems to me that if you have to ask yourself what swagger is, if you need a dictionary to define it; then you clearly don’t have swagger and probably never have. Swagger doesn’t come from a book, it comes from something else entirely. A place where pride mixes with talent, a self-awareness that so many can only dream of.
One of the things we firmly believe here in the Roost is that sports involve much more than the game. The amount of time we spend watching these games needs to be be justified somehow. Sports need to have a purpose other than entertainment, otherwise we have a serious problem controlling our hobbies.
What I wanted to get out of this trip was not only a few good football games, but a better feel for what football means in Miami. A since that was the mission, there was no better place to start than with The U.
Even if you’ve never been to Miami it’s clear that it is a very different place. The people there think differently, drive differently, and have a distinctly different set of values, especially when it comes to football.
The fact of the matter is that college football is more important in Miami. Sure the Dolphins exist and had a pretty good team in 1972, but five National Championships and a reputation that takes decades to perfect does a lot to solidify your place in the hearts of a city like Miami.
If there is anything the Hurricanes are known for it is defense. Defense and quarterbacks. Kelly. Kosar. Testaverde. The stories about bounties put on opposing players’s heads, the FIU Brawl; these are the things the Hurricanes are known for and the players take it to heart. Miami thrives on big plays and big hits, and the fans expect both.
Most importantly, they do it with style. Swagger. It’s the bad-boy, “try and stop me” attitude that has made Miami such a successful, and dangerous, team.
Swagger is one of those intangibles you cannot measure, like “pride” or “grit” or something else television analysts talk about when looking to give one team an edge over another. You can’t count pride on the scoreboard, and grit doesn’t win you games no matter how important to some.
There is no true gauge of any of these qualities, but it’s safe to say that over the last few years Miami had lost a lot of its swagger. A big time program winning small-time bowl games is nothing to be proud of, and bad quarterbacks are clearly not what the U is about.
What made Saturday night so important is that for quite some time the Hurricanes had not been so special. The end of the Larry Coker Era left some big holes in Miami, and current head coach Randy Shannon did what he could to fill those gaps and begin the long climb back up the mountain.
They still have a long way to go, but Saturday’s win over Oklahoma served as a benchmark of sorts for a team on the upswing. Miami beat a Sam Bradford-less Oklahoma team ranked eighth in the country on national television. The home crowd was buzzing, and running back Javarris James averaged ten yards per carry in the win.
But what about swagger? That’s what Miami is all about, right? Where’s the swagger in a 21-20 win over a team without their star quarterback?
Swagger isn’t just about how the team plays on the field, it’s about everything that surrounds the team. It’s difficult to explain, but you can just feel it in the air. The atmosphere on Saturday was pretty incredible, and that crowd was waiting for something to happen, waiting for the game to swing. It seemed the entire city of Miami got up for this game, and they were just looking for a reason to explode.
The more I looked around on Saturday the more it became clear that Hurricanes football is about more than just the University of Miami. The U represents the entire city, the entire region in a way few teams can elsewhere. It really is a mark of pride for a lot of people.
People everywhere in “305” shirts, the area code of Dade County. Alum in the crowd around us cheering like they’re in the student section. Parents teaching their children who to watch for and who’s getting drafted in the spring. UM football is the spectator sport of choice in Dade County, and they were ready for an upset on Saturday. All they needed was a spark, and what’s more, they expected it.
And so maybe that’s swagger. A big hit on the kickoff to start the third quarter gets the crowd going despite the 14-10 deficit. OU’s Murray rushes to the right for a yard. Then it happens. The corner comes free on the right side, and Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones never sees him. He must have heard the rising crescendo of the crowd, but Brandon Jones had separated him from the ball and planted him into the turf before he realized the corner was coming free.
One play later, Jacory Harris throws a dangerous pass to Dedrick Epps that somehow lands in his hands despite three defenders. Miami has the lead and never looks back. The crowd gets into it, the Sooners get rattled, and despite Oklahoma getting close it never seemed in doubt to those in the stands.
I think the biggest play of the game shows you what swagger is all about. 3rd and 7 from the Oklahoma 38. The Miami drive has stalled and Oklahoma wants to bring the heat to force a punt. With the score 14-10, Oklahoma needs to get a stop and get control of the game back.
Harris drops back and Oklahoma brings everybody. He stands in, steps up, and lets the ball go just a half-second before getting swallowed by white. A perfect throw up the seam to Travis Benjamin for the touchdown. The stadium explodes once again, the loudest noise of the night because the moment was just so huge.
And that’s swagger. A kid who just got beat by Virginia Tech and threw two interceptions in the first half comes through when it really counts. Jacory Harris, a quarterback with just a few starts in his collegiate career, laughs at his first half, waits for his defense to bring more than four, and comes up big in the second half.
What got me about all of this is not that it happened, but that the crowd expected it. Not in the smug, self-satisfied way fans of a good team do. They just expected Miami to pull through because that’s what Hurricanes do. There was no waiting for the other shoe to drop, no woe-is-me defeatism. Miami was going to win, and Land Shark Stadium was going to revel in the big win.
And so they did. The crowd was crazy, the team put on a show, and the Canes won the biggest game they’ve played in some time. It may sound simple, but not every team has the collective confidence to make that happen, and they certainly don’t have the history to back it up.
The Miami Hurricanes still might not be all the way back, and they probably won’t win a National Championship this year. However, on Saturday night they went out and proved that they are well on their way, showing a little of the swagger that they’ve missed for so long.
I can’t tell you how cool it was to see it live.