“The U”: A Movie About a Lot More than Just Miami Football
After having the Florida Gators shoved down my throat for the past two years, it was only fitting that my first weekend living back in Miami would be filled with Hurricane Pride. I am talking, of course, about “The U,” the ESPN 30 in 30 documentary about University of Miami football from this decade’s preeminent South Florida storytellers Billy Corben, Alfred Spellman and the rest of the Rakontur production team.
IF YOU THOUGHT THIS WAS JUST A MOVIE ABOUT FOOTBALL, YOU OBVIOUSLY DON’T KNOW THESE GUYS
“The U” takes a look at UM football during its heyday of the 1980s and early 90s. But this is a lot more than a sports movie. It is as much an examination of the socioeconomic and racial situations in Miami during that time as it was about the football team. Corben weaves highlights from some of the Canes’ most memorable games with discussions of the McDuffie riots, the drug trade, and the pervasive poverty in many parts of the city.
The makers of “The U” could easily have filled this film with a bunch of ex-players talking about how good the teams were and why they were so dominant. But instead, the film gives the Canes of the 80s a chance to explain why they were so “bad.” Why they insisted on taunting opponents and committing crimes, earning them the reputation as college football’s outlaws. As many former players, from Michael Irvin to Bennie Blades to Alonzo Highsmith explained, when you come from a situation where you have to do everything in your power just to survive, that mentality carries over to the football field.
TOO BAD THE UNIVERISTY OF DETROIT HASN’T THOUGHT OF THIS
The film also documents how the Canes united an otherwise racially divided city. The team gave the long-struggling African-American community some neighborhood boys to cheer for, and cheer often. These Canes were guys from the city. So unlike Big State U, where players come from all over, UM featured players who grew up a short bus ride from campus. The team was more representative of a city than any college team has ever been, and that theme permeates the entire film. Riots, racial tension and the drug trade are discussed in as much detail as many of the games. And this is why “The U” is not really a football movie. It’s a Miami movie that revolves around a football team.
TAD DRINKS A MARTINI WHILE LUKE PAYS HIS PLAYERS
The film has its humorous moments as well. Former UM president Tad Foote is painted as a stuffy, ineffective disciplinarian of the out-of-control Canes. No more so than when a shot of him sipping a martini is overdubbed by former players describing him as such. Luther Campbell of 2 Live Crew denies his payments to players with about as much sincerity as Bill Clinton denying marital infidelity.
Former UM quarterback Bernie Kosar is also entertaining during his segments, which look like they were filmed in the back room at Fox’s at about 2:30 in the morning. Apparently the filming was actually done at about 10:30, and Kosar’s field-test-failing speech is due to some painkiller issues. But it’s a lot more fun to picture Billy and Bernie talking Canes football at the end of a long 2-for-1 Tuesday in South Miami.
For the football fan who doesn’t live in Miami, or didn’t attend UM, “The U” is still an interesting look into the dynamic of college football’s most controversial dynasty. But for anyone from the area, it is so much more. It’s not only an ode to our city’s most iconic sports team, but also a historical look back at our most dynamic period. Like Rakontur’s “Cocaine Cowboys,” it made me wish I had been here in the 1980s, and at the same time made me glad I wasn’t. But above all else, it made me proud to be a Miami Hurricane. One can only hope potential football recruits feel the same way.
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