Thursday, December 17, 2009

ESPN 30 for 30 - The "U"

Running on the treadmill, I finished watching The 'U'. This is the seventh installment of ESPN's 30 for 30 series. The film tells the story of the University of Miami football program from 1979 until the late 1990's. It is first film in the series that has been two hours long rather than an hour.

At best, I am a causal college football fan. While I have heard of the University of Miami and vaguely remember some pieces of the story, I really had no idea of what went on with this football program during the 1980's and 1990's. Sharon, Jack and I actually drove by the campus while we were doing a driving tour of Coral Gables in 2004, but I never made the connection with the football program.

The story is told primarily through interviews with coaches and players and footage from games. I particularly enjoyed the footage from the old games.

The program was built and thrived under three head coaches: Howard Schnellenberger from 1979 to 1983; Jimmy Johnson from 1984 to 1988 before he moved on to the Dallas Cowboys; Dennis Erickson from 1989 to 1994 before he moved on the Seattle Seahawks. Pieces of interviews with all three of these coaches are part of the film.

The list of former University of Miami players is amazing. It includes a number of NFL stars such as Jim Kelly, Michael Irvin, Vinny Testaverde, Cortez Kennedy, Warren Sapp, Ed Reed, Bernie Kosar, Clinton Portis, Jeremy Shockey and Ray Lewis. Interviews with about a dozen former players including Irvin and Testaverde are a major part of the film.

The University of Miami's accomplishments during this period include:
  • five national championships (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 2001);
  • an NCAA record 58 straight wins at home;
  • 14 consecutive years with a player selected in the first round of the NFL draft; and,
  • two Heisman Trophy winners: Vinny Testaverde, 1986 and Gino Torretta, 1992.
In addition to the football accomplishments, the film looks at the controversies that followed the program. It examines the player behavior on the field such as celebrations and gestures, player crime, drug usage and privileges provided to players, including Luther Campbell's "pay for play," in which the rap star reportedly paid UM players for major hits and plays. At one point, Sports Illustrated actually suggested that the University should consider shutting down the football program.

Worth watching, The 'U' is a well told story.

Bill Simmons did a podcast with Miami sports writer Dan Le Batard who appears in the film. Unfortunately, it is not as good as some of the other 30 for 30 podcasts; they spend a lot time talking about other subjects such as Kobe. Le Batard also has a column on the University of Miami football program here.

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