Someday, I imagine, they will make a big-budget movie about Nevin Shapiro. How can they not? Here's a guy who owned a six-million dollar house and a one-point-six million dollar yacht. Here's a guy who threw wild parties full of hired prostitutes and was so desperate for approval from the University of Miami football team that he reportedly paid for players' meals and for their jewelry and, in one case, for an abortion. And then he went to prison for running a Ponzi scheme, and he turned bitter, and he spilled his guts to the NCAA, and the NCAA botched the case, and the whole thing fizzled at the end largely because people were willing to trust the NCAA about as much as they were willing to trust an alleged Ponzi schemer.
I mean, that's beautiful. It writes itself. Get me De Palma on the line. There's a reason so many crime novelists and cop shows emerge out of Miami, and it's because of stories like Nevin Shapiro's. It's a city rife with ambition and art-deco beauty and vicious corruption and dark-comedic overkill; it's a place where the extreme has become commonplace, where extortionist bodybuilders barbecue body parts in order to dispose of evidence, where Elmore Leonard characters no longer seem insane enough to keep up with real life. It's a place where the local college football team, for the past three decades, has mirrored the identity of the city itself.
Let's face it: If they weren't in some explicit kind of trouble over the past three decades, the Miami Hurricanes were skirting the edges of trouble. That's been true from the beginning. They started out with nothing in the late 1970s, with no resources and terrible facilities, under a salesman named Howard Schnellenberger who also happened to be a hell of a football coach, who had nothing to lose and taught his team to play like it. Schnellenberger gave way to Jimmy Johnson, who had an oil-slick hairdo and a complete lack of empathy for his opponents. Johnson unearthed many of his greatest players in the city's poorest neighborhoods and so reviled the self-righteous methods of Joe Paterno that he described him as "Saint Joe." That continuous hustle, that push upward against the staid college football bourgeoisie, is essentially the defining characteristic of a program that refers to itself as The U. Without that ethos, The U doesn't come to exist in the first place.
Anyway, you probably know the rest: Eventually Johnson left, and the Hurricanes cycled through coaches, counted among their boosters a sexually explicit rapper, and won a couple more national championships. They were repeatedly condemned by the national media, and they largely fell off the table when they appeared to go straight, until the Nevin Shapiro revelations made it clear that they'd never really gone straight in the first place.
We needed those Miami teams in the 1980s. They were essential to the culture. I didn't realize it then, but I believe it now: Part of the reason the NCAA is being fundamentally deconstructed is because Miami thrust a middle finger at the rules that we'd long taken for granted. They refused to conform to a corrupt system; instead, they broke loose from the system, which led us to question (eventually) why the system was the way it was in the first place. That, I think, is one of the great takeaways from the Nevin Shapiro saga: What he did was silly and corrupt and exploitative, but the rules he broke -- at least when it came to the Miami football program -- were based on silly and corrupt and exploitative values. That it wound up a push was a victory for ethos of The U.
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But all that's over now, we're told. All that's history. Miami is 7-0 heading into this weekend's game at Florida State, and the Shapiro scandal is firmly in the past, and they've sworn, once again, to clean things up for good. Their coach, Al Golden, is a Joe Paterno disciple who wears a tie on the sideline and appears to be an honorable and respectable man navigating a snake-oil profession. This may, in fact, be the Hurricanes' truest attempt to go straight since Miami football began to matter in the early 1980s. And I guess this an admirable thing, but it feels sort of alien to me. I'm not sure I'll ever see Miami as the "good guys."
And honestly, I'm not sure they should be.
It was a relief for Al Golden, of course, to see a scandal he had nothing to do with end in a whimper. The burden was lifted. On a fundamental level, the future seems bright; Golden is recruiting well, and as long as he doesn't choose to leave for another job, I imagine he may succeed, at least within the confines of the ACC. But Miami's home attendance this season is still subpar; the Hurricanes are undefeated, and ranked in the top ten, and last weekend against Wake Forest, they barely drew enough people for a B'nai B'rith quorum. And I wonder if it's because people expect something more from Miami, something that Al Golden might not be able to give them. I wonder if it hearkens back to the origins of the program itself. I wonder if people became so accustomed to Miami playing with arrogance and swagger that they don't yet associate this team (which eeked out ugly victories over Wake and North Carolina) with the Miami teams of years gone by.
Maybe it's not enough for Miami to just win; maybe there's an expectation built in over three decades. Maybe they want The U. Maybe they want an iconoclastic bunch that reflects the glorious excessiveness of the city they play in. Good guys make for boring movies.