Ugly football brawl in Miami was just an act of stupidity


The Kickoff


MIAMI --The biggest shock about that melee at the Orange Bowl on Saturday night was that it took until the middle of the third quarter to get going. I would have thought the over/under might have been the pre-game coin flip, and even that was assuming mutual restraint. Maybe we should be thankful the team buses didn't start racing en route to the stadium, trading paint and road-raging through traffic in a hail of bullets.

All of the elements were there for an evening of good old-fashioned footbrawl as the University of Miami's Hurricanes and Florida International's Golden Panthers met for the first time.

You had the natural testosterone overload that can make 20-year-old males behave remarkably stupidly where sports, pride or women are involved. You had the combined angst -- not to be underestimated -- of each team's disappointing season as an aggravating factor (Miami is 4-2, FIU 0-7).

You also had the backdrop of neighborhood rivalries between sudden adversaries who grew up together. Then, for dessert, you had the cocktail of frustration, resentment and jealousy -- many of the same popular emotions that find officers routinely policing nightclub parking lots at 3:18 a.m.

I wouldn't overreact and declare that Miami and FIU should never meet again in football based on one dumb, embarrassing brawl. It was "disgraceful," sure, just as Hurricanes coach Larry Coker said it was. And it merited every one of the administrative apologies flying sincerely yet perfunctorily Sunday across the nine miles separating the two main campuses.

This wasn't a "riot," however. Please. We have had those down here. We live in an area, and a time, when we feel fortunate if a week goes by without reading the latest headline about the latest college-aged person gunned down for no good reason. (No referee to break up those fights, by the way.)

This wasn't even an epidemic of lawlessness. It was what it was: a rupture of football machismo that went on long enough to become an instant YouTube sensation and feed the ESPN SportsCenter machine for a little while. For Miami, it invites every negative preconceived notion about a football program run amok. That perception is unfortunate reality. For FIU, well, it gets the little guys on SportsCenter for a change, albeit for the wrong reasons. Also reality.

Beyond that, it's just stupidity. The stupidest get suspended for a while, and we move on.

Don't take this as intending to excuse in any way the boorish, infantile behavior that led to 13 players (eight from FIU) being ejected from Miami's 35-0 victory and a total of 31 players (18 from FIU) being dismissed or suspended from their teams' next games. The five-minute disruption made you cringe.

The brawl, however, should not indict anyone but those who participated in it. If anything, Coker deserves credit, not condemnation, for reacting swiftly against the perpetrators. Some see him as a coach losing control of his program; I suggest he's a man doing all he can to see that he doesn't. FIU was just as resolute in identifying and disciplining the main culprits in the brawl.

It seemed to me that Miami's James Bryant tipped the first domino in pointing at and bowing to the FIU sideline after the touchdown that made it 14-0. But FIU, apparently mouthy to that point, took it from there. FIU's new athletic director, Pete Garcia, straight from Miami, seemed to admit responsibility in saying the Hurricanes "were gracious enough to grant us these games, and this is how we repay them."

But let's not get caught up in blame laying. Let's agree that any player who kicked or punched is at fault, and not extend the blame to either school.

FIU players, many of them passed over by Miami and other big schools during recruiting, can be forgiven their jealousy, if not the extrapolating of it, to make them think fisticuffs were OK.

Miami players may be forgiven the inclination to do a bit of preening in a season that has had too little opportunity for that -- although tweaking your downtrodden little brothers was not real sporting.

Unfortunately, the matchup was combustible. Don Strock is a lame-duck coach at FIU and Coker is fighting to save his hide at Miami, and their schools meeting for the first time just happened to be an intersection of volatile emotions in a chaotic season for both.

It won't always be so.

Don't give up on the future of a Miami-FIU football series just because a bunch of players happened to go ballistic on one weird October night in 2006.

The promise of a good, long, natural rivalry should set the policy on that, not the actions of a few who chose the first meeting as their stage to play buffoons.

You've got to believe that Saturday night was an aberration.

Either that, or be very depressed.

Greg Cote writes for The Miami Herald.

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