Saturday, February 26, 2011
Hall of fame linebacker Derrick Thomas pictured as a senior at South Miami High School in 1984
Derrick Thomas was one of the most fierce pass rushers to ever play the game of football. He terrorized NFL quarterbacks for 11 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1989 to 1999. But it's hard to believe Thomas wasn't considered the best linebacker on his high school team. When college recruiters visited South Miami High School during the 1984-85 school year, Thomas was considered a talented and raw prospect. But his teammate Keith Carter was hailed by recruiting experts as a complete and finished product ready for college. Thomas went on to stardom as an All American linebacker at the University of Alabama before playing for the Chiefs. Carter would go on to a decent college career at Florida State, but never had near the success as Thomas.
Born and raised in Miami's West Perrine section, Derrick Thomas didn't seem destined for greatness on the football field. He was more likely to end up in jail than the hall of fame. His father Robert Thomas was a B-52 fighter pilot in the Vietnam War, who was killed in action. Growing up without a dad, Thomas didn't have many positive male role models in his life. He hung out with a bad crowd and often got into trouble. He was arrested several times as a youngster. By age 14, he seemed like a lost cause. He was sentenced to juvenile hall. But it was there where he found his true calling.
Judge William Gladstone recommended Thomas to be sent to the Dade Marine Institute (DMI), an alternative day school for troubled youngsters. It was at DMI Thomas met director Nick Millar, one of several mentors who helped Thomas get his life on track. Millar was a former college wrestler and recognized Thomas's athletic gifts. Thomas spent two years at DMI and was a model student. He channeled his energy towards his passion--athletics. His next goal was to play football for South Miami High School.
Thomas enrolled at South Miami prior to his junior year of high school. Head football coach Sam Miller didn't know much about Thomas at the time. But it didn't take long to notice his startling speed and size. Thomas played running back at tight end his junior year and scored a few touchdowns. But Miller realized Thomas's aggresiveness and physical nature was better suited for the defensive side of the football. He played outside linebacker and rush end, quickly gaining attention from college recruiters. He earned second-team All Dade County honors from the Miami Herald and Miami News. But his teammate Keith Carter was considered the big-name star on the team. Carter was selected to every high school All American team in existence including Parade Magazine, Scholastic Coach Magazine and USA Today. The Miami Herald rated Carter as the second best player in Dade County for the Class of 1985, behind Michael Timpson of Hialeah Miami Lakes.
But while Keith Carter was getting all the headlines and attention from recruiters, Thomas wasn't a complete unknown. He competed in football, wrestling, basketball and track at South Miami and was a standout in every sport. He actually gained more recognition as a wrestler--earning All Dade honors. The Miami Herald ranked him among Dade's 10 best senior prospects and several colleges were showing interest. In the end, he decided to attend the University of Alabama coached at that time by Ray Perkins. From the time he arrived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Thomas dominated and got better and better. He saw action as a true freshman. But once again, he found himself in the shadow of another linebacker teammate-- Cornelius Bennett. But when Bennett graduated in 1987, Thomas had the spotlight to himself for his final two years of college and never looked back. He became the most feared player in college football. Thomas was so quick off the ball, he literally was in the backfield once the ball was snapped. By his senior year he racked up an amazing 27 sacks and won the Butkus Award, given annually to college football's best linebacker.
Thomas was the 4th overall selection in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1989 NFL Draft and he didn't disappoint. He was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1989 and went on to become a 9-time Pro Bowl selection. Off the field, Thomas also made his mark. He never forgot his troubled past or the people who helped him turn his life around. This time Thomas decided he wanted to help kids realize the importance of eduacation. He established the Third and Long Foundation, which helps children with their reading skills. Thomas had suffered from reading disabilities when he was a kid. In 1993, Thomas was honored by the NFL and was given the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year award.
On January 8, 2000, Derrick Thomas' SUV went off the road as he and two friends were driving to Kansas City Airport, where they were going to fly to St. Louis to watch the NFC Championship game. Not wearing seat belts, Thomas and one of his passengers was thrown from the car. The first passenger was killed instantly while the second passenger, who was wearing his seat belt, walked away from the scene uninjured. Thomas was left paralyzed from the chest down. Derrick was later flown back to Miami to be treated by renowned Neurological Surgeon Dr. Barth Green at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Despite receiving the best state-of-the-art paralysis care, Derrick succumbed to his injuries on February 8, 2000, after suffering a pulmonary embolism. Derrick Thomas was 33 years old.
Derrick Thomas left behind a huge legacy. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. His son Derrick Jr. gave his inductment speech. Thomas' mother, Edith Morgan, established the Moms2Moms58 to honor his legacy. The foundation works with professional football players, non-profit organizations, community leaders, political figures and entertainers to educate the public on car seat and seatbelt safety, children's health and sports safety outreach to inner-city youth. Each year Moms2Moms58 hosts the "Celebration of Life Celebrity Weekend" in Derrick's hometown of Miami. On September 2, 2002, the Derrick Thomas Academy, a charter school, opened. It currently has an enrollment of 950 children from kindergarten to eighth grade.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
January 1, 1969: A view of the Orange Bowl stadium taken from the northwest stands during Penn State's 15-14 victory over Kansas. Penn State won in dramatic fashion when halfback Bob Campbell scored on a 2-point conversion with only 15 seconds left in the game. Campbell's score was a mulligan. Penn State had been stopped on its first try for a 2-point conversion. However, Kansas was penalized for having 12 men on the field. Penn State finished the season undefeated and finished #2 behind Ohio State in the final AP Poll.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
August 7, 1956: The Orange Bowl playing field was transformed into a baseball diamond and America's national pastime made its debut in the giant football stadium. A crowd of 51,713 watched the Miami Marlins beat the Columbus Jets 6-2 in a charity game that featured the pitching and hitting heroics of Satchel Paige. The game drew the largest crowd to watch a minor league baseball game at the time.
The stadium was clearly not meant to host baseball. Changing the field into a baseball park was like fitting a square peg through a round hole. The field dimensions were horribly skewed. Home plate was located in the southeast corner of the field and the right field wall was barely 200 feet away. To compensate for the short right field, a giant fence was constructed. But none of that mattered to the fans who were hungry to see baseball. It was a festive night at the stadium. Proceeds went to charity and the pregame entertainment included a concert by jazz and blues legend Cab Calloway. Imagine 50,000 people singing "Heidi Heidi Heidi Ho!" in unison. But the real show was put on by 50-year-old former Negro League legend Satchel Paige. Paige pitched into the eighth inning and also drove in 3-runs with a double to left-center field, giving the Marlins a 6-2 win.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Jim Fleming, wearing the striped jacket, helps the cheerleaders fire up the Orange Bowl crowd in 1968. Fleming was more well known among Hurricane fans as "The Yamma Yamma Man"
Jim Fleming was the college student who never grew up. He was a cheerleader for the University of Miami while he was a student from 1964 to 1968. He had a rough, loud and booming voice who could incite any crowd into pandamonium. But when he graduated from college, it seemed he never left. Fleming was so popular among Canes fans and UM students, he became an institution on the Orange Bowl sidelines and was brought back to help lead the cheers for close to four decades. But few people knew him by name. He was more well-known simply by his nickname "The Yamma Yamma Man".
A native of Rochester, New York, Fleming was always short in stature. He attended an all-boys high school in Rochester, competing in track in cross country. But during football season he was a cheerleader. When he enrolled at the University of Miami, he immediately tried out for the squad and was an immediate sensation at Canes games at the Orange Bowl. He was instantly recognized for his unique cheers while screaming into the microphone.
"I got the reputation of being kind of a smart alec--a Jimmy Cagney character," said Fleming in an interview with writer Jim Martz. "I was Mickey Rooney with a chip on his shoulder. When John Routh was the Ibis, we matched so beautifully. We were both irreverent. My irreverance got me in trouble a lot of times".
During a game against Notre Dame in 1965, Fleming's cheers almost got him into a physical confrontation with Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian. At the time, the student section sat behind the opponents bench and would taunt the opposing players much like a basketball game.
"We were obnoxious and it was a highly charged atmosphere," Fleming said. "We were doing a thing with the band screaming, 'Cheer up Ara, the worst is yet to come.' and saying 'Arrrra! Arrrra! By the third quarter, he'd had it. He came over to me and said something you can't print. He said, 'Listen you little SOB. Shut up!' He grabbed me by the throat a little. He was hot. His veins were popping. It shocked me. Somebody was trying to restrain Ara and cool him down. There were a number of cheers back then that would be banned today as people have become more politically correct."
As a kid, I can remember Fleming working the sidelines with his microphone in the 1980s. Some of his popular cheers included, "We've got some Canes over here! Woosh Woosh!". When the referees made what was considered a bad call, Fleming and the drum section of the band would lead the students in the chant "Hey, your momma!" It was a cheer that was eventually banned. When the Canes played the University of Florida, Fleming would scream, "Alligator bags, alligator shoes. If you're a Florida Gator, you're born to lose."
But Fleming didn't just scream into a microphone. In his younger days, he did all kinds of stunts and often paid the price. He dislocated both shoulders, ruptured an achilles, broke his clavicle and suffered a concussion.
"At the USC game in 1966, I was doing a flip and landed the wrong way and dislocated my shoulder falling over a cheerleader," Fleming said. "The USC doctor put it back in place in their locker room at halftime.
But Fleming's legacy at the University of Miami is more than just being a cheerleader. He was the president of the student body and founder of the campus radio station WVUM. But in March of 2006, Fleming died from a heart attack. He was 61 years old. Hurricane football games have never been the same since he left. I can safely say the Yamma Yamma Man was the ultimate University of Miami fan.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
November 6, 1966: Miami Dolphin player Wahoo McDaniel attempts a punt against the Buffalo Bills in the Orange Bowl. McDaniel was one of the few players in pro football history to wear his first name or nickname on the back of his jersey
Edward "Wahoo" McDaniel was one of pro wrestling's most colorful characters during the 1970s and 80s. A Choctaw-Chickasaw Native American, he would enter the ring in a traditional Indian headress complete with feathers. But before he gained fame as a wrestler, he was a journeyman profesional football player in the American Football League. He played nine seasons in the AFL with four different teams. Among his stops was Miami in 1966 , where he was a member of the first Miami Dolphins team. McDaniel was known as a wild character who loved to drink, party and raise a little hell. But one thing made him unique compared to other players. He was the only player who had his nickname or first name placed on the back of his jersey. Instead of reading "McDaniel", his jersey simply read "Wahoo". Many years later, WWE wrestling owner Vince McMahon Jr. would start a pro football league called the XFL. Many players had colorful names placed on their jerseys. The most memorable was Rod Smart whose jersey read "He Hate Me".
The 1966 Miami Dolphins were a collection of castoffs, misfits and unqualified rookies and their league worst 3-11 record was a reflection of that lack of talent. But among this group of characters was linebacker/punter Wahoo McDaniel. He was selected by the Dolphins in the expansion draft after being left unprotected by the New York Jets. McDaniel was a solid player in New York and once made 23 tackles in one game against Denver in 1964. During the offseason he began his pro wrestling career while working for Vince McMahon Sr. McDaniel, along with former Houston Oiler player Dory Funk Jr. were among low salaried football players who dabbled in wrestling. McDaniel and Funk would become longtime rivals and later legends in the wrestling business.
McDaniel got his nickname Wahoo from his father who was known as "Big Wahoo". Wahoo grew up in Midland, Texas and was an accomplished athlete. One of his high school baseball coaches was future President George H.W. Bush. McDaniel earned a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma and played for legendary coach Bud Wilkinson. During his career at Oklahoma, he played in two Orange Bowl games with the Sooners on New Years Day of 1958 and 1959. Oklahoma won both times.
Wahoo McDaniel played three seasons with the Dolphins from 1966-68. But after an altercation where he knocked out two police officers, he was traded to the San Diego Chargers. McDaniel would never play a down in San Diego and quit football to pursue wrestling full time. For the next 20 plus years, he became one of pro wrestling's most iconic figures. His glory years were wrestling in the Mid Atlantic area staging many memorable matches with his peers Ric Flair, Harley Race and the Funk Brothers. But his health quickly declined in the mid 90s and eventually lost both kidneys. He died on April 18, 2002 from complications due to diabetes and renal failure. Wahoo McDaniel was 63 years old.
Friday, February 18, 2011
April 7, 1985: The artist known as Prince performs at the Orange Bowl during the final show of his Purple Rain tour
During the spring of 1985, there wasn't a bigger music star in the world than the artist known as Prince. His landmark Purple Rain album had catapulted the eccentric musician to the top of the pop charts,eclipsing Michael Jackson. Not only was the album number one in sales at the time, he also starred in the movie "Purple Rain" which also did well at the box office.
At the very height of his career, Prince brought his band The Revolution to the Orange Bowl on April 7, 1985 for the final concert of his Purple Rain tour. The Orange Bowl was transformed into the "Purple Bowl". More than 55,000 people attended and they didn't leave disappointed. The opening act was percusionist/singer Sheila E., who was a Prince protoge and had a popular song on the pop charts "The Glamorous Life". Prince performed 22 songs that evening, including every song from the Purple Rain album. He closed his show appropriately with the album's title track.
The tour sold 1.7 million tickets according to Spin Magazine. It also marked the touring debut of his band The Revolution. The Orange Bowl performance would be Prince's only appearance at the legendary stadium. But it wouldn't be his last or most memorable South Florida concert. Nearly 22 years later, Prince performed at halftime of Super Bowl XLI at Dolphins Stadium (Now known as Sun Life Stadium).
Thursday, February 17, 2011
November 30, 1985: Miami safety Bennie Blades returns an interception 61 yards for a touchdown against Notre Dame. Miami won 58-7
During the 1980s, the University of Miami Hurricanes were the bad boys of college football. But where did that reputation begin? If I had to pick one moment in a specific game, it would be Bennie Blades's pick six against Notre Dame in 1985.
At the time Blades was a young sophomore who was just beginning to make a name for himself as a college player. Notre Dame's program may have been at its lowest point. Gerry Faust was coaching his final game and the Irish entered with a 5-5 record. Late in the second quarter, Miami led 13-0 and was in control of the game. Notre Dame quarterback Steve Beuerlein fired a pass intended for running back Allen Pinkett. Blades cut in front of Pinkett, intercepted the pass and then used his sprinter's speed to easily cruise 61 yards to the end zone. As Blades returned the interception he slowed down and high-fived teammate Selwyn Brown before crossing the goal line.
By today's standards, that's not much of a big deal. Players celebrate all the time and this one was tame. But looking back, that play was the first sign of Miami "swagger" that I can remember witnessing. It also opened the floodgates as the Canes rolled to a 58-7 victory. CBS broadcasters Brent Musburger and former Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian would voice their outrage over the lopsided score and accused Miami coach Jimmy Johnson of running it up.
Before that game, Miami didn't have much of a reputation other than upsetting Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl and losing to Boston College on the famed "Hail Flutie" play. But this game forever changed Miami's image. Many like to look back at the Canes antics prior to the 1987 Fiesta Bowl against Penn State. But the 1985 Notre Dame game was when Miami became the villains of college football.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The scowl. If you've ever seen or met St Thomas Aquinas High School football coach George Smith, you've experienced it. His facial expression rarely changes. Unless you really know Smith well, it's hard to tell whether he's happy or angry. He can be intimidating, sarcastic and sometimes even funny. The players change. But his face and his teams ability to win games rarely waivers. Smith is the epitome of consistency. His Aquinas Raiders have won 6 state championships, 7 runner-up finishes and 2 mythical national titles. But after 34 years of coaching and 361 career victories, we will no longer see Smith pace the sidelines in his trademark coach's shorts and scowl. He will step down as Aquinas head football coach, but will remain as the school's athletic director. Defensive coordinator Rocco Casullo will be Smith's replacement. It will be hard to imagine South Florida high school football without him.
George Smith never thought he'd be a coaching legend. In fact he never thought he'd be a head football coach. A native of Lafayette, Indiana and graduate of Purdue University, Smith moved to Fort Lauderdale and was originally hired by St. Thomas Aquinas to start the school's wrestling program in 1972. He spent 7 years coaching wrestling while also serving as an assistant football coach under then head coach Dave Franks. In 1975, Smith replaced Franks as head football coach and Broward County football would never be the same.
When Smith arrived at St. Thomas Aquinas, the school's athletic program was mostly known for Chris Evert's tennis exploits and the football team had yet to establish itself as a local power. Brian Piccolo, who graduated in 1961 back when the school as known as Central Catholic High School, was the most famous football alumnus at the time. Aquinas wasn't even considered the best Catholic school football program in Broward County, lagging behind rivals Cardinal Gibbons and Chaminade. That would change.
By the late 1970s St. Thomas Aquinas was starting to emerge as one of the best football programs in South Florida. Smith surrounded himself with quality assistants, many of whom have worked with him for decades or played for Smith. The success of Aquinas began to attract to players from all over Broward. These players included All American lineman Stefan Humphries and quarterback Mike Stanley, who later became a major league catcher for several years. By the early 1980s, Aquinas had eclipsed Hollywood Hills High School to become the predominant power of Broward County. Smith's 1981 Raiders, led by quarterback John Congemi, went undefeated during the regular season before losing to Suncoast High School of Riviera Beach in the state playoffs. It was the best finish in the history of the Aquinas program at that point. But the best was yet to come. Two years later, Aquinas went undefeated again. This time they were led by a big, cocky wide receiver named Michael Irvin. But again, Smith's quest for a state championship was dashed in the state playoffs by then Class 3A champion Titusville.
For all of Smith's success, it's hard to believe it took him 16 years to reach his first state championship game. That first title game appearance didn't go well. In 1991 Aquinas was crushed 39-14 by a Fort Walton Beach team led by future UF Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel. But after 17 years of frustration, Smith's finally got his first state championship ring in 1992 when Aquinas beat Tallahassee Leon 24-9 in Gainesville.
After finally winning it all, Smith called it quits after the 1992 season and remained as the school's athletic director. Mike Spencer took on the daunting task of replacing Smith. Spencer would quickly learn those big shoes were almost impossible to fill. Aquinas qualified for the state playoffs in 1993 and 1994, but were unable to maintain the program's dominance under Smith. Those two years being away from the sidelines were tough for Smith. He still had the competitive juices flowing and decided to return as head coach in 1995. From the that point on, Aquinas would be an almost regular participant in the 4A or 5A state championship games.
From 1996 through 2010, Aquinas reached the state title game a remarkable 11 times in 15 years. Five of those teams would leave with the championship trophy. But some of his best teams never won a title. During a 3-year stretch from 2004-2006, Aquinas lost to Lakeland each year including a double overtime heartbreaker in 2006 at Dolphin Stadium (Now Sun Life Stadium). Smith's 2009 team may have been his best ever. Aquinas was ranked #1 in the nation at the time by USA Today. But the Raiders were upset by Bradenton Manatee in the Class 5A semifinals. Smith's career would not end with a loss. The 2010 team would rebound and defeat Tampa Plant in the 5A state finals, giving Smith his 6th and final state title. It would be his last game..
George Smith leaves an enormous legacy and void in local high school football and Broward County athletics. Not only was he a great football coach, he also developed the most successful complete athletic program in South Florida as the school's athletic director. St. Thomas Aquinas has won or challenged for state titles in just about every varsity sport. The school's athletic program has won the Miami Herald's Broward County All Sports Award every year for over 20 years running.
He has a huge amount of admirers and critics. Many claim Aquinas has an unfair advantage over most of its competition.. Good or bad, St. Thomas Aquinas is a private school that has the ability to draw students throughout South Florida. In a few cases, there have been athletes who've moved to South Florida from out of state or from other parts of Florida just to be a part of Smith's program. One notable example was when former Miami Southwest High defensive back Lamarcus Joyner transferred to play for Aquinas during his senior year. While I can't prove St. Thomas Aquinas recruits athletes from other schools, there's no doubt talented kids want to be a part of that program. Under Smith, hundreds of his former players have gone on to college and have become successful in various fields. During his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Michael Irvin went out of his way to mention Smith in his speech and the impact he had on Irvin's life as a coach and mentor. No matter what your opinion may be of George Smith, there is no doubt there will never be another one like him.
George Smith by the numbers:
Career Record: 361-66
State Championships: 1992, 1997, 1999, 2007, 2008, 2010
National Championships: 2008, 2010
Undefeated Regular Seasons: 1981, 1983, 1986, 1991, 1992, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2008, 2010
Notable Former Players:
Tony Brown - Class of 00
Wes Byrum - Class of 07
Greg Cox - Class of 84
Duron Carter - Class of 09
John Congemi - Class of 82
Tavares Gooden - Class of 03
Leonard Hankerson - Class of 07
Stefan Humphries - Class of 84
Michael Irvin - Class of 84
Lamarcus Joyner - Class of
Sterling Palmer - Class of 89
Daryl Porter - Class of 93
Twan Russell - Class of 92
Nate Salley - Class of 02
Tony Sands - Class of 88
Terry Smith - Class of 93
Mike Stanley - Class of 81
Slip Watkins - Class of 86
James White - Class of 10
Major Wright - Class of 07
Sam Young - Class of 06