Posts Tagged ‘Jim Kelly’

Note: I’ve been using most of my free time in the last two weeks trying to power through launching the podcast Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles. I still have a few things to wrap my head around, but look for an launch announcement tomorrow. (In fact, this post will probably find its way into episode 1.)

“The guy looked like a cross between Colonel Sanders and General Patton . . . .[Howard] Schnellenberger was as old-school as a pair of brass knuckles. He had learned football from some of the game’s biggest legends.”
—Bruce Feldman
‘Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment

This is the opening paragraph of my book Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles:

“Get that f—ing walk-on off the field” is how my short-lived football career ended at the University of Miami back in 1981. I’d dislocated my shoulder during the previous play in practice and was hunched over frozen-like and favoring my twisted left arm. Dr. Kalbac popped my shoulder back in place. I had surgery put down my helmet for good, and picked up a camera.

I thought of that moment again after learning Howard Schnellenberger died at age 87 at the end of March. He wasn’t the coach that uttered those encouraging words to me, but he was the head coach back then. He was the architect who took a program that was almost disbanded in the ’70s and built it into the most dominant college football program of the ’80s and ’90s.

He won’t go down as the greatest coach in the history of football, but in my opinion he was the most influential coach for the fast-paced, high energy that college football is today. College football through the ’70s looked a lot like “three yards and a cloud of dust” that Woody Hayes made popular at Ohio State. Schnellenberger brought his prostyle passing offense to Miami and when mixed with the talents of Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar created magic.

What a full life Howard Schnellenberger had. He was an All American football player at the University of Kentucky in the 1950s. He coached under Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama and recruited Joe Namath in the 1960s, In the 70’s he was an assistant coach with the 1972 champs that where not only Super Bowl champs but finished the season undefeated.

In the 1984 he won a national championship at the University of Miami. That Hurricane season and upset win of Nebraska in the Orange Bowl started what was known as the decade of dominance. ESPN doc This was well documented in the Bruce Feldman book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment and Billy Corban & Alfred Spellman ESPN’s documentary The U.

In the ’90s he turned around the Univ. of Louisville football program, and helped start from scratch the football program at Florida Atlantic University. FAU played their first game in 2001 and in just seven years into the program were Sun Belt Conference champs capping what was for Schnellenberger six decades of football excellence.

I can only remember having one conversation I had with coach Schnellenberger, but a letter I got from him cemented my decision to go to school in Miami as a walk-on player. Still have that letter. (And his signature has a smudge because I wanted to know if it was a real signature.) I was looking for a major college that had a football program and a film program which in the ’80s was a pretty short list.

In high school I’d been an All-Conference and All County wide receiver, but when I got to Miami I realized that everyone was All State and some were All American. (Remember this was long before the internet that gave in-depth reports on every school. There was a certain amount of mystery involved. And it was a pre-Randy Moss era before some wide receivers were taller than linebackers.) Every step-up in the game from Pee Wee football through to professional football is a major jump.

I’ve said before I may of had the shortest career of any player to put on a Hurricane uniform for a game. (One JV game where I played exactly zero plays.) But a few days before I got injured I had my best practice running through plays before a JV game against Florida St. and teammate Stanley Shakespeare said, “Coach, you should start Scott— he catches everything.” Shakespeare went on to be the starting wide receiver on the ’83 National Championship team so I’ve always cherished that moment. Never underestimate the power of a few encouraging words.

One of the things I learned at Miami was to respect the talent pyramid. There are always just a few people at the top. Pick any field and you’ll find it’s true. As Robert De Niro is quoted as saying, “We’re all talented. Some are just more talented than others.“

Composers: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart

Tech: Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg

NBA shooting guards: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Duane Wade

Female Recording Artists: Madonna, Rihanna, Taylor Swift (Or is it Mariah Carey, Streisand, Whitney Houston? Janet Jackson, Olivia Newton-John, Aretha Franklin?)

Ranking talent isn’t an exact science. Hence, the endless G.O.A.T. debates these days. But as legendary football coach Bobby Bowden once said of one of his players, “He may not be in a class by himself, but whatever class he’s in it doesn’t take long to do a roll call.”

In my year at the UMiami film school, director David Nutter was the standout student. Since he went on to win three Primetime Emmys (Band of Brothers, Game of Thrones) I think he’d be at the top of the pyramid of all students in the history of that program. (Read the post The Perfect Ending.)

Of all the great athletes that have excelled at the University of Miami and went on to have a career in the NFL, you couldn’t even put a full 11 player team on the field of those who have reached the pinnacle of excellence—the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Here’s the entire list of nine players from the almost 100 year history of the Hurricane football program in Coral Gables, Florida:

Ted Hendricks
Michael Irvin
Edgerrin James
Jim Kelly
Cortez Kennedy
Ray Lewis
Jim Otto
Ed Reed
Warren Sapp

Those were the great ones who had long and distinguished careers. And even that small list has a pyramid.

One could do a Ph.D. thesis on Pareto principle or Price’s Law (dealing with the scarcity of a few to accomplish the most) from the talent that Miami harnessed from 1982—2002 when the school won five national championships. At Miami, Schnellenberger was a recruiting genius tapping into the unusually large talent pool in Central and South Florida that was traditionally drawn away by powerhouses in the Big Ten or SEC conferences. (Even today, the state of Florida produces the most players in the NFL.)

And Schnellenberger and his coaches could recruit outside the state as well. The 1982 team alone had three quarterbacks (Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde, and Bernie Kosar) who would go on to each be first round draft picks in the NFL. (Technically Kelly was recruited by former Hurricane head coach Lou Saban, but Kelly stayed because of Schnellenberger and credits him and QB coach Earl Morrall with preparing him for the NFL.)

Great talent is extremely rare. And it doesn’t last forever. To borrow a line from the movie Moneyball, ”We’re all told at some point in time that we can no longer play the children’s game.” Heisman Trophy winner Tim Teabow played his last NFL game in his mid-20s, Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice lasted until his early 40s, and even the great Tom Brady will retire—eventually (I think).

Schnellenberger never made it to the NFL as a player though he did play professional football in Canada for two seasons. Then he turned his attention toward coaching. But as an acting teacher in LA once told me when I was frustrated with my progress, “Just because you’re not Babe Ruth, doesn’t mean you can’t play baseball.” Schnellenberger found other ways to leave a legendary mark.

I would say that is the heart of this blog (and soon to be podcast Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles). You may not be the next Paddy Chayefsky, William Goldman, Spike Lee, Aaron Sorkin, Quentin Tarantino, Diablo Cody or William Shakespeare—but you can learn from their writings, and the hundreds of other writers and filmmakers I quote to become the best writer, filmmaker, content creator you can become.

P.S. And couple quirky fun facts, Schnellenberger was born in tiny Saint Meinrad, Indiana (home to a Benedictine Monastery) and according to IMDB he played a referee in the Robert Altman directed MASH (1970).

P.P.S. Brass Knuckles are illegal in Florida and do have a violent connotation, which may be two reasons the University of Miami football team has “The Crib” touchdown rings. This is what Spike Lee writes in his Do The Right Thing screenplay: Mookie stares at the gold “brass knuckles” rings Radio Raheem wears on each hand. Spelled out across the rings are the words “LOVE” on the right hand and “HATE” on the left hand.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“You’re going to get knocked down a lot. But you got to get back up.”
—Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly
(Good advice in football, and in life.)

Talent is talent. It doesn’t matter if it’s college football players or Hollywood filmmakers. I’m calling it the talent tree, but others have used the pyramid analogy.

It both cases the smallest part of the tree/pyramid is at the top (where the most talented and accomplished hang out), there’s a thick middle, and a wide (crowded) lower section.

In a few days the #7 ranked University of Miami football team plays top ranked Clemson University. Without drilling to deep into that game since this is a screenwriting blog, let me just say that if Miami upsets Clemson it will be the school’s biggest victory in over a decade—maybe since 2002.

There will be a lot of talent on display including Clemson’s QB Trevor Lawrence who is expected to be a number one NFL draft pick and Miami’s D’Eriq King. It’s not a stretch to say that whoever wins this game at quarterback has a solid shot at the Heisman Trophy (for the top NCAA player of the year).

One of the things that makes college and professional football so popular is hierarchies are decided on the field. Sure there’s occasional politics and various metrics you can tweak, but as my old high school football coach Sammy Weir used to say, “The cream rises to the top.” Here’s what that looks like in the arena of football:

Pro Football Hall of Fame (great career)
NFL Pro Bowl players (great season)
Professional (Arena, Canadian, NFL)
High school
Pop Warner/ youth tackle football leagues
Organized flag football
Sandlot/pickup games
Toss the ball around

The University of Miami has had tremendous success over the last four decades resulting in five national championships. Dozens of players have gone on to play in the NFL. And while some have played at the highest level, you couldn’t put 11 UM players on the field who are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Miami used to be known as “Quarterback U” for turning out great quarterbacks. Here’s a short list (in alphabetical order):

Ken Dorsey (Led team to 2001 National championship, first team All-American, Two time NCAA QB of the year, played in NFL for five years)
Craig Erickson (QB on 1991 National championship team, and third on UM’s all time passing leaders)
Jim Kelly (Only QB to lead pro team to Super Bowls four consecutive years)
Bernie Kosar (QB on 1983 National Championship team, two-time pro bowler with a successful career with the Cleveland Browns)
George Mira (Miami’s top QB for the school’s first 50 years. Played in the NFL and in CFL. And led his team to a World Football League championship and was the game’s MVP)
Vinny Testaverde (Heisman trophy winner and actually threw more TDs than Kelly in the NFL)
Gino Torretta (1992 Heisman Trophy winner, college football Hall of Fame, five year NFL career )
Steve Walsh (23-1 as starter at UM, QB of 1987 National Championship team)

I labor this point to say that of all the quarterback talent that has flowed through the University of Miami football program only one has made it to the top of the pyramid at the highest level. Only Jim Kelly is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And to show how brutal the talent hierarchy can be— if you field a three quarterback team from the NFL 100th Anniversary All Time Team you’re arguably left with Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and either Johnny Unitas/Dan Marino/ or John Elway.

This reminds me of the meme I saw recently saw on Twitter debating three of the greatest NBA basketball players: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James—start one, bench one, cut one.

You can do this in the animal kingdom, with corporate lawyers, and a pie baking contest at your local county fair. Everywhere. Including Hollywood screenwriters.

On a recent Scriptnotes podcast Craig Mazin talked about the high dollar that top screenwriters can earn doing rewrites (paying upwards of $300,000 a week). But he added that that amounted to only 20-30 writers. He didn’t give any names, but those are the people at the top of the pyramid. Out of 7.5 billion people in the world, there are only 20-30 on the short list. (Probably about the same for current outstanding NFL quarterbacks in the world.)

The good news is thankfully you don’t need to be Tom Brady to play football or enjoy being around the game. Ken Dorsey is now a quarterback coach with the Buffalo Bills. Others coach at the high school level or college level. Others move on from the game, including one who is probably the most financially successful person to ever wear a Hurricane uniform—actor Dwayne Johnson. This year Forbes listed him as the highest paid male actor for the fiscal year ending in June, making an estimated $87.5 million. (And as a reminder to give back, Jim Kelly established the charity Hunter’s Hope.)

All you can do is do what you can, with what you have, where you are. Once upon a time every working screenwriter today didn’t have an agent or a manager, hadn’t even written screenplay yet, and wasn’t even on the talent tree or pyramid.

You may not be the next Quentin Tarantino, but take comfort in knowing that he spent years without getting anyone interested in his writings. Then a few years trying to make a low-budget film. (And while that failed, he says it was a great learning experience.) Then he started getting opportunities to do some re-writes for $5,000 a script. Eventually it all clicked and he moved up to the top of the tree/pyramid and collected some Academy Awards. To paraphrase what FSU football coach Bobby Bowden once to said of a star player, Tarantino may not be in a class by himself—but whatever class he’s in it doesn’t take long to do a role call.

P.S. Speaking of Sammy Weir, I found this photo over the weekend of the two of us on the sideline my senior year. Coach Weir was one of the main influences of me walking-on at Miami. He had been a Little All-American when he played at Arkansas State, and played briefly with the New York Jets (as a teammate with Joe Namath). I think he came to Orlando to play for the Orlando Panthers and eventually coached at several high schools in the area and UCF early in that program’s history. He told me he thought I could play major college football and so I gave it a shot. It didn’t work out like I’d hoped, but I don’t have any regrets.

I wore #42 after my hero Paul Warfield who was a top tier talent. An first team All American at Ohio St., a six time All Pro wide receiver with the Miami Dolphins and the Cleveland Browns, two time Super Bowl champ, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and in 2019 named to the National Football League 100th Anniversary All Time Team. That’s a nice resume.

Related post:
Postcard #23 (Coral Gables)
How Much Do Screenwriters Make?
Filmmaking and Football with Ryan Coogler
Screenwriting and the Super Bowl

Scott W. Smith

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Make a difference today for someone who is fighting for their tomorrow. You don’t need to be a Russell Wilson, an Aaron Rogers, to make a difference out there. Every single person in this roon can be a difference maker. You can be just a normal person that gets up every morning and goes to work—but you can be a difference maker, putting a smile on those faces. So I urge anybody out there, if you have somebody out there suffering—it doesn’t have to be cancer—it could be somebody not having a good day. It could be your mom, your dad, it can be your grandparent. What you say to them, the smile that you have on your face—that can be the difference in them making it to the next day.”
Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly (who has also gone through years of cancer treatment)
Jimmy V Award for Perseverence acceptance speech
July 18, 2018

Kelly for Kids Foundation

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“The former Buffalo Bills QB [Jim Kelly] has endured more pain, grief and disappointment than many nations, and it’s only getting worse.”
Rick Reilly
ESPN March 4, 2014

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Andy Defresne in The Shawshank Redemption

Jim Kelly and his daughter at the hospital

Jim Kelly and his daughter at the hospital

Jim Kelly changed my life.

Indirectly—and I’ll explain in a minute—but now that he’s facing surgery tomorrow for an aggressive form of cancer I wanted you to keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

Kelly’s not a screenwriter, but once said he’d written the script for his life that included coaching his son Hunter one day. But Hunter was born with a genetic disorder and died in 2005 when he was 8-years-old. Jim and his wife Jill founded Hunter’s Hope Foundation in honor of their son.  In times like that I’m always reminded of the words of Roy Hobbs in The Natural, “My life didn’t turn out the way I expected.”

To one degree or another that’s true of every person who’s ever lived on this planet. I think that’s why stories dealing with struggle are so universal. Our culture celebrates power and strength, but it seems to be in moments of weakness where real and lasting impact takes place.

“His ability to lose, and lose big, and yet handle it, is so impressive to me. This has all made him an even better person than before, more patient even. It’s made him want to help even more people than before.”
Jill Kelly on her husband Jim who had part of his jaw removed last year due to cancer

For those of you who don’t follow football, Kelly is a member of the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame and from 1986 to 1996 was the quarterback for the Buffalo Bills.

My path crossed Kelly’s in August of 1981 at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. I was a first year football walk-on and Kelly was the starting QB. I was so low on the totem pole that as practices first started I didn’t even have a “U” on my helmet. That’s the truth. But I did have “Smith” written on tape across top front of my helmet, and perhaps the only conversation I ever had with Kelly was when he said, “Hey, Smitty” and he threw me the ball to warm his arm up before practice.

For Kelly who would later be the only QB to take a team to the Super Bowl four years in a row, that moment probably doesn’t make his highlight memory reel. But if you’re a first year walk-on and you’re catching a football from the starting QB you don’t forget that moment. But that’s not how Kelly changed my life.

In high school I was an all-conference football player but lacked size, grades, and about anything else that would make a college offer me a scholarship. But I still had this desire to play major college football. I went to a community college for a year to improve my GPA and also worked at a small newspaper as a sports writer and photographer. So as I looked for a college that had a good passing program (and a solid film school) I landed on Miami as the perfect fit.

Because Miami has won more national championships in football than any other school in the last 30 years, people forget before Kelly led the Hurricanes to a Peach Bowl victory after the 1980 season—Miami hadn’t even won a bowl game since 1966. I liked the direction head coach Howard Schnellenberger was taking the team and dreamed about catching passes from Kelly who was fresh off being the offensive MVP in that Peach Bowl.

So to a certain extent I lived that dream on a very, very micro level. I often joke that I had a the shortest career of any player who ever wore a Hurricane uniform in a game. I dressed out for exactly one JV football game playing exactly zero downs—and then dislocated my shoulder in practice, had surgery, and walked-off. (Didn’t even make the team picture that was taken later in the season.) About the only other thing Kelly and I have in common is we both had shoulder surgery done by the team physician Dr. Kalback.

But if it hadn’t been for Kelly I don’t think I would have chosen the University of Miami. So that’s indirectly how he changed the course of my life. With playing football out of my system I decided to head to California to finish film school, met my wife, etc. etc, etc.

So if you’ve enjoyed any aspect of this blog over the years–know that Jim Kelly played a part in all of this. There’s a wake behind great leaders where they have a positive impact that they are totally unaware of.

Please keep he and his family in your thoughts and prayers because he’s one of the good guys. And consider donating to Hunter’s Hope as they seek to alleviate the pain children are suffering from Krabbe Disease.

P.S. When Kelly was first drafted by the Buffalo Bills he says he actually cried, because he did not want to play in a cold weather climate. And before he joined the Bills, he played in the USFL in the Astrodome for the Houston Gamblers. But as the USFL folded he reluctantly joined the Bills. Lesson there is sometimes when we go to the places we don’t want to go magical things can happen.

Related Posts:
Screenwriting Quote #19 (Kurt Warner)
Screenwriting and the Super Bowl
Screenwriitng Quote #29 (William Blinn) Screenwriter of Brian’s Song about Gale Sayers

Update 4/8/14: Doctors decided they could treat Kelly this time with radiation and so this week he begin radiation treatment five days a week for the next seven weeks for his skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma).

Scott W. Smith

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You find someone to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door
Don Henley
New York Minute

I know it’s Thanksgiving day, but it’s also my 25th wedding anniversary. (No, I didn’t get married on Thanksgiving, it just happens to be where it falls this year.) Can I tell you a story?  I won’t bore you with all the details, but if you’ve ever wondered—as a friend once ask me—”How did you end up in Iowa?”—here’s the answer.

After getting interested in writing short stories, photography, and video production growing up in Central Florida I attended film school at the University of Miami for one year. (Even was a walk-on on the football team where Jim Kelly was the quarterback.) Made a few short films and decided to transfer to film school out in LA.

In my senior year I met my wife to be in an elevator in Burbank. Can you get any more romantic than that? She was a model & actress from Denver and had two kids. We got married a year and a half later in a covered bridge in Vail, Colorado. (That really was romantic.)

She worked as a temp at various industry related places (Disney, Warners, Paramount, NBC, Technicolor) which was part of our greater plan for me to break in. I worked as a photographer and then as a 16mm cameraman/editor for a production company in Burbank. By the time I was 25 and thought I was on the L.A. fast track.

Then life happens the way it does. On top of a few other things the Whittier earthquake happened and we decided to move to Florida where the cost of living was cheaper and they were just starting to build “Hollywood East” in Orlando as Disney and Universal were building theme parks that promised to have real working studios. It looked good on paper.

Yeah, that didn’t quite work out either but I ended up producing and directing videos for a group in the 90s just as digital revolution was taking off. That got me on the ground floor of working with AVID and eventually Final Cut Pro. Fast forward to 2003 where not only had my step kids both graduated from high school and college, but my step-daughter was married and had a couple kids. (For the record, I was an empty-nester grandpa at age 37.)

My step-daughter and her family had moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa and when my wife and I would visit and I found myself saying, “I could live in a place like this some day.” By that time I had my own little production company in Florida and I was doing some freelance producing for a TV program in Chicago that brought me to the Midwest from time to time. As often as I could I’d visit Cedar Falls.

Eventually, my wife and I thought it would be best to live closer to Chicago and we decided to try living in Cedar Falls (a five hour drive from Chicago and 3 1/2 hours from Minneapolis) and see if we could make that work. It took a little work to make it work, but I eventually met some young guys here who had a web design company and I started doing some productions for them.

This just happened to be in 2005-2006 as video for the Internet was just starting to take off. (Hard to believe now that You Tube only started in 2005.) We ended up forming a new company in 2007 called River Run Productions and we’ve watched video for the Internet grow. I’ve had a front row seat view of watching the production world totally evolve. And part of the change has been the world of blogging and how information and entertainment is distributed.

Moving to Iowa not only forced me to embrace the changes (tapeless production, multiple hats on productions, blogging) it also allowed me to tap into a great literary tradition as well as a Midwest mythology.  It certainly wasn’t in my mindset that I’d start writing a blog on screenwriting in January of ’08 that it would win an Emmy and get shout outs and links from people like Tom Cruise, Edward Burns, and Diablo Cody—but that’s all happened. And oddly enough, it’s brought me connections that I never had in my five years in L.A.

And it’s happened in part because of people like you who’ve visited Screenwriting from Iowa from time to time. As the views have increased month after month it’s given me encouragement to continue this slightly time-consuming endeavor. So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for you all stopping by and I do hope it helps you in your writing and your dreams wherever you call home.

That 24-year-old me in the above picture thought he was going to be the next Steven Speilberg. Didn’t happen. But to quote one of Minnesota-based singer Sara Groves’ songs, there are “Different Kinds of Happy.” I just have to get Robert Duvall and former Iowan Ben Foster interested in my latest script and the whole story could have a Hollywood ending.

And I’m thankful for my wife who’s been on this crazy journey with me these past 25 years. Happy Anniversary.

Scott W. Smith

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“Never quit. It is the easiest cop-out in the world. Set a goal and don’t quit until you attain it. When you do attain it, set another goal, and don’t quit until you reach it. Never quit.”
Coach Bear Bryant

Tonight’s BCS game between the 13-0 Alabama Crimson Tide and the 13-0 Texas Longhorns is high drama. Two long-standing, unbeaten college football programs battling for the national championship. (Mini-screenwriting lesson; Drama is conflict and there’s nothing like putting two equal (and successful) opponents against each other and taking them to the end of the line in a battle that will crown one as the victor.)

Over the years I’ve been to both Tuscaloosa, Alabama and Austin, Texas and found them both have their own unique vibe.  The University of Alabama has played college football since 1892 and has won 12 National Championships and has had a cast of characters over the years including Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler as well as the coach of coaches, Paul “Bear” Bryant. (Heck, even Forrest Gump played ball there.) This year’s team has Heisman Trophy winner  Mark Ingram on its side.

But in the last decade or so Alabama’s football teams have not shined so brightly. They’ve  shuffled through five coaches over that time trying to get back that winning tradition. They brought Nick Saben in to get them back on track and gave him a $32 million contract. The September 2008 cover of Forbes magazine asked about Saben,  “Is he worth it?” Even if the doesn’t win tonight, the answer is yes.

The University of Texas at Austin on the other hand has won four national, has had two Heisman Trophy winners, and their legendary football coach is Darrel Royal.  If you want to read a knock your socks of book on college football read Gary Shaw’s Meat on the Hoof, about his days as a player at the University of Texas.

The championship game tonight pitting #1 against #2  in Pasadena should be a great game. Drama at its best.

This week is the first time since 1954 where Bobby Bowden is not coaching college football. Last week he won his last game as the head football coach at Florida State University, where he had been head coach since 1976. Bowden also has an Alabama connection having been born in Birmingham, played his freshman year at the University of Alabama before transferring to Howard University (now Samford University in Birmingham), where he also began his coaching career.

Bowden led FSU to two national championships and is the second winningest coach in Division 1 college football history.  Congrats on a great career Coach Bowden–one that is not only  measured in wins, but in respect and appreciation. He also helped change how football teams from Florida are perceived. Since 1984 teams from the state of Florida have won nine national championships in football which is a staggering number. Bowden probably would have had a couple more national championships if they would have made a couple field goals against the University of Miami.

Speaking of the University of Miami, when I was in Florida last month I happened to catch Billy Corben’s documentary The U that was featured on ESPN’s 30 for 30. One write-up on the documentary said, “For Canes fans, this will be a reminder of what they loved about this team. For Canes haters, this will be a reminder of what they hated about this team.”

Many don’t know how controversial the documentary is in Miami. In the film, the Miami football program is not always shown in a positive light and it’s been reported that the school made it known to former players and coaches they would rather they not participate in the documentary. Corben definitely played up the bad boy image of the program (yes, rapper Luther Campbell is featured so that gives you a hint), but I think he also did a fair job of showing the rough areas where many of the players were from. They were playing for respect and they got it. (Well, respect mixed with a little hatred. Is calling a program “classless” its own form of trash-talking?) Miami’s program hasn’t been around since the 1800’s so it’s still working on being refined like those southern gentlemen in Alabama.

The U also takes time to show how Howard Schnellenberger was the architect for building a championship program out of a school that just a few years earlier was thinking about dropping football. The football program has not been without its scars, which makes it all the more amazing that in the last 25 years they have won five national championships—more than any other school during that time.

And who was Schnellenberger’s mentor? That happened to be none other than Bear Bryant. Schellenberger was an assistant at Alabama and helped Bryant lead the school to win three national championships in the 60s. Schellenberger was also an assistant on the 1972 Miami Dolphins Super Bowl championship team that is the only pro team to ever go undefeated in a single season. In fact, I’d love to produce a documentary on just Schnellenberger.

In fact,  to the University of Miami officials and/or alumni who didn’t care for the documentary The U and want to produce another angle to the story, give me a call. I was a briefly a walk-on player in the early 80s (still have my letter from Coach Schnellenberger), was a film major there, and have a couple decades of experience producing, directing, writing, shooting and editing many award winning projects.

The Miami football team doesn’t need a sugar coated version of the program, but their are other dimensions that could be covered that were missed on The U documentary. A good start would be  interviewing players like Jim Kelly, Warren Sapp, Vinny Testaverde and coaches Bowden, Larry Coker, Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt (the Georgia coach who was also a player at Miami, and an assistant at FSU). Corben and his rakontur production team covered a lot of ground, but Miami football  is its own mini-series & soap opera rolled into one, and you can only cover so much ground in an hour and a half.

Anyway, many eyes will be on Southern California tonight, but not because of USC, UCLA or the latest movie—but for two teams from fly-over country who have risen to the top of their field.

Scott W. Smith

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