The sports columnist, radio personality and host is interviewed in director Billy Corben’s 30 for 30 film The U Part 2 (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN following the Heisman Trophy Presentation), which picks up where The U left off, with the program trying to recover from the devastation left by NCAA sanctions and scandals that had some calling for the school to drop football.
Front Row caught up with Le Batard, a Miami Herald Hurricanes beat writer from 1988-92, in advance of the film’s debut to talk about the film and the school’s fascinating football history.
How would you compare the football program in the 1980s and early 1990s to the football program in the 00’s?
The ’80s and early ’90s were renegade rebellion. Tim Brown said he had genuine fear that those teams would beat him up in the parking lot after games. They were scary good and scary. The 2000 teams were a quieter storm. I remember [former Hurricanes star] Jonathan Vilma saying he wanted distance from the previous image. The 2000 teams were understated excellence. They policed themselves and even reined in personalities like Clinton Portis and Jeremy Shockey, who didn’t get colorful until the pros.
What was it like to be on the beat for the Herald during that time?
It was nuts and great. The administration wanted the players to cool it, but they had no interest in that. They liked being anarchists. So while academia was lamenting how much swagger the program had, we were going to a cemetery for a photo shoot with the safety who called himself The Grim Reaper [Charles Pharms] and wore all black on Saturdays because he was in mourning for the other team.
What has it been like for fans of this team going through so many ups and downs in the past three decades?
Manic depressive. The early years were so “us-against-the-world” in ways that transcended the athletic cliché of invented doubters and critics. Those teams were so crazy that it made the bond stronger with the city. Remember, Miami was a couple of bounces from more championships than just the five. To go from that to irrelevant to what [former head coach] Larry Coker inherited is insane. That 2001 roster is the best I’ve ever seen – 38 drafted players, 17 first-rounders. The good of those years was the best, which made the bad so much more difficult. I went to school there for four years. They never once lost a home game while I was there. You get spoiled and entitled.
Andy Hall contributed to this post