With swagger, talent and yes, the Turnover Chain, it's undeniable: 'The U is back'

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – As Saturday night greeted Sunday morning deep beneath Hard Rock Stadium here, Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz paused to find the right words. Diaz is the son of a former Miami mayor, and he grew up here in the heyday of swagger, national titles and an endless parade of All-Americans.

Before the start of the season, Diaz came up with a goofy gimmick to attempt to incentivize his team to force more turnovers. His idea of a “Turnover Chain” to coronate the defender who delivers a takeaway unintentionally spawned a 36-inch, five-pound emblem of Miami’s resurgence. “I saw something tonight I’ve never seen before,” he said, pausing for a moment. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a crowd react to a turnover like that, at any game I’ve ever been to.”

On the second play of No. 7 Miami’s 41-8 blowout of No. 3 Notre Dame, a tipped Brandon Wimbush pass wobbled in the air in the Miami secondary. As it hung, an inhale of collective anticipation enveloped the stadium – the possibility of a turnover putting the entire crowd of 65,303 on the precipice of eruption. The ball landed on the ground to an exhale of disappointment.

But that moment foreshadowed a night that may well become a hallmark of this Miami revival, as Miami’s four turnovers prompted louder, lengthier and more elaborate serenades of cheers from the fans than any of Miami’s four offensive touchdowns. Aside from the turnovers, the box score details of Miami’s blowout are mostly inconsequential. This will be remembered as the night Miami’s Turnover Chain went form a viral sensation to a visceral feeling, the link between Miami’s swaggery past and precocious present. “I know! I know!” Diaz said when asked about the veracity of the turnover celebrations. “That’s the part we never could have imagined. What we didn’t predict was the connection between that and the community. How people could relate to that is beyond our expectations.”

Diaz drove to the heart of this night for Miami, which may well be remembered as the night the Hurricanes formally announced to the college football world that they’re back. This wasn’t about Miami looking like Miami of old – limiting star Notre Dame tailback Josh Adams to 40 yards on 16 carries, mauling the Irish’s vaunted offensive line and likely launching the Hurricanes into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings this week.

Miami Hurricanes defensive back Trajan Bandy (2) wears the turnover chain after an interception in the second quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

This was about Miami feeling like Miami again, a bravado, edge and swagger missing around here for much of the past two decades. Miami’s fans are notoriously bandwagon jumpers, and they overloaded back in on Saturday. Nearly 5,000 showed up for ESPN Gameday on Saturday morning and the party carried on the rest of the day, which also saw Miami clinch a spot opposite Clemson in the ACC championship game for the first time ever.

By Saturday night, it was hard to tell if Hard Rock Stadium was a football game masquerading as a nightclub or a nightclub masquerading as a football stadium. They hit a crescendo for the turnover celebrations of junior safety Jaquan Johnson, sophomore corner Malek Young, freshman cornerback Trajan Bandy and freshman lineman Jonathan Garvin for their contributions.

“Embraced isn’t even the word,” Miami athletic director Blake James said. “It’s a phenomenon. How does this happen?”

The horrors of Nevin Shapiro, foibles of Randy Shannon and corporate stuffiness of Al Golden all seemed to wash away amid the pulsating mosh pit of euphoria on Saturday night. “With all programs that are down for a while, when you come back, there’s a pent-up enthusiasm and desire,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told Yahoo Sports. “You could feel that as this year has progressed for them. It’s just building. It’s a different deal. It’s a unique vibe.”

That vibe began with Ed Reed wearing a turnover chain on the sideline pregame. He was joined throughout the stadium by a cadre of ghosts from Miami’s glory years – Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp, Clinton Portis and Dennis Erickson. Miami has won five national championships since 1983, but none since 2001. Their run of three titles in 1987, 1989 and 1991 could best be remembered as the antithesis of Alabama and Nick Saban’s rote and monotone domination of college football in recent years.

What’s old is new again here, symbolized by the proliferation of Turnover Chain T-shirts selling out around town, the type of organic product demand that even the savviest marketer couldn’t dream of. Knockoffs are prevalent. Jewelers are scurrying to make replicas. Even Kelly James, the wife of the athletic director, has been making homemade turnover chains. “Our players are seeing something they’ve never seen; they’re too young,” Diaz said. “Even as a fan they’ve never seen it. They’re all too young to understand what it’s like when this city gets behind its teams. They’re seeing that now.”

Alex Rodriguez broke his replica turnover chain on ‘College GameDay’

They’re seeing it, but they’re also feeling it. And along with a swaggy chain, dominant defense and steady quarterback Malik Rosier (15-for-24, 1 TD), there’s another tie from the past generation to this one. Miami coach Mark Richt, a backup quarterback here during the Howard Schnellenberger era, has his alma mater 9-0 in just his second season. Richt has the Hurricanes on the cusp of the College Football Playoff, a level he could never navigate Georgia to during his 15 seasons there. He’s rekindled a vibe here that may not have been felt since matchups like this earned monikers like Catholics vs. Convicts and spawned documentaries. Credit Rosier with the line of the night, when he pointed out that the Hurricanes are No. 1 nationally in community service. “I don’t think convicts do that,” he said, pausing. “Willingly at least.”

That type of improvisational bluster hallmarked Miami back in its heyday. And the Hurricane players weren’t afraid to revive an era that none of them are old enough to remember. “The U is back,” senior receiver Braxton Berrios said. “I don’t think anybody can say we’re not. I don’t think we can get disrespected anymore.”

On a night when Hard Rock Stadium vibrated, pulsated and shook like a different generation, Miami’s swagger officially returned. Connected by the visceral power of a novelty chain, a new era has officially turned over.

More college football coverage from Yahoo Sports:
No. 8 Wisconsin clinches Big Ten West title
No. 10 Auburn ruins No. 1 Georgia’s undefeated season
Penn State players help coach propose after win
The Florida Gators’ latest on-field disaster
No. 13 Ohio State scores blowout win over No. 12 Michigan State