Fans smother Miami Hurricanes athletes with love at CanesFest

If the University of Miami football program was feeling sorry for itself in the least after being hammered nationally for alleged NCAA transgressions, one jolt of CanesFest had to remove any pains.

Several thousand fans of all ages filled nearly every crevice of the BankUnited Center and its practice facility Saturday afternoon, as every men’s and women’s team except soccer and volleyball — both on road trips — were smothered with Canes love.

If this were years ago, their mantra might have been, “It’s a Canes thing, you wouldn’t understand.” But on Saturday, the new rallying cry for fans, spread across hundreds of T-shirts among the crowd and on a huge vinyl banner signed by everyone in sight: #IStandBehindTheU. The new mantra was posted on Twitter in unison a week ago Saturday, making it the No. 5 trending tweet on Twitter that night.

“Gold-en! Gold-en! Gold-en!” chanted a huge crowd, when football coach Al Golden was introduced.

Hurricanes offensive line coach Art Kehoe, not exactly known for being timid, looked like he was ready to take on the entire Maryland defensive line, before running to join his team in another room.

“Bring on the Terps!” he yelled of Maryland, the team his Canes will face in the Sept. 5 opener. “We’re ready. We’re tougher, we’re stronger, and we’re better!”

Men, women and children spread out to spend time with athletes from various sports and play games with them. Track and field athletes had miniature hurdles for youngsters to leap over. Basketball players shot hoops with the crowd. Tennis players volleyed with fans, using a net spread across a basketball court. The baseball team helped youngsters throw toward a target. Rowers had their rowing machines.

The entire Hurricanes football squad, decked in its orange home jerseys, sat at three giant autograph tables as hundreds of fans snaked in and out of the field house to get posters, hats, helmets and everything imaginable signed. Some folks, such as Dr. David Roth, director of the kidney transplant program at UM Jackson Memorial Hospital, took off their shirts for dozens of Canes players to pass down the table to sign.

Many of the players engaged in conversations with their fans.

“What a tremendous turnout,” said Roth, who attended with his 22-year-old son, Jonathan, and has been a UM season-ticket holder since 1977. “The enthusiasm is awesome. The players are incredibly upbeat and interactive. Mostly, though, they’re looking at me like I’m nuts.”

Jose Enriquez, 12, a seventh grader from Miami, clutched a football with the signatures of quarterbacks Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris and many more of his favorite players. “I’m a die-hard Canes fan, and I’m always going to stick with them,” Jose said. “They’re the team everyone loves to hate, but not me. They got swagger.”

Outside, past the swim team’s dunk tank and near the giant banner being signed by hundreds, if not thousands of fans, people gathered to schmooze and greet others decked in orange and green.

“I’m sticking with my team,’’ said Erica Wilson, mother of UM receiver Allen Hurns. “I’m proud of my son, and I believe in the Canes.’’

Nearby, Lazaro Arribas and his wife Maureen were greeting every fan they saw. Arribas, known by local radio talk show hosts as “Cutler Ridge Laz,’’ prides himself as being the “world’s No. 1 Canes fan.”

“It’s important for us to show solidarity for the simple fact that everyone is against us,’’ Arribas, 38, said. “We love the U. Real fans don’t take breaks. Whatever sanctions the NCAA delivers, the fans are going to be right here for them.”

Russell Rose, a UPS driver, said he drove 180 miles from Palm Bay to make the celebration.

“I was born in 1961 right here,” Rose said, pointing to the U tattoo with Sebastian the Ibis on the bottom of his left leg. “I got that tattoo so when my UPS door is open all those Gators fans up north see it while I’m driving. No matter what happens, I’m a Cane for life.”

Danny Elfenbein and his wife Marty were especially proud to bring their first born, 8-month-old Landon James, to his first CanesFest. Elfenbein watched excitedly as freshman defensive end Anthony Chickillo hoisted little Landon for a photo-op.

“Honestly, it made me so freaking happy,” Elfenbein said. “It was like the best day of my life. It’s the picture I hope to see in 17 years when he goes to play at the U.”

Source : www.miamiherald.com