Edgerrin James didn’t need to be introduced to Antrel Rolle during his first practice with the Arizona Cardinals. A look and a nod was all it took.
James knew a fellow ’Cane when he saw one.
“We’re the biggest family in the business. We’re the boldest family, we’re the closest,” James said of the brotherhood of former Miami players who out-talk, out-bond and outrepresent any other alumni group in the NFL.
“That’s one thing. We let you know that we love where we come from, and you’ll see why we brag on what we do.” There’s plenty to brag about. Miami has had at least one player selected in the first round of the NFL draft in each of the last 12 years. It’s the longest such streak in NFL history.
Though Miami ranked only seventh with 33 players on 2005 opening-day NFL rosters (nine behind archrival and first-place Florida State), “NFL U” isn’t known for sending role players to the league.
Star players like Ray Lewis, Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, Ed Reed, Warren Sapp, Jeremy Shockey, Sean Taylor, Jonathan Vilma and Reggie Wayne all learned their trade at Miami.
It’s more than sheer numbers that sets the “U” apart from every other school.
The members of the fraternity don’t hide the loyalty they feel toward each other and toward their school. That passion is respected even by Darnell Dockett, who played for Florida State.
“I give Miami that. They always say they’re close,” Dockett said. “Even if they don’t get along behind closed doors your first impression is that they’re all friends.
“It’s being loyal to where you’re from. Half of them got the ‘U’ tattooed on them. The bird (mascot Sebastian the Ibis) or the ‘U’ “
If the graduates of NFL U are members of a club, then James is their president (and predecessors like Warren Sapp and Ray Lewis fill prominent cabinet positions).
James signed with Miami while the school was suffering under self- and NCAAimposed scholarship limits. In his third and final season in Coral Gables, he led the Hurricanes to a regular seasonending 49-45 victory over undefeated and second-ranked UCLA that signaled a return to national prominence for Miami.
James was the only Hurricane selected on the first day of the 1999 NFL draft when he was picked fourth overall by the Colts.
As he put together one Pro Bowl season after another, the league’s ranks swelled with former Hurricanes.
In the four seasons before he was selected, only six ’Canes went in the first round. In the four seasons after his selection, NFL teams used first-round picks on 19 Hurricanes.
“His success has definitely added on to the University of Miami (tradition). He set a great example for the years to come,” Rolle said. “You can kind of look at him as the Godfather.”
Miami’s impact on the league has been more than just a lot of talk, and we’re not referring to the ascent of agent Drew Rosenhaus, a 1987 graduate of Miami who rode the wave of NFL-bound Hurricanes to personal fame and fortune.
James and his fellow ’Canes were among the first players to rebel against the notion that a player had to participate in team-organized offseason workouts. After his first season in the league, James ditched the Colts’ training facility and chose instead to work on campus with Miami strength and conditioning coach Andreu Swasey.
Six games into the 2001 season, James suffered a season-ending knee injury and received plenty of flak for shunning the watchful eye of his NFL team. He responded to those critics by sticking with his offseason migration to Florida and rushing for over 5,000 yards in the next four years.
He was soon joined by other former Miami stars. Eventually players from other schools who lived in south Florida joined “Club Swasey.”
The concept that a player can work just as hard at home as at a team’s training facility has over time been grudgingly accepted by most NFL coaches.
Rolle, for example, spent his offseason working out at Miami’s training facility and rehabilitated his injured knee in Coral Gables during the regular season last fall.
Such travel was unheard of before James and the ‘U’ invaded the NFL.
And make no mistake, it has been an invasion.
“If you want to go through an NFL list, we can make an all-star team on both sides of the ball, and we won’t have a problem lining up with anyone on Sunday,” James boasted. “That’s the type of player you want on your team. A guy with a chip on his shoulder that raises the level of play of the lesser players.
“On every team, I think it should be a rule, every team should have a Hurricane on it.”
Miami’s own NFL team
Though light at quarterback and along the offensive front, a lineup of former Hurricanes would stack up against some NFL teams.
QB — Ken Dorsey, Browns RB — Edgerrin James, Cardinals RB — Clinton Portis, Redskins OT — Bryant McKinnie, Vikings OG — Vernon Carey, Dolphins C — Brett Romberg, Jaguars OG — Chris Myers, Broncos OT — Eric Winston, Texans TE — Jeremy Shockey, Giants WR — Santana Moss, Redskins WR — Reggie Wayne, Colts
DT — Vince Wilfork, Patriots DT — Warren Sapp, Raiders DE — Kenard Lang, Broncos LB — Ray Lewis, Ravens LB — Jonathan Vilma, Jets LB — D.J. Williams, Broncos LB — Dan Morgan, Panthers CB — Antrel Rolle, Cardinals CB — Phillip Buchanan, Texans S — Ed Reed, Ravens S — Sean Taylor, Redskins
On the bench
Willis McGahee (RB, Bills), Bubba Franks (TE, Packers), Kellen Winslow Jr. (TE, Browns), Andre Johnson (WR, Texans), Damione Lewis (DT, Panthers), Jeff Feagles (P, Giants)
The following college programs had more former players on 2005 opening-day NFL rosters than any others. Florida State 42 Florida 37 Tennessee 37 Georgia 35 Ohio State 35 Michigan 34 Miami 33 Auburn 31 Louisiana State 30 Notre Dame 30