Friday night marks a special occasion for the Miami Hurricanes and Florida Atlantic Owls. Facing each other for the first time ever, both schools will honor retired coach Howard Schnellenberger, the man who led UM to its first national championship in 1983 and built the FAU program from scratch.
"That was the genesis of the game, that we would celebrate what he has done for both programs, really starting both programs at the end of the day," Miami coach Al Golden said. "He's a man who owes me nothing but treats me with great respect and imparts great wisdom every time I see him. We're blessed to have him in our family. I know FAU probably feels the same way."
Schnellenberger will be an honorary captain for both teams, and dozens of former players from the 1983 Canes squad will also be in attendance for a 30th anniversary celebration of their championship. Schnellenberger calls the celebration "putting the sugar on the cake of this game."
"It's a thrilling experience to see this series come to maturity now, come to pass," Schnellenberger said. "It's going to happen. We talked about this game for a long time. This is the birth of a very important rivalry series that's about to unfold."
But despite the fact that he continues to follow the Miami program closely, Schnelly says he'll be pulling for the Owls.
"This is my team," he said.
Indeed, while he was hired as the first coach in FAU history, Schnellenberger joined the Hurricanes more than 60 years into that program's history.
Still, no one else can argue they played a bigger role in thrusting UM into the national spotlight than Schnellenberger. The school considered dropping football in the 1970s, and when Schnellenberger was hired in 1979 it had been twelve seasons since Miami had appeared in a bowl game.
Schnellenberger helped UM break that streak in 1980 with a berth in the 1981 Peach Bowl, a year after Miami upset no. 16 Penn State on national television. Miami followed it up with an 11-1 1983 season capped by a monumental upset of top-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
"My junior year, we voted 6-5 to keep football. We were going to drop football and he took it from there to a national title," said UM offensive line coach Art Kehoe, who played for the U under Schnellenberger. "The guy's an unbelievable coach. ... Heck, we couldn't pay the phone bill. And now we've got five national titles and played for 11 of them and he's the main fabric of all that. He started it all."