When the hometown U let out that it landed a home football game against The U, it may as well have announced free rides to Mars on the rocket outside the Glass Bowl.
The five-time national champion Miami Hurricanes were coming to little old Toledo? Good one.
“There was a lot of surprise,” Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien said.
“Do you really think they’ll actually come here?” the nonbelievers asked him, wary the contract stipulated Miami could buy its way out of the trip for $750,000.
That was eight years ago.
On Saturday, pig(skins) will indeed fly.
It is here, it is real, and it will be spectacular.
The most anticipated home game in school history.
No. 21 Miami at Toledo.
We’ve never seen anything like it and we never will again.
This is so big that not even the bangingest Friday night banger could keep bleary students away. So big that it’s one of the hottest tickets in the nation, with the cheapest seats on the online secondary market running $70 — or three times the get-in-the-door price for Michigan’s visit from SMU. So big that Hurricanes coach Mark Richt — no stranger to big-time scenes — predicted “it will be wild” and “loud as it can be.” So big that Jason Candle cracked, confiding that “coach talk” would not cut it this week.
Miami head coach Mark Richt, right, and Toledo head coach Jason Candle shake hands after the Hurricanes beat the Rockets 52-30 last year. This year, the teams meet Saturday at the Glass Bowl.
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“The game’s not just another game,” he said.
If a MAC school has ever pulled off a bigger on-campus scheduling coup, you’ll have to tell us.
Toledo has reeled in big fish before.
A lot of them, in fact. O’Brien is the shaman of scheduling. Toledo is 8-5 since 1996 against power-conference opponents at the Glass Bowl and still, somehow, unexplainably, the win-win games keep coming. Consider: The other 11 teams in the MAC together have hosted an average of 2.2 games against power-league teams since 2006. Toledo has hosted eight — including Arizona, Colorado, and Missouri — along with then-ranked name-brand programs Fresno State and Boise State.
And that doesn’t count O’Brien’s piece de resistance: the Rockets’ home-and-“home” against Ohio State, when they netted more than $3 million from the schools’ 2009 meeting at Browns Stadium.
But that was in Cleveland.
Saturday’s catch is right here. In our backyard.
A once-in-a-lifetime football showcase for the reigning league champion Rockets, the university, and the city.
If past visits from the Cyclones (Iowa State) and others were fun enough, none carried near the household cachet of the Hurricanes. Poke fun all you want at their downgrade to a Category 1 breeze the last 15 years. They are still The U, the name conjuring the 1980s as much as washed jean jackets. In one poll of more than 200 recruits this year, Miami rated the seventh-best brand in college football.
Short of getting Ohio State, Michigan, or Alabama to give up a $10 million home gate to visit town, this is as big as it gets.
Now, I know what you’re wondering. We all are.
“I always get asked, ‘How did you get Miami to come to Toledo?’” star Rockets wideout Cody Thompson said.
As best we figured, it was the product of O’Brien’s relationship with Kirby Hocutt, the Miami AD at the time the home-and-home series was announced in 2010. The two men previously worked together at Kansas State and as colleagues in the MAC. Maybe Hocutt — who was the Ohio AD from 2005-08 — was tossing his old friend and league a bone.
Problem is, Hocutt has since moved on to Texas Tech. Ask him what he was thinking, and he said he doesn’t know. The memory issues bug appears to be going around.
“I think very highly of Mike O’Brien and [current Miami AD] Blake James,” Hocutt wrote in an email. “Enjoy the matchup, but I honestly don’t feel like I am able to recall the facts of the situation enough to help you.”
O’Brien said he put out a home-and-home feeler to Miami in 2009, same as he does all the time with marquee programs, Ahab in pursuit of his whale. “There are some schools that just aren't going to come to Toledo because of the financial loss of a home game in a large stadium,” O’Brien said. Miami appeared one of them, and, as expected, the answer was no.
University of Toledo athletic director Mike O'Brien has brought some of the top programs in the country to the Glass Bowl in his tenure.
“I have to ask,” O’Brien said.
And ask again. And again.
“I would call to let them know we were still around,” he said. “Then in 2010, they called and said, ‘OK, let’s talk about that home and home.’”
Miami was interested. As it happens, the series was slightly less pie-in-the-sky crazy than it seemed, a closer look showing that Miami’s financial model more closely resembled that of a mid-tier power program than its name suggested. Our trip there for the Rockets’ game last year confirmed as much, the scene at Hard Rock Stadium a familiar one: half-empty stands, tickets starting at $6, the rest of the city at the beach. Miami also scheduled recent eye-opening home-and-homes against Group of Five programs Appalachian State and Arkansas State.
The door was cracked open.
“We connected on dates and they faxed the contract,” O’Brien said. “I think I may have signed it before it got off the fax.”
The deal originally called for the Rockets to host Miami in 2015 and travel there in 2016, but Toledo later agreed to push it back if the buyout was raised to a more prohibitive $1.5 million. As much as O’Brien respects all involved at Miami, no way he was letting this prize get away.
Now, it is here, really, and it should be some kind of fun.
Thanks, Kirby. We will enjoy the matchup.
And remember it forever.
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