Earlier this week, I promised you a forum to talk about your fondest Orange Bowl memories as well as your feelings on the anniversary of Bryan Pata's murder. This is the place.
Personally, I just wanted to share some of my thoughts on both subjects. As many of you know, I was born and bred in this city -- just like a lot of your Miami Herald Sports Writers. At 29, I've got lots of great memories about the OB including the first time my father took me to a Hurricanes game when I was 4 years old. It was back in 1982 and I'm not even sure who the Canes were playing, but I remember it was a hot afternoon. I'll never forget it because my old man still laughs to this day about how he tried to fool me into going home at halftime, telling me the game was over. He tells me I refused and kept telling him "but the people are still here."
I got to enjoy games strictly as a fan up until about 2000, that's about the time I became a full-time writer and had to become "unbiased." But I'll never forget my last game as a true fan -- watching Ken Dorsey find Jeremy Shockey in the end zone to beat No. 1 Florida State. I remember having so much fun, sitting in the West End Zone and just going nuts that game. I can't remember it being louder. There are other memories, including being there the night the 58-game home winning streak ended against Washington. Even the nights I wasn't at the OB, I just remember wishing I was. Like when UM crushed Notre Dame 58-7. I had the chicken pox and couldn't go. And the night Flutie tossed that Hail Mary. I wanted to be there to knock the pass away. And the 1988 Orange Bowl when the Canes beat The Boz and Oklahoma.
I hate to admit it, but I actually got a little emotional walking into the place last Saturday for the N.C. State game. It's hard to imagine this place I've always passed on the way to my grandmothers house will not be here next year. I know for some of you it means even more. And of course there are others who can't wait to be at Dolphins Stadium next year. But I'm sure even you can remember some of the old good times at the OB. I'm just happy we'll have one more night this Saturday against Virginia.
As for Bryan Pata, I wish there were so many more. I'll never forget the last day I spent with Bryan -- just me and him. I came to UM to do a video interview -- sort of an MTV Cribs/Day In The Life experience. We met for lunch on campus then rode in his SUV to his apartment in Kendall. He gave me the tour and introduced me to his dog and showed me a few of his interesting collectibles. He gave me all this time just to talk about his family and his friends, his hobbies and told how he fixed up cars. Bryan and I had known each other since his junior year in high school, when I tabbed him the No. 1 recruit in Miami-Dade in his class. He was at North Miami High then, but we got to know each other even more his senior year when he was at Central. I'll never forget how he cried when the ruled him ineligible his senior season, how upset he was he had cost his team to forfeit the first five games of his season.
Even though I covered the high schools for most of the time Bryan was at UM, every time I went out to UM to help out, he'd come over and give me a pat on the head or one of those fist taps. When I finally started covering the team full time last season, he was the first player to really greet me after a practice. He was happy I was now covering the team and I even remember him calling over a few of the other former Dade high school guys to say hello. That's how Bryan was. He never forgot anybody. He never let his fame get to his head. All he wanted to after his senior season was buy his mother a house with his NFL millions. Everytime we talked, he always reminded me how one day it was going to happen.
When I got the call he had been shot, I was out playing a softball game at Brian Piccolo Park in Broward. I left the field immediately and rushed over to UM. I couldn't believe it and it didn't hit me until I ran into Eric Moncur and some of the other Dade guys and saw their faces. All I've kept asking myself since is why. Sadly, Bryan's killer is still at large to this day. Like everyone in the UM community I long for the day that person is brought to justice and we finally find some answers to the sad mystery.
But for you, Bryan I just want you to know you are missed. And to the OB, you will be too.