Chain reaction

A sideline celebration. Photo: Eric Espada / Miami Athletics 

By Robert C. Jones Jr.

A sideline celebration. Photo: Eric Espada / Miami Athletics 

Chain reaction

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
Miami’s Turnover Chain inspires copycats, but the U’s turnover prop has a ‘cool factor.’

The bling is back.

Miami’s celebrated Turnover Chain, which last year ignited a winning season, impassioned fans, and even inspired a hit song, made its 2018 season debut on September 8, when defensive back Trajan Bandy recovered a fumble in UM’s 77-0 dismantling of Savannah State.

Bandy would be one of five Hurricanes to wear the chain that day, and the following week he would intercept his second pass of the season in Miami’s 49-24 victory over Toledo.

But beyond the Cuban link necklace’s return to the Hurricanes’ sideline, it’s also sparked a chain reaction of sorts, as a number of college teams around the nation have produced their own spinoffs of the chain.

From Tulane’s turnover beads to Memphis’ Ric Flair-style turnover robe, from Boise State’s turnover throne to Louisville’s turnover gloves, and from Kennesaw State’s turnover plank to Florida State’s turnover backpack—the copycats, rip-offs, or whatever one chooses to call them, abound.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?” Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said after a recent practice for UM’s upcoming game against cross-town Florida International University. “Sometimes when somebody just has something that’s so good, to try to match it is an effort in futility. We’re happy with what we have. It fits Miami. It fits our fan base. It fits our university, and our guys have a lot of fun wearing it.

“But in all honesty, I have to say we weren’t the first to have a turnover prop. But by golly, we have the best.”

And the best just got better. During the offseason, Diaz had hinted that the team might make changes to the original chain, which has been stored for safekeeping.

It turns out he wasn’t kidding. The 2018 Turnover Chain is heavier, weighing in at nearly 7 pounds, about 2 pounds heavier than last year’s chain.

But it’s really all about the bling, right? Gone is the orange and green encrusted U, replaced by a blinged-out Sebastian the Ibis, which features more than 4,000 stones as compared to last year’s split U that had about 400 stones.

It has “a cool factor,” head coach Mark Richt recently said on a WQAM’s Hurricane Hotline.

“It’s more swagged out,” said Malek Young, who last season became the very first Hurricane to ever wear the Turnover Chain. “Everyone knows Sebastian.”

Young sustained a career-ending neck injury against Wisconsin in the Capital One Orange Bowl. But despite the fact that his playing days are over, he’s remained an integral part of the Miami Hurricanes, attending practices, encouraging his teammates, and placing the Turnover Chain around their necks this season whenever they recover a fumble or intercept a pass.

“I think it means more to him to place [the chain] around our necks than it does to us to wear it,” said Bandy. “He can’t suit up on the field with us, but spiritually and mentally he’s with us. For him to put the chain around our necks and to see that smile on his face means a lot.”

Defensive lineman Pat Bethel said Young is like a brother. “We miss him being on the field with us,” said Bethel. “Last year he sustained a pretty bad injury. That’s something you don’t wish even on your worst enemy. So every time we go out there, we play for him.”

Young is still on scholarship and doing well in classes.

“God has a plan for me. I just don’t know what it is yet,” he said. “This season, just being on the sideline, I still feel like I’m a part of the team.”

What isn’t new this season is the team camaraderie and celebration that takes place on the Miami sideline when the Turnover Chain is awarded.

“Getting a turnover is one of the biggest plays you can make on defense,” said Diaz. “The chain has become a team celebration on our sideline. Even though one guy is wearing it, all of his teammates surround him to celebrate, and the fans behind our bench and in the entire stadium really embrace the moment.”

The chain and the sideline celebrations that ensue after it is awarded are actually “hip, lively, and very much in an African-American, indeed, an African tradition,” said Distinguished Professor of History Donald Spivey, who teaches a Sport in American History course at UM. “Dating back to the earliest history of sport in ancient Africa, celebrating victory over your opponent was an acceptable part of the game—‘In your face.’ It was seen as bragging rights, earned on the field, in the competition.

“Anyone who has played collegiate sports knows only too well the sacrifices you make at every practice session,” said Spivey. “When the game finally arrives, I say let the kids have some fun—the celebratory chains, end zone dancing, taking a bow, and any other individual and team celebrations they want to do on the field. They earned it.”

The most “galvanizing, exciting, and electrifying symbol in college football” is how Tywan G. Martin, associate professor of kinesiology and sport sciences in the School of Education and Human Development, describes the Turnover Chain.

“It is so powerful and moving for the team and fans that it has become an event within the event. I salute the football program in how they have carefully and cleverly branded the Turnover Chain. It has developed into our rallying cry, as it embodies the boldness and ‘the we against the world’ attitude often associated with the UM football program,” Martin said. “We’ve essentially captured the attention of the entire country for being who and what we are—excellence.”