University of Miami

1950 - 53 & 57 Hurricanes
(Authentic Reproduction)




Individuals of perhaps two or three generations ago will recall the state of Florida and the area around Miami as little more than a swamp with minimal infrastructure and a small population. The University Of Miami was founded in 1925 and plans were immediately made to represent the University with excellent athletic teams. Arrangements were made for an on-campus stadium and with much fan-fare, construction began on September 15, 1926. On September 16th, a devastating hurricane struck the area, leaving 130 people dead and stadium plans dormant to this day. Though it took another ten years to build the Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami, The Great Depression struck Florida early, the new university had no available scholarships, and the only playable field was one that sat on coral rock and mulch. Through the years, Miami football was seen as a small-time endeavor with a mix of southern schools, an occasional Eastern power, and struggling "other schools" such as far-off Tempe College (Arizona State) filling the schedule. Because of the limited population most players came from out-of-state but remained after graduation to enjoy the weather and many new business opportunities. Among those early transplants was Ted Bleier, a Wisconsin fullback who became an educator in Miami and who was the uncle of Notre Dame and Steeler standout Rocky Bleier. Despite some protests, the devastating 1926 hurricane that destroyed stadium plans and future construction became the school's official nickname but through the decades, few took the program seriously. Home games were played at Miami High School, and most of the players came from the fertile football regions of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. When former Pitt player and Virginia Tech head coach Andy Gustafson became Miami's head coach in 1948, positive change was accelerated. Coach Gus had been first-assistant coach to Earl "Red" Blaik at Dartmouth and then at Army, having coached the great Doc Blanchard backfields. He installed the Army-T Formation at Miami and the forerunner to the Wishbone and Veer offenses, something he termed the Miami Drive Series where every play began with a handoff to the fullback who either kept the ball or tossed it back to the quarterback. Gustafson was a heavy drinker known for his volatile temper but he was beloved by his players. Recognized as an offensive genius and innovator, Don James (Kent State, Washington) and Fran Curci (Tampa, Kentucky) were two of his QB's who later became successful college head coaches. His wide-open attack and few competing athletic events attracted the fans in what was still an under populated area. In 1948, crowds ranged between 42,000 and 46,000 per home game and when Miami beat Florida 28-13 at the Orange Bowl in 1949, 55,981 customers were on hand to view the historical event.
Still wearing white leather helmets in 1950, the most important game in the history of Miami football was played against Purdue in West Lafayette, IN on October 14th. The week before, the Boilermakers had snapped Notre Dame's thirty-nine game winning streak and were being touted as a powerhouse. Unheralded Miami won 20-14, a victory which put them on the national map. Every periodical wrote about this game and every newspaper covered it. Driving from neighboring states, over 100,000 people attempted to get to the Miami airport to welcome the team home and 30,000 actually made it and then overran the fences and guards to invade the runway as the plane was landing, leading to a near-fatal disaster and even more national publicity. A three-day celebration followed on and around campus and the team finished the season at 9-0-1 and a number 15 ranking by the AP and a number 13 ranking by UPI before bowing 15-14 to Clemson in the Orange Bowl Classic on New Years Day. The team was led by their first All American, tackle Al Carapella and future head coach of the Chicago Bears Jim Dooley.
Late in 1950 the team was introduced to the all white Riddell RT plastic helmet and in '51 some of the Hurricane players wore the improved headgear while others stayed with the traditional leather models. The season was a bit of a disappointment relative to the glory of 1950. The 8-3 record included wins against Florida and Florida State as well as always-tough Ole Miss and against Clemson, this time in a Gator Bowl rematch. By 1952, most of the Miami team had chosen the all white Riddell plastic helmet as the team played to a mediocre 4-7 record with QB Don James tossing for almost 1000 yards and linemen Nick Chickillo and LB Rex Shiver distinguishing themselves. By 1953, the Hurricanes had made the full move to white Riddell RT helmets but the record was only 4-5. Wins in the final two games gave promise as many of the younger players gained valuable experience. Frank McDonald was a superior blocking and receiving end and Mike Hudock, future NY Titans, Jets, and Dolphins center looked like a winner. Don James went on to a stellar career as the head coach of Kent State and Washington.

If interested in any of these Miami helmets please click on the photos below.