A night of Hurricane greats

Jamie Hildebrandt // The Miami Hurricane
Jimmy Johnson and Don Bailey, Jr. pose for a photo before Monday night's event at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Jamie Hildebrandt // The Miami Hurricane

Souvenir collectors ran back and forth in their cocktail attire with a Sharpie and football in hand.

A night after a record 11 former University of Miami football players competed in the NFL Pro Bowl, the Hurricane Club hosted “An Evening with UM Football Greats” on Monday night at the Fontainebleau.

Approximately 450 guests, who paid $200 to attend the event, entered through a smoke tunnel as the Sunsations, cheerleaders and Sebastian the Ibis greeted them.

Buffet tables served mini burgers, sushi and prime rib. A disc jockey played Hurricane-themed music while attendees received drinks from the open bar.

There was both a silent and live auction. Items included a Fontainebleau spa package, a Fairmount Turnberry Resort and Golf package and autographed helmets and footballs. All five national title rings sold to four guys for $19,500.

Over $100,000 was raised after expenses, and all proceeds benefit the Student-Athlete Scholarship fund.

But the main draws were the former greats in attendance: Steve Walsh, Bennie Blades, Jon Beason, Jimmy Graham, Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, Andre Johnson, Greg Olsen, Tavares Gooden, Edgerrin James, Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, Michael Irvin and Ed Reed to name a few.

Olympic sprinter Lauryn Williams, Miami Herald columnist Dan le Batard, athletic director Kirby Hocutt and President Donna E. Shalala also took part.

Former Hurricanes and Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson was the master of ceremonies.

“The happiest time of my life was when I was coaching at the University of Miami,” he said. “Tonight is a lot about memories, talking about the success of the U. It’s also about the future.”

Now a football analyst, he moderated three panels that discussed Super Bowl predictions, AFC and NFC competition, what it means to be a Hurricane and stories of the Super Bowl. He posed questions to the former players and talked about the national championship teams.

“So many great games. The most memorable game was beating FSU for the first time,” Moss said. “I hated to lose to anybody, but I especially hated to lose to FSU.”

Andre Johnson, who scored the opening touchdown in Sunday night’s 41-34 AFC victory in the Pro Bowl, provided a tidbit on why he doesn’t celebrate after touchdowns.

“I go home after every game to watch ESPN and I think it’s very entertaining for the game, but you won’t see me do it,” he said. “The Pro Bowl was fun. I think we represented the University of Miami really well.”

As for the big game this weekend, everyone except Gooden and Portis picked the Indianapolis Colts to win Super Bowl XLIV. Gooden said that he believes the New Orleans Saints will win because “Jon [Vilma] is my boy.”

“If you look at the NFC Championship game, they played okay, but the big thing was turnovers,” Beason said. “Going into this game I can’t go against Peyton [Manning].”

In the final panel, Reed, Irvin and current head coach Randy Shannon talked about the teams of the 1980s.

“From day one we [Randy and I] were joined at the hip in 36d,” Irvin said. “Every time I look at the University of Miami, I see Randy eating cereal at the table, on the sideline and say, ‘He’s the head coach.'”

To conclude the three-hour-plus event, Irvin explained what meant more to him: winning an NFL or NCAA title.

“Both of them are great experiences, but there’s something to be said about winning a national championship,” he said. “It’s got nothing to do with contracts or jobs. Play a game we love, play together.”