Fay: Cincinnati-Miami isn't really a rivalry anymore

Posted at 7:02 AM, Sep 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-25 13:21:03-04

CINCINNATI -- You know a rivalry is no longer a rivalry when one of the teams wins 11 years in a row.

You know a rivalry is no longer a rivalry when the dominant team praises the other team’s effort.

You know a rivalry is no longer a rivalry when the team that’s getting dominated talks about being close.

That’s where we are with the Cincinnati-Miami series. The Bearcats won 27-20 Saturday before a crowd of 38,112 at Nippert Stadium.

“It was a typical Victory Bell game,” UC coach Tommy Tuberville said. “We knew we were going to have to win in the fourth quarter, and we were able to ball control it. It was kind of a fun game to watch, obviously, if you’re a fan.”

“Physically, we went toe-to-toe with them,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “Across the board at all positions. In the fourth quarter, Cincinnati made a couple of plays.”

That’s true. UC won it on 10 fourth-quarter points. But the drive to the decisive touchdown was telling. UC played smash-mouth football, running it on nine of the 12 plays in the 64-yard drive.

That’s what better teams do: They wear opponents down and finish them off. UC’s program has tailed off a bit in the past couple of years, but the Bearcats are deeper, stronger and faster than the RedHawks.

Alex Pace and Sione Tongamoa combine to sack Miami quarterback Billy Bahl. Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

I thought UC might consider ending the rivalry -- or at least ending the home-and-home agreement. I don’t think that’s the case, however, after hearing what the Bearcats had to say afterward.

The game means a lot to the players.

“It’s very satisfying to keep the Victory Bell,” running back Tion Green said. “They give us a great matchup to the final whistle.”

But, again, both teams have to win at least occasionally to make the rivalry work. Miami still holds the advantage in the series 59-55-7. But the RedHawks are going to have to get back to where they once were to compete with UC.

Miami was the best mid-major in the country. The RedHawks, then the Redskins, lost one game over three seasons from 1975 to 1977. They ended with Tangerine Bowl wins over Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

Miami is never going to beat SEC teams in bowls again, but the RedHawks have sunk to historic lows. ranked the RedHawks 124th among the 128 Division I schools playing football.

The common conception -- or rather, misconception -- is that the RedHawks have been bad ever since Ben Roethlisberger left. Miami went 8-5 and 7-4 in the two seasons after he left, running the streak of winning seasons to 20.

Miami, of course, proudly proclaimed itself the Cradle of Coaches. Woody Hayes, Sid Gillman, Bo Schlembechler and Ara Parseghian all coached in Oxford.

They are the biggest names, but nearly everyone who held the top job at Miami from the mid-1940s to early 2000s moved on to bigger and better jobs.

From 1914 to 2004, only one coach left Miami with a losing record. That was Tim Rose, the only Miami coach to be fired in that period. The late Randy Walker replaced Rose and got Miami back on track. The late Terry Hoeppner replaced Walker and kept things rolling.

Hoeppner was the perfect Miami coach. He was great with media, a solid coach who oozed enthusiasm.

Since Hoeppner left, Shane Montgomery, Michael Haywood and Don Treadwell have led the program. All left with losing records. None is currently a head coach. The Cradle isn’t rocking anymore.

Cincinnati wide receiver Kahlil Lewis catches a pass over Miami defensive back Bert Birdsall. Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

It’s hard to explain why the Miami program has fallen so far. One thing that jumps out to me is how few players are from Cincinnati. Only nine players on the current roster are from Cincinnati. Those good teams had lots of Cincinnati players.

Miami has had one winning season over the past 10 years and has a 34-94 record in that stretch. Martin may be the guy to turn it around. He has a good pedigree, similar to that of Brian Kelly, who put together the best run in UC history.

But it’s tough for Mid-American Conference schools to compete. College football is tilted toward the Power 5 Conference schools. That’s why UC wants so badly to get in the Big 12.

If the Bearcats do, I could see them wanting to end the Miami rivalry, like they did in basketball. The shifting conference landscape has played havoc with local rivalries.

UC, Xavier, Miami and Dayton used to play each other every year in basketball, alternating home-and-home. In my previous life, I used to write about the Mythical Miami Valley Conference every year during hoops season.

That’s gone.

The reason behind that was basically money. UC could play a TV game and get a better payday. So it’s important to point out that Saturday’s game drew 20,000 more fans that last year’s in Oxford.

John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at