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Black and Gold U

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At first glance, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Hurricanes seem worlds apart -- but the two organizations are actually remarkably similar... mainly because both win a lot of football games.

Steel City vs. the Magic City.

City of Bridges vs. City of Beaches.

Blue-collar vs. glitz-glamour.

On Sept. 23, the Miami Hurricanes will blow through town to play Pitt, which has lost six straight in a rivalry that resumes after a seven-year absence.

This time, the Panthers figure to be favored against their former Big East rivals. And with ESPN televising the game nationally on a Thursday night, it could be the perfect opportunity for Pitt to show it can contend for a national title.

But while the game should be an interesting battle, the more intriguing debate, historically, is Hurricanes vs. Steelers.

"They are both committed to excellence," said former offensive tackle Leon Searcy, one of the few players to start for both the Canes and Steelers. "(Ex-Steelers coach Bill) Cowher hated to lose. He'd be pissed off in the locker room after a loss, and (ex-Canes coach) Jimmy Johnson was the same way."

Fortunately for Searcy, he didn't fail often in either place, especially in Miami, where he lost just four games in five years.

In fact, from 1983 to the present, the Canes have been the most dominant program in college football. Although they have slipped since 2003, they still have more national titles (five) in the past 30 years than any other school.

Beyond that, Miami changed how college football was played. Before the Canes came on the scene, option offenses ruled the land.

But Miami's blazing speed—most of it homegrown from South Florida players—terrorized option teams, which couldn't turn the corners on the Canes. 

The Canes ran a pro-style offense, a pro-style defense and produced more pro stars than any other program. They set a record by having at least one first-round pick in 14 straight NFL Drafts (1995-2008). They produced a record six first-rounders in 2004.

The Canes also changed the game in another way: Their players became famous for their celebrations. Usually, the colleges copy the pros. But in Miami's case, pros such as Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens were influenced by the taunting and flaunting Canes of old.

While the Canes have dominated college football, the Steelers wear the crown in the pro game. No team has won more Super Bowls than the Steelers' six. And the Steelers have helped send 10 players, one coach and one owner to the Hall of Fame since Joe Greene was inducted in 1987.

The Steelers, of course, have done it in a radically different way. While the young and rambunctious Canes talked trash, the Steelers prided themselves on professionalism.

Crass vs. Class, Steelers fans would say. Loquacious vs. Low Key.

The perfect example of the different styles is the recent Sports Illustrated story that ranked the 25 Most Hated Sports Teams of All Time.

The Steelers? Not on the list.

The Canes? Their 1986 team was No. 1.

The 1990 Hurricanes also made the list at No. 11.

And the 1992 Dallas Cowboys, coached by Johnson and starring Michael "The Playmaker" Irvin, were No. 3.

Searcy, who was the first-ever draft pick in the Cowher era, said both the Steelers and Canes thrived on tough practices.

"With the Steelers, everything was geared to running the ball and getting that push to the next level of the defense," Searcy said. "Cowher wanted to punish the opponent, offensively and defensively. 

"But I was used to that because our practices at Miami were brutal, too. The only difference was that our Miami offense was more a high-wire attack. We wanted to stretch the field and beat you by 50."

The Canes and Steelers have another common thread: They have both been pioneers in giving black head coaches a chance – Randy Shannon in Miami and Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh. The Steelers were also one of the first NFL teams to mine the historically black colleges for talent, and much of the Canes' greatness is due to kids from the inner cities.

Both franchises have their traditions - Terrible Towels in Pittsburgh and the Canes running onto the field in a cloud of white smoke in the now-gone Orange Bowl, where Miami set the NCAA record with 58 straight home wins.

The Steelers have the edge in great nicknames for their defense ("Steel Curtain"), their players ("The Bus," "Frenchy" and "Mean Joe"), and their most famous play ("The Immaculate Reception"). Even Steelers Fan Clubs had colorful nicknames – "Franco's Italian Army" and "Frenchy's Foreign Legion."

But the Canes have always been more Hollywood. Who can forget the team showing up to the Fiesta Bowl dressed in fatigues and saying they were on a mission? (That mission failed, by the way.)

The Canes have been a sports writer's dream because of their colorful quotes, such as Kellen Winslow's "I'm a soldier" rant.

But the ultimate connector between Canes and Steelers? Talent.

Fans could get into some bare-knuckle brawls  trying to decide between the two franchises.

At middle linebacker, Jack Lambert or Ray Lewis?

At safety, Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed?

At wide receiver, Lynn Swann or Irvin?

Better feature, Cowher's jaw or Johnson's hair?

Bar hopping, South Side or South Beach?

Black and Gold or All About The U?

The answers, no doubt, depend on where you are from. But there is no denying the impact both franchises have had on the game.

"I couldn't choose one over the other," Searcy said. "Both are championship franchises."

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