Seasoned Canes: Fans Share Their Stories
“It’s not over until it’s over.”
Heeding the words of Betty Jean Barner in the family living room on November 23, 1984, the Barners – on their way out the door for a family shopping trip – waited for the game’s final play, much to the delight of 13-year-old Robert.
Until, of course, Doug Flutie’s pass landed in the arms of Gerard Phalen, giving Boston College a come-from-behind victory.
“The moment I saw the touchdown, I was crushed,” Barner said. “I didn’t even know who Miami was at the time. But that was it. I told my dad, ‘I wanted the other team to win. I wanted the Hurricanes to win.'”
Barner grew up in a household of professional football fans, split amongst Cowboys and Steelers supporters. But from that point on, Barner would check in the TV Guide every week to see if the Hurricanes were playing and he could watch along with his dad, Robert Barner, Sr., and mom, Betty Jean, at their home in Fort Myers.
“I would only watch them and no one else for the next few years, and then the championships started rolling in,” Barner recalled. “They had my heart before I even paid attention to them or knew who they were.
“Through thick and thin, I’ve never looked back.”
Barner eventually joined the Air Force, where he was stationed 60 miles from Tuscaloosa. Two years into his tenure, Barner was talking up the Hurricanes to his best friend, a Crimson Tide fan, before the 1992 national championship game. It ended up backfiring.
“They were merciless,” Barner said with a laugh.
He didn’t get to make his first Miami game in person until the final season of the Orange Bowl, bringing his now wife along for the ride.
Though she wasn’t a college football fan at all before going to her first Miami game, it was during a loss to NC State where she developed a strong dislike for the Wolfpack.
Now the couple has raised their daughters – Bianca and Sloane – to cheer for the orange & green on Saturdays in the fall.
“We’ve only tailgated three or four times,” Barner said. “We don’t have any traditions like that – we’re just grateful and happy to be in the stadium every time we make the trip.”
Having grown up in Cuba in a baseball-loving family, Lilia Medinilla didn’t know what to expect when she went to her first Miami Hurricanes football game at the Orange Bowl in 1986.
“When my father used to watch baseball, I would sit with him and watch alongside,” she said. “I didn’t want to watch it at first, but I learned to love sports.”
Medinilla, who worked for the University of Miami School of Medicine in the oncology department, got the chance to attend thanks to a doctor in the department who had season tickets but was unable to make it.
From her first ever trip to the Orange Bowl, she was hooked.
“I was in my early 20s, and everyime he couldn’t go, he would give us his tickets,” Medinilla said. “I started to go with my boyfriend Angel, who is now my husband. We did that for a year or two before we decided to get our own.”
Now, the Medinillas don’t miss a game. Their 28-year-old son, Shawn, and 25-year-old daughter, Shaina, are also big-time Miami supporters.
Medinilla and her husband have traveled up and down the East Coast watching the Hurricanes play both football and baseball. They’ve seen Miami play at Duke, North Carolina, Florida State and several other ACC teams, and have been to multiple bowl games together.
They were in attendance for Miami’s last national championship appearance inthe Fiesta Bowl, and also for Miami’s win over the Gators in the Peach Bowl in 2004.
“We started meeting people through tailgates and have made some great friends,” Medinilla said. “There are even some friends we only see during football season, but we tailgate together. It makes it special.”
A caja china with a roasted pig is a typical sight at the Medinilla tailgate, and two seasons ago, they even cooked a fried turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving during a November game at Hard Rock Stadium.
After a tailgate-free 2020 football season, Medinilla said she is hoping for a return to normalcy for the fall.
“It takes a lot of hard work to put everything together, but we love it,” Medinilla said. “And I must say that my husband does most of the work – I’m more into socializing and taking pictures.”
At one point in the not-so-distant past, Mitch Anton counted himself as a season ticket holder for the Miami Dolphins, Florida Panthers, Florida Marlins and Miami Hurricanes.
But Anton’s connection to the Miami Hurricanes runs deeper than that ofany other of his favorite teams in town.
“It’s just embedded in me to be a Canes fan,” Anton said. “That’s who I am. There’s no other way to say it.”
Anton’s mother relocated him and his siblings to Hollywood, Fla., in the early 1950s. She soon married an attorney named Paul B. Anton, a University of Miami Law School alum, who adopted the children shortly thereafter and who was a season ticket holder for the Miami football program.
“As a special treat, I would get to go to games with him,” Anton said. “One Friday night, I don’t remember what I did wrong, but as punishment, I couldn’t go. I’ll never forget. I threw a fit.”
Anton grew up watching Miami legends like George Mira and Bill Miller under the direction of Andy Gustafson, with tickets in Row 31 of Section G in the old Orange Bowl.
But Anton’s love for the University of Miami isn’t limited to just football.
His mother, Maralyn, purchased him Miami Hurricanes basketball season tickets to the old Miami Arena downtown when the program was resurrected, and he has fond memories of Rick Barry’s career at The U.
A dream of Anton’s is to attend the College World Series to watch the Hurricanes in Omaha, with baseball being his favorite sport.
“I’m a walking advertising billboard for Miami – between the zillion of UM t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, rain gear, gym shorts,” Anton said.
After his father passed away in 1981, Anton took over his father’s season tickets in the Orange Bowl.
Some of his favorite football memories include bringing his two sons to Miami’s beatdown of Texas in the 1991 Cotton Bowl and watching Miami win its first national championship in 1983 – though he was situated in the opposite end zone at the Orange Bowl for the thrilling finish. Anton even has collages showcasing ticket stubs from games he attended with his children hanging in his living room at home.
“I’ll always be a huge Canes fan,” Anton said. “I live, eat, sleep and breathe Miami Hurricanes.”