With every mile George Mira Jr. can feel the weight lifting. His pickup truck speeds along U.S. 1 above the emerald waters of the Florida Keys, headed southwest over a thin necklace of mangrove islands and bridges toward the end of the road, Key West.
"In Key West nobody bothers you," says the 6'�", 230-pound Miami middle linebacker. Beside him is his fianc�e, Janet Hernandez, a delicate and quiet woman with dark eyes and raven hair. Occasionally Janet and George touch hands, as though for strength. They could be an '80s version of Bonnie and Clyde, lovers on the lam, riding into the sun. "In Key West," Mira says, "nobody cares who I am or what I've done."
At the Orange Bowl last night Miami whipped East Carolina 36-10 in the Hurricanes' final game of the regular season, and Mira certainly is not fleeing that event. The win left Miami 11-0 and ranked first in the nation. Against East Carolina, Mira had six tackles and two near-interceptions, while playing his usual role as the signal caller and the glue that holds the ferocious Canes defense together.
He finished the regular season with 117 tackles, making him Miami's leader in that department for the second straight year. And though the defense is loaded with bigger, faster and flashier performers, it is the 21-year-old Mira, a fourth-year junior who expects to graduate in 1988 with a double major in criminal justice and communications, who hits the hardest and gets fooled the least.
"He's the quarterback, as valuable to the defense as Vinny is to the offense," says defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt.
Says Miami head coach Jimmy Johnson, "George doesn't have great size or speed, but he's really, really into being totally prepared. He never takes a false step. He's a worker, an over-achiever."
But Mira has taken a false step, one of many by the Hurricanes in a dream season that has threatened, at times, to turn into a nightmare. The telephone credit-card scam, the alleged shoplifting, the assault charges, the near-riot in a parking lot—there's enough dirt about this team to build a ramp from the players' dorm to the middle of the Everglades.
And Mira knows how he is getting billed: as a vicious, cop-assaulting, steroid-crazed maniac. The impression springs from the night of Aug. 19, when after an argument with Janet, Mira was arrested by campus police and charged with disorderly conduct, battery on a police officer, assault, fleeing a police officer and possession of a drug without a prescription. The drug, found in a small vial in the glove compartment of Mira's truck, was testosterone cypionate, an anabolic steroid commonly prescribed for patients deficient in natural testosterone and sometimes used illegally by body builders and football players.
In September Mira was cleared of all charges stemming from the incident except a misdemeanor count of simple battery (of the police officer), which also will be dropped after he completes 100 hours of volunteer work with patients at Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital. The state's attorney determined that the steroids belonged to a friend, a non-football-playing student who was ill and had a prescription, and who had left them in Mira's truck after George had helped him move to a new apartment.
Joe Frechette, the director of public safety for the university, contends, "George is a nice kid. I didn't think the things that happened were of any consequence."