MIAMI — When Miami defensive lineman RJ McIntosh scooped up a fumble last week against Virginia Tech, he rumbled as fast as his 6-foot-4, 293-pound frame would carry him.
He didn’t reach the end zone, so the junior had to settle for the next best thing. McIntosh went over to the sideline, took off his helmet and waited for director of player development, Joel Rodriguez, to place the hottest fashion statement in South Florida around his neck.
"I finally got it," McIntosh said.
Behold, the power of the turnover chain, 5 ½ pounds of gaudy gold and sapphires that — even more than No. 7 Hurricanes’ 8-0 start — shows The U is on its way back.
When UM wanted a way to celebrate takeaways, like how Alabama does with its Ball Out Belt, it turned to local A-list jeweler AJ Machado. The King of Bling delivered a Cuban link chain that fits Miami’s culture, and a giant orange and green logo that shows the swag The U had when it won five national championships from 1983-2001.
Sophomore defensive back Malek Young was the first to wear it formally, after his interception in the opener against Bethune-Cookman. Cameras and social media caught on. The turnover chain went viral.
"Sometimes things just catch on like fire," ’Canes coach Mark Richt said.
Two months later, it’s everywhere.
ESPN created a special graphic to spotlight the chain’s recipient — something it used four times last week in UM’s 28-10 win over No. 13 Virginia Tech. Rapper SoLo D posted a song about it on YouTube: "See big homie get a fumble/He get a turnover chain."
The biggest sign of its explosion came last week, when Hard Rock Stadium’s video board showed former MLB MVP Alex Rodriguez watching the game alongside pop star Jennifer Lopez. Hanging from A-Rod’s neck? His own turnover chain.
"Everybody’s wearing a chain," said defensive back Jaquan Johnson, who earned it for a third time with his one-handed interception last week. "Everybody’s wearing the shirts with the chain."
The jewelry figures to be out in force this weekend, when the ’Canes host ESPN’s College GameDay before facing No. 3 Notre Dame in UM’s first top-10 home matchup since 2004.
"They have created obviously some energy with their takeaway chain," Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "I think that’s what it’s called. I hope I haven’t messed that up."
Whatever you call it, the chain is working.
Only 10 teams have forced more turnovers than the ’Canes (20). Their plus-11 turnover margin is tied with Alabama for seventh nationally and is a key reason why they’re in the College Football Playoff picture and one ACC win from clinching their first Coastal Division title.
"You can have a turnover chain if you don’t have any turnovers — it’s not very fun," Richt said. "Or if you’re losing every game, it’s just, who cares?"
That would make UM like Tennessee. The Volunteers have a trash can players can dunk balls into after takeaways; it has become another punchline in their 4-5 season, like last season’s championship of life.
Instead, the ’Canes have the longest active win streak in the country (13 games), and their shiny new emblem has exploded with a fickle fan base.
"It created a connection with our community …" defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said. "You’re seeing that bond starting to grow again. People are starting to get excited about the ’Canes."
All it took was the hottest accessory in college football to make the ’Canes cool again.
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.