Today on Sundial: Carlos Alvarez, known to college football junkies as the “Cuban Comet,” joined us to talk about his arrival to the United States, his love for the game and how he used it as a platform to break racial barriers.
Alvarez and his family arrived in the U.S. in 1960 when Alvarez was 10 years old. In Cuba, his dad attended law school with Fidel Castro and wanted no part of the Cuban communist revolution. When the family arrived in Key West, Alvarez’s dad advised him and his siblings to “become Americans” because they were never going back.
The family lived in the northern part of Miami-Dade County, an area of Miami with little to no Cuban families at the time. Alvarez and his siblings were the only Spanish-speaking students in his schools. “We were basically thrown in the water,” said Alvarez.
Throughout the early 1960’s, Miami had a small town feel, according to Alvarez. “My name, Carlos Alvarez, stuck out,” he said. “And you had to overcome certain stereotypes for Cubans in Miami.”
Alvarez experienced resentment from other members of the community. While he was helping his brother Arturo collect payments from his Miami Herald paper route, a lady called Alvarez derogatory names and kicked him out of her yard. The incident made him want to “become an American even more.” He wanted to reduce his accent. He wanted to be articulate. But most importantly, he wanted to be accepted as an American by other Americans. And that was the path that led him to football.
“I didn’t want to play football. I didn’t understand it,” said Alvarez. “But because all the other kids were playing it, I decided to give it a try.”
Alvarez suited up to play football at the local Northwest Boys Club, where the rest of his friends played the sport. Much to his chagrin, due to his speed and size, Alvarez was made the quarterback of the team. A quarterback sweep was the first play called in his first game. Alvarez sneaked through a hole in the defense and dashed to score a 70-yard touchdown; he stopped running only when his teammates called him to stop, much like the football scene from "Forrest Gump." He instantly fell in love with the game.
“I was playing football to become an American,” said Alvarez. “It was the ultimate American sport. I wanted to become an American, and therefore football became my way to become an American.”
Alvarez attended North Miami Senior High School where he was an all-county high school football player for the North Miami Pioneers. The University of Miami, Georgia, Vanderbilt and the University of Florida, among others, tried to recruit him. Alvarez was a University of Miami fan growing up but ultimately decided to become a Gator in Gainesville to be close to his brothers, Arturo and Caesar.
At the University of Florida (UF), Alvarez thrived under consecutive competitive offenses as a wide receiver. His size, speed and agility afforded him the nickname “The Cuban Comet.” Unbeknownst to Alvarez, his idol, Orestes “Minnie” Miñoso, a prolific baseball player in the minor and major leagues, was also dubbed “The Cuban Comet.” Alvarez had no idea of this coincidence. “Just by luck, my idol and I have the same nickname,” said Alvarez.
To this day, Alvarez still holds many unbeaten wide receiver records at UF.
After his tenure at the University of Florida, Alvarez received a call from the Dallas Cowboys for a chance to play in the National Football League (NFL). However, constant and painful knee swelling, which later became diagnosed as an advanced form of arthritis, prevented him from being as fast and explosive as he had been in college, so he decided to further his education at graduate school.
Alvarez studied law at Duke University and became a practicing attorney. He continues to practice law as an environmental and land use attorney with a practice focusing on mediation, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution.
“I have had such a rich life that there is no complaint whatsoever,” said Alvarez about life after football.
You can hear the conversation on Tuesday’s program of Sundial.