The Catholics vs. Convicts T-shirts, they’re likely faded now. No one expects a reprise of the so-called “tussle in the tunnel” this time around. And any sense of venomous back-and-forth dialogue simply has been nonexistent this week.
Notre Dame vs. Miami.
It’s not what it once was – thankfully, perhaps.
For the first time in nearly a quarter-century, the Fighting Irish and Hurricanes are meeting in a regular-season game. The rivalry will be renewed Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago, a purportedly neutral site that will be overwhelmingly in favor of No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0), which is seeking its first five-game winning streak since 2006. On the other side will be the young-but-dynamic Hurricanes (4-1), two-touchdown underdogs with one win over a top 10 foe since 2005.
“I think it’s great,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “When it’s all said and done, it’s a special day for both universities, both staffs, both football programs, and the young men that are playing. I think at the end of the day both teams are going to look back at this venue, one of the storied cities in America, and say, `This is what it’s all about. This is what college football is all about.’”
The last time the teams played, Notre Dame won 33-17 in the 2010 Sun Bowl.
Combined, the programs have 13 national championships – but none since 2001, the longest drought for either the Fighting Irish or Hurricanes to go without an Associated Press title since the 16-season stretch spanning 1950 and 1965. From 1987 through 1989, the winner of the Miami-Notre Dame game won the national title each year.
And since the regular-season series was halted in 1990, the programs have combined for two titles, both by the Hurricanes.
So maybe the sides do, in fact, need one another.
“It’s always important to impart a little bit of the tradition to our players,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “But they’re focused on what this football team is at 4-1, the kind of schedule they play, the teams they’ve beaten. I think that’s our focus, and I know it is for our players that they’re focused on this team more than the tradition and the history. Because if they’re not, they’re going to get beat.”
But the history is clearly worth talking about – since, well, just about everyone involved in that history was talking about it this week.
Lost in the shuffle of two teams not liking each other was this – the rivalry was theater. When the teams played in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990, both were ranked in the top 10 at the time.
It was a series with tons of angst, from accusations suggesting Miami ran up the score on the way to a 58-7 win in Gerry Faust’s final game on the Notre Dame sideline, to some Irish fans getting former Miami coach Jimmy Johnson’s telephone number in the week before a game, and the infamous brouhaha where police had to break up a pushing and shoving match as the teams were exiting the field after pregame warmups in 1988.
In a video posted on Notre Dame’s website, former Irish coach Lou Holtz said he urged his team to avoid any on-field incidents against Miami.
“After we win the game, if Miami wants to fight, fine, we’ll meet `em in the alley,” Holtz, on the video, recalled saying to his team. “And if they do, you save Jimmy Johnson’s (butt) for me.”
With that, Holtz’s team stormed out of its locker room, even though the coach tried telling them he wasn’t done talking. Notre Dame won 31-30, considered by many the finest home win in Fighting Irish history and a loss that still stings Miami for two reasons – it took away a national title shot, and a debated fumble by Cleveland Gary near the goal line that the Hurricanes insist came after he was down may have decided the outcome.
“Robbed. We were robbed,” former Miami star Randal Hill said.
Much in the same way Miami never forgot 31-30, Notre Dame never forgot 58-7.
“When the game was well out of sight, they ran fake punts and reverses, I don’t remember everything they did, but they did everything they could to run the score up,” Holtz said. “That was a game on TV when it was over, Ara Parseghian said: `From these ashes, Notre Dame will rise.’ That is when the game really took on emotional meeting.”
There was talk in the early 1990s about renewing the series – Holtz said he wanted to keep playing Miami, but Notre Dame officials shot down his request because they felt “it brought out the worst sides of fans” – and for two decades, they remained rivals in name only. That is, until the summer of 2010, when they signed a deal to play this “neutral-site” game (Golden scoffs at that description) and then a home-and-home in 2016 and 2017.
It appears more meetings are inevitable, given Notre Dame’s recent decision to align with, though not join, the Atlantic Coast Conference for football. Notre Dame will soon start competing in the ACC in all other sports, besides hockey.
And just like that 58-7 Miami win, where Parseghian predicted that Notre Dame would rise, the Hurricanes have one of those moments as well.
At the Sun Bowl two years ago, a game played about a month after Randy Shannon was fired as Miami’s coach, Golden had been hired to lead the program – but was not coaching the bowl game. He watched from the press level instead, and was getting interviewed on live television during a Miami drive that ended with an interception thrown by Jacory Harris.
“Whoa,” Golden said, watching.
His program has gotten better since. So, too, has Notre Dame’s.
On Saturday, they just might bring out the best in each other once again.
“We can’t get caught up in the emotions surrounding the game,” said Miami defensive back A.J. Highsmith, whose father Alonzo played in the heyday of the Irish-Hurricanes rivalry. “History’s a big part of it, but it’s a football game today. It’ll get decided by teams doing what they do now, not what teams did 20 years ago.”
Associated Press Writer Tom Coyne contributed from South Bend, Ind.
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