A Rivalry Renewed
The Golden Dome helmets of Notre Dame and the “U” on the white helmets of Miami are two of the most recognizable brands in all of college football. These two juggernaut programs helped mold college football into what it is today. The Notre Dame vs. Miami rivalry was at one point the most heated in all of sports.
Referred to by collegiate football fans around the country as “THE” rivalry, this was one of college football’s most intense and helped decide at least five national titles in an eight-season span. Throughout Notre Dame’s illustrious history there was no other program that left more smudges than Miami. The Hurricanes are the only team in History to shut out three eras of Fighting Irish coaches. Miami shut out Ara Parseghian in 1965, Gerry Faust in 1983, and Lou Holtz in 1987.
The rivalry is said to have begun in 1955. Technically that may be when the teams started playing each other but it was hardly a rivalry. Notre Dame used to beat the pants off of Miami until about the 70’s. But the ‘80s, that was a different story. That’s when the blood really began to boil. An unmistakable hatred existed between these two teams. A hatred punctuated by slander, unruly fans, tunnel fights, and accusations.
Miami’s and Notre Dame’s stories could not be any more opposite. Notre Dame was the protagonist and Miami was the antagonist. The Fighting Irish were basically the golden boys of college football. They were like a bunch of country club guys according to former UM great Alonzo Highsmith. He described hating everything about Notre Dame, even hating their mascot. He even admitted to trying to locate the mascot when running out-of-bounds to “accidentally” flatten him. Miami was an up-and-coming team during the worst part of this rivalry. Notre Dade had already won 10 championships before Miami had even played for one. Miami also had this “bad boy” image; they were in essence the black sheep of college football. The public perception of Miami only got worse as the rivalry intensified.
Things got especially hot in 1985. In the final game of the beloved Gerry Faust’s Notre Dame Career, Miami Head Coach Jimmy Johnson was accused of running up the score in the second half refusing to “call off the dogs”. The final score read 58-7. According to the Fighting Irish, Jimmy and Miami intentionally ran up the score to humiliate Faust and Notre Dame. Jimmy’s account is slightly different. Jimmy claims though he did not stop running his base offense, he was running it with 2nd and 3rd string players and that it was Notre Dame’s problem that they couldn’t stop Miami’s bench.
In 1988, the “Catholics vs. Convicts” slogan was born. Irish fans made t-shirts donning the clever play on words and it stuck. The ’88-’90 games are forever known as the Catholics vs. Convicts Series. The ’88 game in South Bend epitomized the absolute raw detestation the two programs had for each other. A pre-game fight broke out in the tunnel between the two teams which prompted Lou Holtz to proclaim “Save Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me” when he addressed his team prior to kickoff. The actual game came down to a very controversial call that took a Miami touchdown off the board and a failed 2-point conversion. The Fighting Irish escaped with a 31-30 win.
The rivalry ended in 1990 when the two teams played their final regular season game against one another. The bloodbath was now over. When series contract expired in 1990, Notre Dame didn’t share Miami’s interest in an extension. Notre Dame felt that the rivalry had gotten “out of hand”. For 22 years, this feud has laid dormant. For first time in over two decades, Miami and Notre Dame will meet in a regular season showdown. Miami will finally have the opportunity to rectify that loss the program suffered Saturday October 29, 1990.
The rivalry will be renewed this Saturday as the Hurricanes take their 4-1 (3-0) record to Soldier Field in Chicago to take on the 9th ranked 4-0 Fighting Irish. Though the heated nature of the rivalry from the 80’s has fizzled out, the Hurricanes have a score to settle with Notre Dame. The Canes have not forgotten the 31-17 rout they suffered in the 2010 Hyundai Sun Bowl just two years ago. This is more than just a game to put the program back on the map. This game is personal. This game is about unfinished business, especially for senior leader Mike James. This game has been circled on James’ calendar for quite some time. Just to years removed from a tragic fate, James remembers the day he played the Irish in 2010 for more than just football reasons. It was the same day of the funeral for his Mother Elgusta James. Mike was persuaded to play by family members rather than be present as his mother was being laid to rest. “I’m serious about this one” Mike said, “Last time we played Notre Dame; they were burying my mom at the same time as the game. So anybody could do the math”.
As if the Canes needed any more motivation for Saturday’s game, they have the passion and emotion of their senior leader to feed off of. Look for this young Miami team to rally around their running back and play inspired football. In spite of Notre Dame’s extremely stout run defense, I expect James to have a big day. It will take an extreme force to stop him on Saturday, more than just standout linebacker Manti Te’o. Miami is in a unique position heading into Saturday’s game. Expectations were very low to start the season for this Miami team who takes a 4-1 record to Chicago. They have little to lose and much to gain from Saturday’s contest. On the flip side, Notre Dame is in a very precarious position. They need to win. A loss to Miami would be catastrophic for the Irish. Miami is coming off of two emotional wins in which they both really had to grind out. The team’s confidence is high coming into this showdown. Notre Dame had a bye week before this week so they had an extra week to prepare for the Canes. Some believe that may be a disadvantage for Miami, however, it actually works in the Hurricanes’ favor. The emotional win last week gives them more confidence and instills the thought in their minds that no matter how they do it, they’ll find a way to win. If Miami plays to their capabilities, they will definitely be in contention to steal a win from the Irish. They must play inspired but disciplined. This is a huge game for the program; this could be the one to put them back in the national spotlight.