They are different in every way imaginable. The glitz and glamor of South Beach. Rows of corn and two-lane roads in Northern Indiana. Kissing cheerleaders after championships. Touchdown Jesus. Jimmy Johnson and Michael Irvin. Knute Rockne, Lou Holtz, and Rocket Ismael. Bernie, Jim, and Vinny. Joe Montana. Uncle Luke. Rudy. Bad ass, in-your-face attitude from a new program on the national scene. Decades of dominance. Twenty-dollar martinis at Club Liv in the Fontainebleu. A cold pint at the bar of Corby's Irish Pub.
You get the point.
Yet, what makes them different makes them impossible-to-miss television. A contrast of styles, yet both highly successful. Going back to the 80s, there were few bigger games than the Canes and the Irish. The teams combined for four national championships in the decade, and the winner of ND-UM went on to win the national title....Miami twice in 1987 and 1989, and the Irish in 1988. It was college football at its best because it was two of America's best programs at championship levels.
Aside from national relevance, it also had something else that helps foster a great rivalry: nastiness.
Who can forget 1985? Gerry Faust led a wayward and disinterested Irish team into the Orange Bowl to play out the string of a miserable season. A 58-7 ass whipping ended the Irish' miserable season at 5-6 and Faust's tenure after 5 seasons. Embarassed Irish players accused the Canes of running up the score. UM players taunted the downtrodden Irish throughout the game as they delivered their worst loss in 41 years.
In 1988 a Notre Dame student broke out the Catholics v. Convicts T-shirts, and we even had a pre-game brawl near the tunnel as the Canes exited the field. Irish
mascot head coach Lou Holtz, in an empassioned pregame speech, apparently told his players to save Jimmy Johnson's ass for him. His players responded, with Notre Dame breaking a 21-21 halftime tie with 10 3rd quarter points. Miami surged back and scored the game-tying TD with seconds remaining on a fourth down pass from Steve Walsh to Andre Brown. Jimmy Johnson opted to go for two points and the win. Unfortunately, Walsh's cross-field pass intended for RB Leonard Conley was broken up by Pat Terrell. Notre Dame would go on to win its last national championship, beating #2 USC in Los Angeles and #3 West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season. Miami finished 11-1, #2 in both polls.
1989: #1 vs. #2. 3rd and 43 from their own 7-yard line, leading 17-10. Randall Hill takes off on a go route and Erickson finds him for 44 yards. Hill motions to the 81,000+ Canes fans shaking the OB. The Irish were broken; the Canes energized. Miami pulled away for a 27-10 victory and jumped from #7 to #2, ultimately topping both major polls after beating Alabama 33-25 in the Sugar Bowl.
Yeah, I'm probably preaching to the choir. Maybe you think like I am. You long for college football to get back to its best. You want the best programs to rise to the top. You want to see the big-name programs square off for it all. This was a golden era of college football for both programs. Something that their fans have longed for for years.
Well, this Saturday, you have a Notre Dame team that looks, for the first time in years, like it has the athletes to compete at the highest level, especially up front on what has been a dominating defense. Manti Te'o has been a force, Stephen Tuitt is second in the nation with six sacks. Offensively, the Irish have struggled to establish a rhythm, but against a turnstile Miami defense, they might not have to.
Meanwhile, Miami will be looking to continue to flash the explosive plays that have carried it to 2 cardiac-challenging conference wins the last 2 weeks. Much like the QBs he eclipsed in setting a school record for passing yards in a game, Stephen Morris has shown poise, accuracy, and incredible touch in passing for a country mile the past two weeks. Phillip Dorsett, Rashawn Scott, Allen Hurns, and Duke Johnson have shown the big play potential to chalenge the Irish like they haven't seen yet this year.
Notre Dame is back in the Top 10 at 4-0. Miami isn't there yet, but is 4-1 moving (hopefully) in the right direction. This isn't 1989, but it also isn't the 2010 Sun Bowl either. For Miami, beating Notre Dame in primetime on national television would thrust Miami back in the spotlight....and likely back in the rankings as well. A loss wouldn't be a setback for the program, given the Canes are in the chase for the Coastal division despite developing a number of young players. For the Irish, Brian Kelly has Irish fans thinking BCS....or more. They have the defense to win every game on their schedule, but can their offense keep pace? Can Miami's defense take a step forward against Notre Dame's running attack with Denzel Perryman back alongside budding potential star Eddie Johnson? Will this game join to the list of classics between the Irish and Canes like several before?
We will find out on Saturday....