Dec. 31, 2010 was eight months before Al Golden's first game as head coach of the Miami Hurricanes, but it was just about his first day on the job, at least publicly. That was when the Canes -- "led" by interim head coach Jeff Stoutland -- faced the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Everyone knows what happened there: Miami looked uninterested and lost and was crushed in a game that was not as close as its 31-17 final score would indicate.
It was an embarrassing loss, with a lot going on. Miami's players were playing out the string in a small, freezing Texas town for an interim coach who was likely already lining up his next job. Some of their failures were human -- it was an openly pointless game and it's hard to blame a bunch of kids for not showing up and lighting the world on fire. The Canes were mocked for bundling up in the cold weather like the game was being played in northern Russia, but, hey, for a lot kids who have never left the southeast, it was probably pretty cold.
The whole thing with the temperature probably didn't have much to do with why Miami lost that day, but it became a symbol of where the program was at the time. The Canes were a rather amateur operation under Randy Shannon, and they looked it against Notre Dame, with the lasting image being Miami's players huddled up together like children who just wanted to go back to the hotel and play Playstation.
It's supposed to be cold in Chicago on Saturday, and Al Golden isn't shying away from the memory of the last time Miami played in nearly freezing temperatures against Notre Dame. Here is what he told the press earlier this week:
"I hope we're not to the point where we have to all huddle around the heater,'' Golden said. "I hope we're all tough enough to just go out and play.''
That is a pretty explicit message, and I'm sure it's one that Golden and his staff have been hammering into its players. It's not going to be sub-zero in Chicago, and how Miami's players handle the cold will have a lot less to do with the outcome of the game than whether or not they can stop the Irish from running for seven yards a carry.
But this the most public game Miami has played this season, and a lot of national eyes will be looking to glean something about the direction of this program under Golden. Golden understands the symbolism regarding Miami's players clinging to a heater -- he understand what it projects nationally. He understands what it says about the team's commitment to winning -- truth be told, great teams are too worried about winning to care about the temperature. So, Miami may not win -- in fact, I don't think they will. But they won't be bundled up and finding strength in an electric heat source. That alone will tell people what they need to know about how the culture at Miami has changed.