The no. 7 Miami Hurricanes hosted the no. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish on November 25, 1989. Miami had slipped up against the Florida State Seminoles while Craig Erickson was on the shelf and true freshman Gino Torretta was thrust into action. Torretta carved up San Jose State the week prior but the ‘Noles had been too much- forcing six Miami turnovers including two on the one yard line.
Miami could have been out of the title race but the ‘Canes rolled off three consecutive wins in Dennis Erickson’s first season as head coach. Erickson had been well traveled before coming to Coral Gables. Erickson, the singleback specialist, was the head coach at Idaho, Wyoming and Washington State over the previous seven years before getting the nod as the ‘Canes leader.
Miami tormented Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice. Coach Erickson said, "What we wanted to do was take the fullback away and make him pitch the football...‘’if he can’t hand it off and he can’t keep it, there’s a chance.’’ Defenses defending the option want to force a pitch because it’s the most likely chance at a turnover. Rice threw two interceptions and ran for 50 yards on 20 carries.
Notre Dame had Miami and Craig Erickson on their heels before Bernard “Tiger” Clark intercepted Rice and returned the ball 50-yards down to the Irish 8 yard line with a minute and change leftover in the first half. When the big bodied Stephen Maguire pounded in a 5-yard touchdown run the Irish momentum was all but dead. Lou Holtz’s option offense was shutdown against the ‘Canes size and speed with Russell Maryland and Cortez Kennedy manning the inside of the ‘Canes defense.
New York Times writer Malcolm Moran called it “3d and 44: Play to Remember,” as the Hurricanes overcame a fumble and quarterback Craig Erickson fired the ball deep two plays later. In the huddle, Randal Hill recalls telling Erickson to throw him a fade. The young Erickson fired the ball deep and “The Thrill” came down with the pass.
Uber-confident plays like that 3rd and 44 conversion personified the Hurricanes run to the 1989 national championship. Ned Bolcar, an Irish linebacker and captain said, “I hate this place,” regarding the now deceased Orange Bowl. The Orange Bowl leaked water onto patrons’ heads while using the urinal and had the accommodations of a cold war Soviet prison but guided the ‘Canes to 58 straight wins in the 80’s and early 90’s.
Per the L.A Times, coach Dennis Erickson called the 27-10 win over the Irish, “The greatest win I’ve ever been associated with.” Miami went on the beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl by a scored of 33-25 and the ‘Canes were champions for the third time in the 80’s. Erickson, a former Montana State quarterback from Everett, Washington, had his taste of success on the Miami sidelines.