My friends Andy, John, Matt and I (as I wrote about previously with the App State game) have been trying to get together every year for one sporting event, which is usually a Canes game. Matt lives in Tampa, John in Jacksonville, Andy in Charlotte, and me in the Savannah/Hilton Head area. As such, it’s quite the undertaking for us all to get together.
When the 2017 schedule came out and the Notre Dame game was set for November, we circled it and decided it was time to go back and see the Canes play in a huge game at home. When Miami and Notre Dame play, it’s appointment television. One of those special rivalries that calls back to the golden days of football: the 1980s and early 1990s, when the Irish and Canes fought to determine who would play for the national championship. Jimmy Johnson wanting to kick the leprechaun’s a$$. The brawl before the 1988 jam job in South Bend. The 58-7 shellacking of the Irish in head coach Gerry Faust’s last game, which caused announcers Brent Musberger and Ara Parseghian to scold Jimmy Johnson for the beatdown they were applying. And, of course, 3rd and 43. In fact, there were so many great memories in such a short time, a book was written about it - Perfect Rivals by Jeff Carroll (I’ve read it and highly recommend it).
I had never been to a Notre Dame-Miami game before. I’d seen the Irish play once - in 1999 when they came to Knoxville, and the caravan of fans and national attention in Knoxville was huge (back when Tennessee was still nationally relevant). And that was for a random home-and-home with UT. This was altogether something on another level.
So I flew down to Miami on Friday morning, as I actually had an interview scheduled for something that morning in Coral Gables. After it was over, Matt picked me up in his Audi, and we were driving down the Miracle Mile on a sunny Friday afternoon.
“Dude, let’s hit up campus for a while,” I said. “Let’s go check out the new Rat.”
So we did. We drive onto campus, and boy, it’s.....changed a lot since I graduated in 2004. The last time I was on campus was to stop by the law school to go to the restroom while driving to Key West with my ex wife in 2011. Was my first time back since 2004, and hadn’t been back since.
We approached a gigantic building on Ponce de Leon right before we got to San Amaro Drive, just next to the Watsco Center. Turns out it’s the Lennar Foundation Medical Center, and it’s first-class. We parked at the nearby garage and headed across campus. As we approached Lake Osceola, we saw the new student center from across the lake. Amazing. With the sun and the lake (and even a freaking rainbow as I was taking the picture), I dare anyone to post a more gorgeous campus setting on a college campus than this:
We walked around the lake and stopped off at the new Rat. And wow, what a sight to behold. The old Rat was small, dated, but with a world of class and memories. I had hoped it would be great, but wasn’t certain. It surpassed my hopes by leaps and bounds. We walked inside, and there were students, twenty-somethings, and older fans. It looked like a great place to watch football, which, if I were a student, would give me even less reason to leave campus to go to a game. The food was solid, the beer was cold, and the view was amazing. There were TVs everywhere, especially outside. Incredible.
We left and walked over to the Gameday setup outside of the food court (not sure what they’re serving there now - Panda Express and Jamba Juice were my usual go to fare while at UM). Desmond Howard and David Pollack were nearby going through sound checks. Fans hung over the wall, trying to get their attention. We didn’t stay long. We ended up buying new Canes shirts at the book store (I had outgrown some of my old wear since my thinner, younger days) and then headed to the airport to pick up John.
And there we were, back on South Beach for the first time in seemingly forever. For me, it was the first time since I drove off the beach with a full car back in May 2004 to drive home to Tennessee to start my new life. And there I was again. I couldn’t believe it. Looked about as close to how I’d remembered it. We stayed at the Grand Beach Hotel on Collins Avenue, which is....ok. The view is certainly great, but it just seemed kind of cheap inside. And paying $40 a night for parking is an absolute racket (although that’s probably the going rate). In any event, like I said, the beach view made it worth it.
We hit up Finnegan’s on Ocean Drive for dinner, sitting outside. I remember the ocean breeze, sitting outside looking across the street at the beach like we used to do in school, ice cold beer in my hand, watching people walk by. Among several Canes games, we watched the clinching game of the 2003 World Series there. We stopped at the Fontainbleau for a drink, but the prices of the drinks and the fact we were in casual shirts and jeans led us out the door and on to one of our old favorite drinking holes on South Beach - the Playwright. So many drunken nights there. So many Irish Car Bombs. So many poorly-hit pool shots. We watched a group of impassioned Peruvian soccer fans celebrate with flags and screams as their team went on to qualify for the World Cup.
The next day, we watched Gameday on TV in the hotel while recuperating from the night before, then watching UGA - Auburn and Penn State - Ohio State and relaxing by the pool. We cabbed it to Hard Rock Stadium mid-afternoon. The last game I’d been to there was Miami-Florida in 2013, so there were certainly some changes since my last trip. The stadium coming in lit up the sky like a beacon.
Absolutely gorgeous. What a venue. Matt is on the Make-A-Wish board in Tampa, so we stopped by a tailgate of someone he knew from it. The tailgate tents, the barbacoa, the rap musing blaring, the funnels, the fifty-something Notre Dame fans shuffling through trying not to get noticed and harassed. I got to try on my first turnover chain, so that was nice (I’ve lost a few chins since this picture, too).
After we hit up Matt’s wife’s uncle’s tailgate for awhile, we made our way inside and to our seats. We were five rows up in the end zone. Prime seats. And there wasn’t an empty seat in the house. By the time the team came out of the smoke, the place had turned into a fever pitch of rabid Miami fans waiting to explode. And as the flags went up and the players filed onto the field, we were going absolutely bonkers.
Now, the only time I’ve ever written to my alma mater was back in 2007, when the decision about the fate of the Orange Bowl was being decided. I wrote in strong favor of keeping and improving it to the extent possible. I have been furious of the decision since. I should say “had”, as that anger dissipated that night.
The first two touchdowns by Braxton Berrios and Malik Rosier happened right in front of us. When Rosier ran it in, I think everyone in our immediate area was jumping up and down. I was jumping and spinning like an absolute loon. The lead ballooned to 20-0, and we ended up going up with a few minutes left in the first half to try to beat the crowd to the bathroom and to get some more ice cold beer. As we walked up to the concession stand, we heard the loudest roar ever and scrambled to find a TV just in time to see Trajan Bandy finish his run into the end zone. I mean, it was LOOOOUUUUUD underneath the stands. I can only imagine (and dammit, I wish I was there at that moment) what it sounded and looked like in person.
It was all over but the shouting at that point, but we drank and reveled in what was a truly spectacular environment. Miami was beating the absolute dog crap out of #3 Notre Dame, who (if I recall correctly) most if not all of the Gameday crew picked to win. Touted Irish RB Josh Adams finished with a paltry 40 yards on 16 carries.
And speaking of Gameday. Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit were absolutely in awe of the atmosphere at the Rock, with Herbstreit noting that they hadn’t been to a place louder than this. High praise, given where they go and who they see on a weekly basis.
And that’s what I took away from that weekend the most. Miami has a new home in Hard Rock Stadium, as much as I still long for the days of going to the Orange Bowl. If Miami is successful on the field/in the win column, special moments like Notre Dame 2017 will be stories we tell just as much as we do about Miami-FSU 2000, Miami-Notre Dame 1989, etc. etc. I would put this game very much up there with any and all of Miami’s most impressive wins in recent memory.
We Ubered it home (which is an absolute madhouse; that’s the one thing that could be improved upon, IMHO; the logistics of getting cars in and out of the Uber area; perhaps setting up more Uber locations?) and crashed for the night. I sat in the Miami International Airport terminal the next day, with my Miami shirt on, drinking a coffee. Some guy came up to me and said, “hey man, that was an absolute a$$-kicking last night. Miami looks like they’re back.”
If only that had been the case. In any event, it was one of the most enjoyable trips I’d been on in a long time, and it felt great to be back in my old stomping grounds again with some old friends. Hopefully the Canes (and a Coronavirus vaccine) will provide us with similar memories in the coming years. Go Canes!