Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 10/3/12
Before their teams met last Saturday, Bethune-Cookman assistant football coach Autry Denson walked across the field to speak with Hampton assistant Lamar Thomas. Naturally, Thomas figured Denson had something to say about the game. Instead, he asked me, After next week, are you going to be answering your texts and phone calls? Thomas said. Im like, Yeah, why not? He said, After Notre Dame beats Miamis butt? Denson, who starred at running back for Notre Dame in the late 1990s, never actually played against Miami. But hes a South Florida native who knows all about the Fighting Irishs heated rivalry with the Hurricanes. Thomas sure knows about it. It was hatred, said Thomas, who faced Notre Dame in 1989 and 1990 as a Miami wide receiver. Our rivalry against Florida State is based upon respect, but the one against Notre Dame is based on hatred. Well, the animosity can be turned back up. The schools meet Saturday at Chicagos Soldier Field, renewing the regular-season rivalry for the first time since Notre Dame ended the series after the 1990 game because it was deemed to be an unhealthy atmosphere. The schools, which played in 19 of 20 regular seasons between 1971 and 1990, did meet in the 2010 Sun Bowl, a 33-17 Irish win that extended their series lead to 15-7-1. But Saturday marks a resumption of the two willingly getting back together. There will be a home-and-home series in 2016 and 2017 and the schools likely will play regular-season games after that. The Irish last month agreed to join Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference in all sports but football, but they will play five regular-season football games each year against ACC schools. Im glad to see the rivalry again because it gives me somebody to really cheer against and to really hate, said Wes Pritchett, who played linebacker for Notre Dame in 1985, 1987 and 1988 games against Miami and who will fly in from his Atlanta home to attend Saturdays game. Im glad the rivalry is rekindling. It was obviously very intense in the 1980s, and there was no love lost between the teams. Theres been a lot of change with both programs in the last 20 years, but Im looking forward to it. While Saturdays game hardly is similar to ones in the late 1980s, when the winner went on to win the national title three straight years, many hope that both schools are on their way back up. With Notre Dame 4-0 and ranked No. 9 and Miami 4-1 and having received some poll votes, strides are being made. Its good for college football, said Randal Hill, a wide receiver who faced Notre Dame each year from 1987-90 during a period when the Hurricanes were well known for their swagger. I think the rivalry is good. . . . The student body didnt like the other student body (when Hill played). It was like North vs. South, East vs. West, Good vs. Bad. Maybe it was the Jedis vs. the Siths. The series reached a fever pitch in 1988, when No. 4 Notre Dame upset top-ranked Miami 31-30 and went on to win the national championship, and in 1989, when the No. 7 Hurricanes returned the favor by beating the No. 1 Irish 27-10 and going on to claim the national crown. The 1988 game, dubbed Catholics vs. Convicts by Notre Dame students, was marred by a pregame fight that played a role in the rivalry being discontinued. When it started, though, it wasnt much of a rivalry. The teams played for the first time in 1955 in Miami, where the first five games were held before a home-and-home series eventually started. The teams went 1-1-1 in the first three games. But Notre Dame in 1967 began a streak of 11 straight Irish wins, including routs of 44-0, 48-10 and 40-15. It was a vacation for Notre Dame, said Howard Schnellenberger, Miamis coach from 1979-1983, of the landscape when he arrived. They were the darlings of the nation. They had the biggest public approval. They had alumni across the nation. They had the best fight song, the prettiest girls. . . . In even years, at the end of the season, they would go out to California to play USC and in odd years they would come down to Miami and spend the week. Theyd bring the alumni down, bask on South Beach, go down to Joes Stone Crab. Everybody had a great time, and then theyd beat the 'Canes. Miami football had reached such a low point by 1979 that the Hurricanes sold their home game in the series that year to Tokyo. So that gave the Fighting Irish a vacation to Japan for the 40-15 win. But Schnellenberger soon built up the Miami program, and the Hurricanes surprised Notre Dame 37-15 in 1981 to break the losing streak. In 1983, when Miami was en route to its first of five national titles, the Hurricanes beat the Irish 20-0 at the Orange Bowl. We beat them like a red-headed stepchild, Schnellenberger said. It was a lot worse in 1985 when Miami, then coached by Jimmy Johnson, was continuing to ascend and Notre Dame was on the decline. In the regular-season finale and last game for struggling Irish coach Gerry Faust, the Hurricanes won 58-7 at the Orange Bowl. They were running up the score, Pritchett said. I remember Michael Irvin (Miamis star receiver) catching passes late in the game. I remember when he caught passes he would do this sort of thing with his arms with the crowd asking them to stand up. There was a lot of animosity from us. We felt we owed Miami one after that. After that loss, though, the Irish hired Lou Holtz as coach, and he began to bring the program back. Never mind if the Hurricanes over the years would make fun of the slight-framed Holtz. (Notre Dame) had the leprechaun and Lou Holtz, and sometimes I didnt know who the mascot was, Thomas said. I thought Lou Holtz masqueraded at times as the mascot. The rivals didnt meet in Holtzs first season of 1986, and the No. 2 Hurricanes beat No. 10 Notre Dame 24-0 at home in 1987 on their way to a national title. But the Irish would get revenge Oct. 15, 1988, in South Bend, Ind. Miami came in with a 36-game regular-season winning streak. But Pritchett said he and other Notre Dame players still around from the 51-point loss three years earlier used it as motivation. Leading up to the game, a Notre Dame student came out with T-shirts that read Catholics vs. Convicts, and they sold briskly. The shirts were in reference to Notre Dames squeaky-clean persona and Miamis outlaw image. You talk about Catholics vs. Convicts, Hill said. But going up there, theyre supposed to be a good Catholic school and getting off the bus, youre being called (the N word). Youre being spit on. . . . The whole atmosphere of Notre Dame, theyre being portrayed as they are better than anybody else. But they really showed that they were not, especially the way (the fans) treated us when we got off the bus. Tempers became heated before the game when Notre Dame was on the field for warmups. Depending upon whos telling the story, the Hurricanes on their way back to the locker room either walked through the Fighting Irish drills or went a bit too slowly around them for Notre Dames liking. It was kind of insulting the way they came in and tried to bully us and punk us, said Frank Stams, then a Notre Dame senior linebacker who also had been part of the humiliating 1985 defeat. A fight ensued between most of the players on each team that had to be broken up by security officials. But what happened afterward in the locker room is what the Irish say really motivated them. Tempers were flaring, Pritchett said. There had been a fight of 80-on-80 and guys in our locker room were fired up. They were throwing chairs. One of the coaches broke a chalkboard. And Lou Holtz gets up and gives a speech. He ends it with Guys, leave Jimmy Johnsons butt for me. The way we stormed out of the locker room to go out there was like in Braveheart. There was plenty more craziness that afternoon. Miami kicker Carlos Huerta remembers an Irish fan coming after him during the game. A guy leaped over the wall and then jumps on my back, Huerta said. He starts screaming and yelling at me. He was pretty drunk. I said to this security officer, You can take care of him or I can take care of him. So they said they were going to remove him from the stadium. But after the game, I saw the same guy running on the field and celebrating. The Fighting Irish won when a Miami two-point conversation attempt failed in the final minute. But the Hurricanes to this day believe they were cheated out of victory. Midway through the fourth quarter, 'Canes running back Cleveland Gary took a short pass from Steve Walsh and dove toward the goal line. The Hurricanes, then trailing 31-24, believed the ball had come loose after Gary had hit the ground, but the officials awarded possession to Notre Dame. Clearly, he was down, said Stephen McGuire, then a freshman running back for the Hurricanes who was redshirting. We should have won that game and the national championship. A year later, though, Miami had a shot at revenge. Johnson had left to coach the Dallas Cowboys, and his final words to the team were, Beat Notre Dame. The Hurricanes did just that. Under new coach Dennis Erickson, they ruined undefeated Notre Dames hopes of repeating as national champion with a victory in the regular-season finale while going on themselves to win the crown. I remember all the upperclassmen that day requested everybody wear all black to the game, said Hill, who provided the biggest play that night with an incredible 44-yard catch when Miami had third-and-43 at its own 7 while up 17-10 in the third quarter. When we got off that bus, there was nothing that was going to stop us from winning that game. . . . Our seniors wanted us to wear black because good guys wear black. Some on the Notre Dame side would debate just how much good there was that night in the stands. It was a pretty hostile environment, said Reggie Brooks, an Irish running back who faced the Hurricanes in 1989 and 1990. We had to keep our helmets on the whole game because fans were throwing stuff. Just as Hill had talked about experiencing racial epithets when visiting Notre Dame, Brooks said he heard taunts that night in Miami. Id hear Uncle Tom Brooks said. Notre Dame was known primarily as a white institution. But on any campus youre going to hear things from ignorant people. Brooks, now a Notre Dame manager for football alumni relations, doesnt doubt the taunts Hill said he received from Irish fans. But both players said they never heard anything racial from players on either team. When the teams met in Oct. 20, 1990, at Notre Dame, it was known it would be the final game in the series for a while. Dubbed the Final Conflict, the No. 6 Irish defeated No. 2 Miami 29-20. It was Thomas only visit to Notre Dame Stadium consider him unimpressed. Youre used to seeing the place on TV, and I thought it would be this grand place with manicured grass so perfect, Thomas said. I was so disappointed. The ground was clumpy. They had grown the grass up high to make sure the field wasnt fast for us. The locker room was rusty. . . . Then again, they probably said the same thing about the (dilapidated) Orange Bowl. Thomas said some Notre Dame players that day mocked the Hurricanes with the way they raised their hands up in Miami-like fashion after big plays. And when the Hurricanes lost, there was no chance of getting revenge any time soon. They were like spoiled brats. . . . They said, Were taking our ball and going home, said Thomas of Notre Dame discontinuing the series. Brooks, who then had two years left to play, wished the rivalry could have continued. He obviously didnt have any say in the matter. Now, its back. Stams, the former Irish linebacker, just hopes some of the off-the-field stuff wont end up resurfacing. I hope that we all can learn from the lessons of the past, said Stams, an insurance executive in Akron, Ohio. Lets keep it focused on football. But theres plenty of acrimonious history to overcome. Even Stams admitted that last week, in anticipation of the game, somebody had dropped off at his office a Catholics vs. Convicts button from yesteryear. Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail or on Twitter @christomasson
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