LAS VEGAS — They really should play each other every year, shouldn’t they? Given the history and the success of the two programs, Notre Dame vs. Miami is a matchup that the public would love to follow – annually.
Saturday night’s game between the third-ranked Irish and the seventh-ranked Hurricanes is their most important meeting since the ’80s. I certainly have had a lot of conversations this week about the ’88 game – the one forever known as “Catholics vs. Convicts” – partly because of the ESPN 30-for-30 film, and mostly because it was unforgettable.
Notre Dame is favored by 3½ on Saturday night, and that number is especially important, because more than a handful of Notre Dame backers would bet on the three – but not with the hook. It figures to be that tight of a game in Hard Rock Stadium.
The experts had been doubting Miami until last week, when they whipped a decent Virginia Tech team 28-10 as a 2½-point favorite. Those same experts had been doubting Notre Dame before the season and had Brian Kelly on the hot seat, but a seven-game winning streak against one of the nation’s toughest schedules has made that a distant memory.
In my opinion this game will come down to Notre Dame’s rushing offense against the Hurricanes’ rushing defense. The Irish are averaging a ridiculous 325 yards rushing a game and a nation’s best seven yards a carry. If the Notre Dame offensive line is not the best in the country, it is certainly in the discussion. The left side is manned by senior Mike McGlinchey and junior guard Quenton Nelson. The right guard is junior Alex Bars.
For you old-timers out there, what you are going to see is the Vince Lombardi power sweep – but in the opposite direction. Lombardi loved to run either Paul Hornung or Jim Taylor to the right for the Packers behind Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston. The Irish will run Josh Adams and Dexter Williams behind the pulling guards to the left with McGlinchey sealing the edge against the Miami’s outside rusher. If the ’Canes can’t stop this power sweep, they are in for a long, long night.
To make things even trickier for Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, quarterback Brandon Wimbush is Notre Dame’s second-leading rusher, so the ’Canes can never forget about the quarterback. Notre Dame’s first-year offensive coordinator Chip Long has done a fabulous job of orchestrating this attack. And with Adams getting only five carries last week against Wake Forest, it was clear that Kelly and his staff were saving him for this game.
The only loss for the Irish came in South Bend at the hands of the No. 1 team in the country – Georgia – 20-19. The Bulldogs had the only defense that has shut down Notre Dame’s running attack, holding the Irish to only 55 yards in 37 carries two months ago. You can imagine that Diaz has been running that film over and over and over again. But the question is whether Miami’s defensive personnel is as good as Georgia’s. It certainly has the experience. Six of the front seven are returning starters, and the three linebackers have been starters since they were freshmen.
The more I look at this game, the more this looks like a throwback to that game in ’88, when defensive back Pat Terrell had to bat down a two-point conversion pass in the final minute to seal it for Notre Dame.
I don’t remember most of the games I called, but I remember that one vividly. The stage was set three years earlier, when the ’Canes buried Gerry Faust 58-7 in his last game coaching at Notre Dame. Jimmy Johnson and the ’Canes would have put 100 up on them if he could.
I was working the game at the old Orange Bowl in downtown Miami with Ara Parseghian, who said, “I would have thought coach Johnson would have shown more compassion.” The legendary columnist Edwin Pope heard that and tore Ara a new one. His column on the front page of the Miami Heraldwas full of references to routs that Ara coached at Notre Dame – routs that he said might have shown more compassion.
That set in motion the buildup for the ’88 game. Lou Holtz replaced Faust, the good fathers in South Bend told him go to get some football players, and pretty soon Notre Dame had the same level of talent as Miami. The players were fast and tough – so tough that they wound up in fight in the tunnel before that game 29 years ago. When we got word of that from the CBS production truck, that threw everything for our broadcast up in the air.
Pat Haden and I came back up with the wind blowing at the top of Notre Dame Stadium, and we set the scene for a day when both teams nearly came to blows a couple more times. It was a rough football game between two rivals with dozens of players who would end up being chosen in future NFL drafts.
How fresh is the memory of Notre Dame’s 31-30 victory in 1988? Jimmy Johnson certainly hasn’t forgotten. He has never forgiven me for saying that the officials made the right call on Cleveland Gary’s fumble in the fourth quarter. He still jumps me every time I see him.
I am often asked whether I miss calling games. Honestly I don’t miss the travel, and I love being able to talk about more than one game every weekend. What better way to do that than with my guys here in the desert? But I have to admit that for Notre Dame and Miami, I wouldn’t mind being back there.
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Every time I looked up between plays of Thursday night’s game between the Seahawks and Cardinals, it seemed that there was a player stretched out on the field.
We know that the biggest injury was the hamstring tear that cost Richard Sherman the reset of the season. But that was just one. We also saw Duane Brown and Doug Baldwin and D.J. Humphries and Tyvon Branch and ... well, you get the idea.
Did you see the Tweet that said, “So disappointed at what I witnessed (Thursday) night. I counted 12 players injured (in the) Seattle-Arizona game. ACL. Broken ankle. Ruptured Achilles.” That was from Larry Fitzgerald Sr., the legendary Minnesota sports writer whose son survived that game on his way to the Hall of Fame. Baldwin didn’t hide his feelings, saying that “Thursday Night Football should be illegal.”
The game also left a sour taste with a lot of gamblers. The Cardinals’ late touchdown and missed extra point in their 22-16 loss meant that the game was a push in the Westgate SuperContest, at least for those few who ventured into the Thursday night waters.
Even the TV ratings tell us that the league ought to re-examine these games. But safety is the most important issue. If players are getting hurt every five minutes after having only three days off after their previous game, I am not convinced that playing every Thursday is a good idea. With the exceptions of opening night and Thanksgiving, Thursday ought to be off limits – if only for the well-being of the players.