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High Stakes Renewed in Miami-Notre Dame

By Carlos Pineda
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It may not seem like it today, but in its heyday, Miami-Notre Dame was college football's most intense, heated rivalry.

Notre Dame is the epitome of college football.

Nestled in tradition, the Fighting Irish defined the sport for much of the 20th century, winning 11 national championships over the span of six decades.

"Notre Dame has got the magic name in college football. They always have in my lifetime, since Knute Rockne," former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden told reporters in 2002. "If I were to look back, the Notre Dame game would have to be a very big one. It goes back to it was Notre Dame. You're talking about the No. 1 tradition school in America."

By contrast, the Miami Hurricanes had seven different coaches in the 1970s. They didn't become relevant until the 1980s, when architect Howard Schnellenberger took over a program on the brink of being eliminated, and shocked the world by beating No. 1 Nebraska in the 1984 Orange Bowl game to win their first national title. From Schnellenberger to Jimmy Johnson to Dennis Erickson, the Hurricanes won three titles in seven years to become the team of the 80s.

In their decade of dominance, the Hurricanes developed a bitter rivalry with Notre Dame. From 1987-1989, either Miami or Notre Dame won the national title. The rivalry reached its apex during 1988 game in South Bend.

It may not seem like it today, but in its heyday, Miami-Notre Dame was college football's most intense, heated rivalry.

On Saturday night, the rivalry is renewed the way it's supposed to be, with both teams ranked in the top 10 and playoff implications at stake.

Before there was the "Catholics vs Convicts," the series was one sided with Notre Dame holding a 12-1-1 advantage through 1980.

From 1981-87, Miami flipped the script, going 5-1 against the Irish.

The 1985 game undeniable lit the fuse that made this otherwise meaningless series into a full-on rivalry.

Embattled Notre Dame coach Gerry Faust had decided he would be stepping down at the end of the season after five years at the helm, but not before Miami handed the Irish their worst loss in 41 years, a 58-7 rout.

''I really believe the entire country saw the very best team in the country tonight,'' Miami coach Jimmy Johnson said afterward."

But the Hurricanes, being the new kid on the block were attacked by the national press for running up the score on Notre Dame.

"I think this is the time for Jimmy Johnson to run the ball and show some compassion," former Notre Dame coach and CBS analyst Ara Parseghian said during the broadcast.

Following a one-year hiatus, in 1987, Miami shutout Notre Dame 24-0 on the way to the program's second championship.

This set the stage for 1988. No. 1 Miami traveled to South Bend to face No. 4 Notre Dame in a nationally televised game. The Hurricanes were rolling in with a 36-game regular season winning streak. Lou Holtz entered his third year coaching Notre Dame. The game lived up to its billing as the Irish pulled off a 31-30 victory. The game is famous for not only the "Catholics vs Convicts" t-shirts and moniker, but also for the pre-game fight that broke out near the tunnel.

The fracas led to Holtz famously saying "If we want to fight in the parking lot after the game, that’s fine. You represent our school properly in the game. But do me one favor: After we kick their butts, you leave Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me."

The game wasn't without controversy. With seven minutes left in the game and Notre Dame up 31-24, Miami quarterback Steve Walsh threw a pass to running back Cleveland Gary just inside the five-yard line when he was hit and fell at the one, where he lost control of the ball. Officials ruled the ball a fumble despite replay showing Gary's knee was down.

Miami eventually scored a touchdown with 45 seconds left on the clock, although replay shows that Miami receiver Andre Brown dropped the ball. Johnson opted to go for the two point conversion, but Walsh's pass was batted down and Miami lost its first regular season game since 1985.

Notre Dame went on to finish 12-0 beating West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the school's last title. Till this day, Notre Dame fans have said that the 1988 win over Miami was the greatest win in team history.

The Hurricanes finished the season ranked No. 2.

Miami and Notre Dame met twice more in 1989 and 1990 before the series ended.

Notre Dame first played the Hurricanes in 1955 in Miami. They returned to Miami three more times in the 1960s wanting to end their regular season at a warm-weather location, like they did with USC in Los Angeles. In even years they would end their season at USC and in odd years at Miami. The two programs agreed to a 20-game home-and-home series from 1971-90.

Notre Dame said its tradition of rotating national powers was the reason for ending the series after the 1990 game. Although with so many on-field altercations between the two teams, it's likely that was also a deciding factor.

"To me, it's a healthy rivalry and one we're excited about playing," Miami coach Dennis Erickson said in 1990 before the final meeting. "It's too bad that it's ending. I hate to see it end, but it is over with. I'm sure the last one will be the best one."

After 20 years, the Hurricanes faced the Irish in the 2010 Sun Bowl. The two teams met again in 2012 in Chicago, and last year in South Bend. Notre Dame enters Saturday's game having won four in a row and five of the last six in the series.

The Miami-Notre Dame rivalry is unique in that Notre Dame embodied what is great about college football. Tradition, pageantry and legacy. Miami disrupted that notion in their rise during the 80s. The Hurricanes were loud, brash, arrogant, and stomped on that tradition. It was a clash of two different cultures, and it made for one hell of a compelling storyline.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.