Two of college football’s most stories programs have decided to resume their rivalry.
Last week the University of Notre Dame and the University of Miami announced plans to play three games over the decade. In 2012, the rivalry will take a special setting, with the teams squaring off in Chicago’s Soldier Field, with a home-and-home in 2014 and 2016. The games haven’t been finalized but, barring any unforeseen issues, will be.
Notre Dame and Miami haven’t met on the field since 1990, but had faced off each year since 1971. But when this rivalry returns in 2012, its character will have changed — both on the field and off.
The rivalry reached its peak in the 1980s, when Notre Dame and Miami was tantamount to Good v. Evil, or Catholics v. Convicts, as the media liked to call it. Notre Dame, under Lou Holtz, seemed to represent the best of Muscular Christianity, while Miami seemed to represent the new guard of college football — big, strong, fast players as likely to appear in an ESPN highlight package as they were in the police blotter.
When the schools called it quits two decades ago, it wasn’t because the schools’ cultures were so different, it was because the on-field competition was too intense. In 1988, Notre Dame beat Miami 31-30 en route to finishing undefeated and with the school’s eighth (and to this day, last) national championship. The Hurricanes came into South Bend riding a 36-game unbeaten streak.
Then in 1989, with Notre Dame on the verge of repeat, Miami beat the Irish 27-10 at home en route to the school’s third national championship that decade. The Hurricanes won the title again in 1991 and 2001.
Two decades after the teams last met, the concern is no longer about spoiling each others’ potentially special seasons. At this point, both schools could use some positive ink, hence the bold scheduling move.
Notre Dame, in particular, has gone out of its way to seek the spotlight. When the University of Michigan hosts its first night football game in 2011, Notre Dame will be the guest of honor.
Miami has long held a take-all-comers philosophy with its scheduling. Not only did the Hurricanes play Oklahoma in 2007 and 2009, but the Hurricanes start a home-and-home series with Ohio State the next two seasons.
The Fighting Irish haven’t threatened for a national championship since Holtz walked the sidelines, and they’re counting on Brian Kelly to restore greatness to the program. Miami has done better over the years but declined sharply last decade before former ‘U’ footballer Randy Shannon took the helm before the 2007 season.
Shannon, who led the Hurricanes to a 9-4 record in 2009 facing teams like Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Oklahoma, was just rewarded with a four-year extension by Miami brass.
“We believe Shannon will get us back where we belong — competing for a national championship every year,” University of Miami president Donna Shalala said in a statement announcing the extension.
By 2012, both Notre Dame and Miami might be back in national championship contention. But the Catholics v. Convicts meme is a thing of the past.
Under Shannon’s watch, not a single Miami player has been arrested. When he first took the helm, he stripped players’ names off of Hurricane jerseys, only bringing them back after his authority was established. Ironically, Brian Kelly already has a player arrest on his record, after backup tight end Mike Ragone was arrested in LaGrange County, Indiana for marijuana possession
With 13 national championships and plenty of history between them, Notre Dame and Miami should have a lot to play for when they meet in 2012. But mostly both teams will be playing for pride, the right to say that they took on all comers and emerged victorious.
And that’s what college football is all about.