Well, if this doesn’t bring back a flood of memories. . .
I was on the Notre Dame beat in 1988, when the Irish put their national-championship hopes on the line against the Hurricanes. That’s a challenge they will face again on Saturday.
If Notre Dame wins, it will take a giant step toward the College Football Playoff. If it loses, adding a second loss to its opening disappointment vs. Georgia, that will be pretty much end-of-story for ND’s 2017 national championship hopes, barring a miracle.
The strange part of this is, that even though the ’88 game was in South Bend while this game will be played in South Florida, I like Notre Dame’s chances better this time.
No question, these undefeated ‘Canes are a formidable bunch. And coming off their shockingly impressive win over Virginia Tech, they will be supremely confident.
And yet, this Notre Dame squad, with its aggressive, opportunistic defense, its punishing running game and its rapidly improving passing game, has all the ingredients to notch another victory on Saturday.
In 1988, Miami was in the midst of an amazing eight-year run. From 1985 to 1992, the Hurricanes went 88-11, and won three national championships.
As it turned out, when they went to Notre Dame on Oct. 15, 1988, the Irish were the only thing standing in the way of another Miami national championship.
And as it turned out, Miami was also the only thing standing in ND’s national-championship way.
And we all pretty much knew this was for all the marbles.
Lou Holtz was at his finest that week, coaching up his players, serving up plenty of wonderful media blarney and just generally making college football fun in a way that’s no longer possible.
I was covering the Irish for the Chicago Sun-Times that year. Having picked up ND in 1984, in the throes of the Gerry Faust angst, I had pretty much seen everything.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
At the end of 1985, Miami had kicked sand in Notre Dame’s face 58-7 in Faust’s last gasp. Vinny Testaverde had been passing in the fourth quarter. ND didn’t like it. And ND remembered.
While we were standing on the sidelines late in the game, Notre Dame’s chaplain had been cursing when Miami was still passing with a huge lead. But Hurricanes coach Jimmy Johnson, who was grilled afterward, insisted Testaverde was only throwing because Miami was a passing team that didn’t run the ball.
When I went back up to the press box after the game, I somehow wound up on an elevator with Johnson and his entourage, who were going to visit with supporters.
``What about the Japan game? Ask them about the Japan game,’’ Johnson kept muttering quietly. That was a reference to a 1979 regular-season game that had been played in Tokyo, where the Irish had throttled Miami 40-15.
When Lou Holtz arrived in South Bend in 1986, it was impossible to know he would have the Irish ready to do the impossible in his third year. When I went to lunch with him and a couple of other reporters shortly after he was hired, he was living in a motel room—and still wearing the same sharp suit he had worn for his introduction.
He gave us thoughtful, humble, low-keyed answers. You could see the wheels turning; he was sleep-deprived, making and executing plans. It was a situation that would have overwhelmed most mortals.
As it turned out, he was the perfect guy for the job.
Notre Dame prevailed 31-30 against Miami that day in October of 1988.
I chronicled ND's 1988 championship in a little book, Victory March, which was profusely illustrated by the photos of Eddie Ballotts, a terrific photographer and sweet man. I hadn’t looked at the book in years, but I picked it up today, and you know what? It’s still a pretty good read, as far as I’m concerned.
It’s just a quickie book. It still makes me uncomfortable to think about how little money I made on it. A couple week’s pay in 1988 newspaper-salary dollars. But no big deal. I learned a lot about how the publishing world works—and doesn’t work.
Amazingly, there are still a few copies floating around on Amazon. For $1, plus shipping.
That amuses me. Because for years and years after ’88, my friend Andy Bagnato, who was on the Irish beat at the Chicago Tribune, used to pick up copies of Victory March in the $1 bin at campus bookstores. By then, we were on the Big Ten beat, and Bagnato would find the book in Ann Arbor, East Lansing—wherever books weren't sold.
To make matters worse, a trade-paperback version quickly sold out, and the publisher declined to print more. But don't get me started.
As I said, Notre Dame’s chances of beating Miami this week are much better than they were in ‘88—except for the intangibles.
That ’88 team was a team of destiny.
There were players on that team who had been in the Orange Bowl in 1985, when Miami was stomping ND so relentlessly.
Soldiers who landed on D-Day after enduring Dunkirk probably had similar feelings to ND players who knew the satisfaction of beating the 'Canes after being in Miami in '85.
Once the Irish got past the Hurricanes in the storied ``Catholics vs. Convicts’’ showdown, they were pretty much on cruise control. They took care of business in a potentially dangerous trip to USC, and they handled their hand-picked Fiesta Bowl opponent, unbeaten but untested West Virginia, to win the national championship.
Even with a win at Miami on Saturday, and even if the Irish handle their final two opponents, Navy and Stanford, the College Football Playoff is a much more rigorous deal than the ’88 Mountaineers in Tempe.
Then again, these Irish are a very good all-around squad. Whether they’ll be a team of destiny against the likes of Alabama, Georgia and whoever else they might see in the four-team playoff, we won’t know until they get there.
Meanwhile, a win in Miami on Saturday will keep them tracking for that opportunity. And until Saturday, those of us who lived through ’88 will be doing a lot of remembering and reminiscing.[/membership]