Where were you on Oct. 15, 1988?
For a generation of Notre Dame fans, there never was never a more anticipated, pulsating game at home than when the No. 1-ranked Miami Hurricanes returned to Notre Dame Stadium that afternoon.
The 5-0 start by the Fighting Irish that season provided some salve to a rough 43-36-1 period from 1981-87, but the showdown with Miami always lurked in the background, like the bully around the corner ready to take your lunch money. Here are a few of the reasons why it became the greatest game ever played at Notre Dame Stadium, and one for the ages in college football annals:
Four times from 1983-87 (no meeting in 1986), the Hurricanes outscored the Irish 133-20. Only one other time had a program so dominated Notre Dame in four straight games. Michigan State outscored Notre Dame 121-20 in the four meetings from 1956-60 (no meeting in 1958).
Miami’s 36-game regular season unbeaten streak was the second longest in college football history since 1914, surpassed only by Oklahoma from 1953-57 (also ended by Notre Dame). Under head coach Jimmy Johnson, Miami had won 20 straight road games in the regular season.
In six straight seasons from 1983-88, the Hurricanes defeated the preseason No. 1, including a 31-0 dismantling of Florida State to open the ’88 campaign. The defending national champs also played for No. 1 in four of their last five bowls, an unprecedented (and since unmatched) feat.
Catholics vs. Convicts T-shirts became the iconic best-selling item, but many others became popular, in particular, “You can’t spell scum without UM.” The enmity was palpable.
“Everyone on campus has been wearing shirts about Miami,” commented third-year Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz a week before the game. “This is an intelligent student body. They know they won’t be able to wear them after the game.”
Notre Dame had lost four straight games at home to No. 1 teams by a count of 113-32, and hadn’t knocked off No. 1 at home since 1936, the first year of the Associated Press poll. This also was the first time since 1968 that two AP Top-5 teams played in Notre Dame Stadium.
The Pregame Fight
Okay, we all know of the Holtz “Save Jimmy Johnson’s ass for me,” comment in the locker room. That kind of stole the show.
But the pregame brawl in the tunnel between the two teams was the day when, in their best Charles Atlas form, Notre Dame no longer accepted getting sand kicked in its collective face by the beach muscleman.
“It kind of got everybody over the pregame jitters,” recalled Irish linebacker Wes Pritchett, the team’s top tackler that year. “Guys were seeing blood. I’ve never seen the kind of emotional display like I saw in the locker room before that game.”
The Once And Future Empire Restored
With the 31-30 victory, the once and future kings of college football had been officially restored. Sports Illustrated ran quarterback Tony Rice’s photo on the front cover with the headline “Notre Dame Is Back!”
No greater joy had ever overtaken the Notre Dame campus after a home football game than on that Indian summer afternoon 25 years ago today.