There was a time, some 25 years ago, when the idea of the Miami Hurricanes traveling to Notre Dame would get the college football world buzzing. When Irish fans would chide Jimmy Johnson for running up the score in Gerry Faust’s last game. When Hurricanes fans would chide their Notre Dame counterparts for making “Catholics vs. Convicts” T-shirts. When the Irish, coming off their last national title, would enter Miami with a 23-game winning streak and exit the old Orange Bowl with a big fat “L” next to their name.
That was the idea back in the summer, back when it was about first-year coach Mark Richt bringing his upstart Canes to Touchdown Jesus, looking to knock off expected playoff contender Notre Dame, back before Miami’s lack of depth reared its ugly head, back before the Irish would make fools of those who voted them to a preseason No. 10 ranking.
But now as the calendar turns, the leaves change and the game nears, Saturday’s rivalry renewal just doesn’t have quite the buildup of many of the programs’ meetings way back when, back when these two were annual national title contenders looking to ruin the other’s season.
It is now Miami, winless in its three contests since climbing to a No. 10 ranking, facing Notre Dame, losers of two straight, owners of a 2-5 record.
“To be 2-5 and to outscore your opponents has got to be one of the craziest stats in America,” Brian Kelly said last week. “So we have got to be able to get through this and that's going to require great attitude and great preparation.”
“What do I say?” Richt said after Miami’s third straight loss. “I say continue to work hard, continue to be (loyal) to your teammates and continue to fight. It starts with the coaching staff.”
Conference realignment has limited and, in many cases, flat-out ruined some of this sport’s greatest rivalries. But how many series can say they were ended essentially because things got too intense between the schools?
That was Miami and Notre Dame, back when both were among the national elite.
Now they are two teams seven games into a season that has seen each beat a single Power 5 team, meaning someone will have to break character when they get together this weekend, if only by default. Not even the early Vegas lines, many of which list this game as a pick 'em, can seem to supply the usual edge that comes with rivalries like this one.
It will be their third meeting since the series was halted in 1990, as the Irish had capped a promising start to the Kelly era with a Sun Bowl win in 2010 before routing the Canes in Chicago in what ended up being a charmed 12-1 campaign in 2012.
Now comes the first on-campus meeting between the two in 26 years, a fact that was not lost when preseason pricing for this contest was issued by Notre Dame: $150 face value, which is matched this season only by the Irish’s Week 3 night game against what had looked like another promising team, Michigan State.
You can get in the door now for as low as $45 on StubHub. Throw in the fact that Game 4 of the World Series will take place some 90 minutes away at Wrigley Field later that night, and let’s just say that Miami and Notre Dame might not hold the majority of Midwestern sports fans’ attention come Saturday.
There was once another T-shirt -- not quite as famous as the “Catholics vs. Convicts” one -- that Miami fans had made before their 1989 game, when this “new money vs. old money” game had reached a crescendo, when these teams were on their way to combining for three straight national titles.
“God Made Notre Dame No. 1,” it read, “Miami Made Them No. 2.”
Making Notre Dame 2-6 -- or even making Miami .500 -- just doesn’t have the same ring to it.