If there’s one thing I’ve always been fairly protective of, it’s my earliest memories of Notre Dame football. It’s not that there’s anything special to them – in fact, it’s the exact opposite. As an ND fan that truly came of age in the post-Holtz era, my worry has involved the sharing of some of my earlier Notre Dame memories would lead to my being ostracized by the ND community, and potentially banned from supporting the team.
The very first Notre Dame game I attended was notable for lots of reasons. I had won a candy bar selling contest at my Catholic elementary school that resulted in four tickets, enough for my entire family. I was proud of my achievement. And why shouldn’t I be excited? Notre Dame was on the verge of a national championship. After all, how hard would it be to beat Boston College after taking down the unbeatable Florida State Seminoles? That’s right – my first ND game was the 1993 Boston College game, the game that cost Notre Dame a national title, and a game that many pundits have since said ultimately ended Notre Dame’s era as a powerhouse in college football.
And I heard it from my father all the way back on our drive to our hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. “In all my years of going to Notre Dame games, I’ve never seen the Irish lose at Notre Dame Stadium! Never!”
“Take it easy on him,” my mother said, trying to intervene on my behalf.
“No! I’ve never seen them lose, and his first game they not only lost, but it cost us a national championship!” my father countered. Not being one to back down even as a child, I couldn’t help but point out the obvious: my father wouldn’t have even had tickets to the game if not for my candy bar-selling prowess. As you can tell, it was an interesting car ride home, and those arguments have spilled over and continued for another 19 years.
So how has it felt being a Notre Dame fan who doesn’t really remember Holtz? Who came of age watching Davie, Willingham, O’Leary (I’m counting him to show what I’ve had to deal with) and Weis? How do you think it feels? It’s been flippin’ terrible. There’s a generational gap amongst Notre Dame fans, with those like me who have experienced nothing but failed expectations and disappointment, and those like my parents, who have seen numerous national titles. And I’m jealous of those older Irish fans to an unhealthy degree.
A perfect symbol of the disparity between generations of Irish fans arrives this week courtesy of the Miami Hurricanes. I remember very, very little about the 1988 national championship season due to my youth, but the memories I have all involve the Miami Hurricanes. I remember the unabashed exuberance from my parents after ND defeated the #1 Miami Hurricanes 31-30 in a game the USA Today has called one of the greatest collegiate football games ever played, and I recall it lasted far beyond that Saturday. For weeks after the game my parents re-watched the contest on our newfangled VCR that had a remote control so you wouldn’t have to manually rewind (ah, the luxuries of the 1980s). And, to this day, my mother does a flawless impression of former Miami Hurricanes head coach Jimmy Johnson jumping around, shouting, “First down!” while he argued with an official that Miami running back Cleveland Gary had earned a critical first down on a 4th and 7, despite officials ruling he had fumbled the ball.
What I’m jealous of the most is the passion that resulted from the Miami Hurricane/ND series. If you simply say the phrase “31-30”, not only will older Notre Dame fans know exactly what you’re referencing, but their eyes will light up in the process. They each have their own unique story about the infamous ’88 contest, and all have described just how intense the rivalry truly was. Growing up in Michigan, there isn’t a game I get “up” for more than when the Irish and Wolverines butt heads, but I have never witnessed a rivalry so bitter and passionate that the urge to jump into a brawl – as many older fans have related to me – like Miami and ND’s players did before the 1988 game was present. And I definitely am jealous to not have been able to experience a rivalry that ferocious in my lifetime.
As a post-Holtz era Irish fan, my connection with the Miami rivalry has had to rely on war stories from a different generation of Notre Dame fans, though I do have one personal experience. I was fortunate enough to have former Notre Dame safety and hero of the 1988 game, Pat Terrell, sign a picture of his swat that broke up the potential game-winning two point conversion for the Miami Hurricanes. He was nice enough to sign his name and write a motivational quote, telling me to never give up on my dreams. I had a second picture of his infamous play and a friend who’s a diehard Miami Hurricanes fan, and I thought my friend
would get a kick out of a Pat Terrell autograph. And, sure enough, Terrell was a great sport and agreed to the signature. But instead of a motivational quote, he placed a special message next to his signature for my Miami Hurricane friend:
“Sorry for ruining your dreams. –Pat Terrell, ’88 National Champions.”
It is, to this day, the best autograph I’ve seen anyone give anywhere, and my Miami Hurricane friend loved it. He has it hanging in his living room, even now.
The passion, intensity and hatred may not exist the way it did 24 years ago. But for a Notre Dame fan from the post-Holtz era, this Saturday night’s game at Soldier Field between the Irish and Hurricanes represents an opportunity to see my generation add to the rivalry’s legacy.
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