Irish History: Notre Dame Upsets #1 Miami ’88

Always Fighting Irish by John Heisler is printed with the permission of Triumph Books /

This excerpt from Always Fighting Irish by John Heisler is printed with the permission of Triumph Books /

The edges of the seats in Notre Dame Stadium may be worn thin, but the Stadium’s magic remains alive and well. The same could be said for Notre Dame’s football program.

That was the end result when Pat Terrell batted away Steve Walsh’s two-point conversion pass with 45 seconds to play, as the fourth-rated Irish locked up a stunning 31–30 upset of No. 1–ranked Miami in 1988.

Erased was Miami’s mystique and all the embarrassment it had handed the Irish in recent years.

The game had such an impact on Irish fans that they rated it the top moment in Irish history in the 20th century as part of Notre Dame’s “Century of Greatness” program. And it came after head coach Lou Holtz had predicted victory the night before at a wild, outdoor pep rally (later claiming “you should never be held responsible for what you say at a pep rally”).

Walsh had his most prolific day and found himself saddled with his first loss in 17 college starts. The Miami regular season winning streak ended at 36 games, and its road win streak ended at 20. Notre Dame had lost the previous four emotional encounters by a 133–20 margin—but the Irish made those seem like ancient history with the one-point triumph.

Both clubs made mistakes and caused mistakes. Notre Dame made the big play that counted.

Its defense was on the spot in the final two minutes.

The Irish led 31–24 when Tony Rice was hit hard to force a fumble on third and 17 from the 21. The Hurricanes’ Greg Mark recovered, and the Irish were in trouble.

Miami gained four yards in three plays, then faced a fourth and six from the 11. Walsh, who completed 31 of 50 for 424 yards,
four TDs, and three interceptions, lofted a pass to the right front corner of the end zone, and Andre Brown made a lunging reception for the touchdown. Miami coach Jimmy Johnson said there was never any doubt about the choice of going for the two-point conversion.

Walsh dropped back and had time. But pressure came from Irish tackle George Williams. He lofted the pass toward tailback Leonard Conley in the end zone. Terrell, in man-to-man coverage, had him blanketed and stepped in front to knock it away. Miami went with an onside-kick attempt—it had won at Michigan, 31–30, after recovering an onside kick—but Anthony Johnson smothered it at the Miami 44. All Notre Dame had to do was ride out 42 seconds to sign another chapter to its glorious history.

For the most part, the Irish couldn’t stop Miami unless it took the ball away. It did seven times—three on interceptions and four on fumble recoveries. The Irish gave it back three times.

The most controversial Miami miscue came with seven minutes to go. On fourth and seven at the Irish 11, Walsh hit Cleveland Gary with a short pass. Strong safety George Streeter hit Gary near the end zone and the ball popped loose at the one. Michael Stonebreaker recovered.

Irish in Their Own Words

Wes Pritchett

Beating West Virginia for the national title was great, but the win over Miami was the pinnacle. There’s no question about that for so many reasons. It was symbolic at the end of the day because of how far we had come since the 58–7 drubbing in Miami. Miami was a team that hadn’t lost in two years. Jimmy Johnson was at the peak of his career, and we beat ’em, and we really should have beaten them worse. They could argue about the breaks because they went back and forth. But at the line of scrimmage? We kicked their (butts)! Now, was their passing game tough to stop? There’s no doubt. But I guarantee you, we kicked their (butts) up front.50 Always Fighting Irish

Michigan, USC and Miami, those were our three biggest games in 1988. We got in a fight with Miami before the game. We got done with our warm-ups and they came running through the middle of our drill. At the end of warm-ups, everybody would line up in the back of the end zone and we’d punt. They came running right through the middle of the drill and that set the tone because they realized that we weren’t going to be intimidated.

Tony Rice

The 31–30 win over Miami was unbelievable. Coach Holtz worked us so hard that week. It was like, “Wow, when are we going to get to the game!” I remember it being so special because of the involvement of everybody on the campus.

You may also like


  1. I 1st met Lou Holtz when he was Head Coach at NC State in ’73 or ’74, I think. His team had just beaten my school ( I was a student ) —Arizona State in Tempe, AZ. I was a huge ASU sports fan……& I could not attend that ASU home game that Saturday night as I had to work–I was a waiter at a very upscale restaurant in Scottsdale, AZ. Holtz, his wife & an assistant coach & his wife came in for a late night dinner that night after their game & I was their waiter. I knew right away who he was as I had seen him on TV before.

    I kidded him about his team being lucky vs ASU that night..& he kidded me back. He had a terrific personality to him, yet at that time he was not a big known football coach at all.

    I recall asking him what his coaching goal was…..without hesitation he replied, ” I am going to win the football National Championship some day”, he said.

    Well, later on he did just that with Notre Dame…I watched him win it on TV…and it immediately took me back to that moment in time at that restaurant….& what he had told me. Always been a fan of his…he deserved it.

  2. I survived a near-death incident at NotreDame in 1985, 10-days into Freshman year. I worked my A$$ off to rehab and rerun to ND for my class’ senior year, ’88-’89. I did return to ND for that school year, but was academically unsuccessful. (to put it kindly – brain damage necessitates a special special-ed and I was ND’s first attempt at educating brain damage) I remember this Pat Terrell (my friend from The Huddle, the on-campus snack bar, btw) denial happening 50-feet in front of me (handicapped-seating, 3d-row in end zone) and had my SECOND out-of-body-experience at NotreDame within 3+ years! Phenominal.

  3. I remember watching this game. I screamed and yelled and hoot’n” hollered for 4 quarters at the TV. A good thing the TV’s hearing aid was broke, hahaha. I watch on replay a lot because it shows how ND was regaining national prominance, leading to the 88 NC. That team had players who were studs. I hope we are seeing a repeat with this team.

    Go Irish

  4. Sad warrior,

    Just want to thank you for your service! It’s because of guys like you we get to enjoy things even as simple as discussing ND football here. I hold military in the highest regard and much respect. A brother, close friend, father, his father etc all served. So again, thank you

    1. JTRAIN-Your welcome. Be sure to thank all the others as well; especially the older lads from WW II, Korea, and Vietnam. They sometimes get overlooked in all the hoopla.

      I remember last year when we watched the games late at night in a far away, forboding, and unforgiving place. It was a great comfort to all of us. Win or lose, everyone was rooting for the Irish in my unit. We also loved reading the banter and comments before and after each game. You’d be surprised how such a small thing meant so much to so many. These are the things that make Notre Dame and the United States special among all things.

      Thank you for your comments. I am passing them on to the men as we speak Go Irish! Hooah!

    1. PS
      I’m proud of you “ND”

      I love these uniforms for they capture Notre Dame 1935’S colors + spirit. The game is in Chicago, nightime, cool weather, historic, magic & “Bring Down the Thunder” never mean’t more than this event! A historic true champion-rival (Miami) + primetime TV coverage. Both teams are relevant currently. ND could be on its way to great heights! Excitement

      1. THB-Sounds like you’ve converted to the Irish! We welcome you. You seem to have quite the admiration for ND!

        I can’t be at the game since I can not get leave time, but you can bet everyone in my unit will be watching!

        Go Irish! Hooah!

      2. I dislike confidence before a game of this magnitude. I prefer careful pregame preperation & I love execution without miscues once it begins.

  5. They should have used that Miami team as the Poster Child for the movie ‘The Longest Yard.’ Many of those players are in prison, no accounts, or dead.

    Go Irish! Hooah!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button