Miami a Fitting Destination for Tide, Irish to Do Battle

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Miami a Fitting Destination for Tide, Irish to Do Battle
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Miami skyline

It's quite possible that everything that could possibly be written about the historical similarities between Alabama and Notre Dame has already been written...multiple times...just in the last few weeks. The upcoming contest for the crystal football between the top-ranked Fighting Irish and No. 2 Crimson Tide has sportswriters throughout the land scrambling for a fresh angle on two of the most successful programs in history.

So instead of a look at WHO is playing for the BCS title in a couple of weeks, how about the significance of WHERE the game is being played, as it relates to both schools.

While Notre Dame would likely consider USC it biggest rival, there has never been a more bitter or downright nasty rivalry than the one between the Irish and the Miami Hurricanes. Although the two began playing each other in the '50s, it wasn't until the '70s that they became annual opponents. That decade was completely dominated by Notre Dame, winning all ten meetings between 1971 and 1980.

Enter the Gerry Faust era. Once the new coach took the reins in South Bend, Miami began to pull even. By the time it was announced that Faust would be replaced by Lou Holtz after the 1985 season, Jimmy Johnson was leading a talented Miami team that was chomping at the bit to exact some revenge on the struggling Notre Dame program. The Hurricanes did their best to make up for ten years of inferiority in that one game, pummeling the Irish 58-7.

Two years later, the two teams began a four-year run in which both teams were ranked in the top 10, and the winner almost always played for the national championship. The 1988 matchup featured a pre-game fight and ended with Notre Dame winning 31-30 on a failed two-point conversion. The next season, Miami ended Notre Dame's 23-game winning streak, and the fighting had moved into the stands at the Orange Bowl, prompting the two schools to call an end to the nastiest rivalry in college football history.

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Pre-game clash between Miami and Notre Dame players

 

Alabama's history with Miami involves relatively few significant direct connections, but quite a few indirect ones. It may surprise many to know that the Tide and Hurricanes have actually met 17 times, starting in the '40s, with Alabama dominating the series 14 to 3. However, the Tide never faced the Hurricanes during their unprecedented run during the '80s, except two memorable meetings toward the end in the early '90s.

Alabama and Miami were both making a run at the national title in 1989 until a loss to rival Auburn dropped Alabama to No. 7 in the polls. The two still met in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day 1990, ironically following Miami's season-ending—and series-ending—pounding of Notre Dame. After falling behind 33-17, the Tide came back to within eight points, but a failed onside kick attempt ended their hopes of the upset. The loss also effectively ended 'Bama coach Bill Curry's hopes of regaining fan support after repeatedly failing to beat their cross-state rivals.

The two teams met again three years later in the Superdome, with Miami ranked No. 1 and Alabama No. 2. Most believed that the Tide didn't belong on the same field with the powerful and arrogant 'Canes, who were riding a 29-game win streak. But Alabama was quietly looking to build on a 22-game win streak of its own, by proving that great defense and a strong running attack could stand up to Miami's flashy, high-scoring offense.

The formula proved effective. The Tide dominated the running game 267-48, and Heisman-winning QB Geno Torretta never knew what hit him, facing a defense the likes of which may never be seen again. Two interceptions by the 'Bama defense produced two TD's within a span of 16 seconds to help them pull away to a shockingly easy 34-13 victory.

Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images
1993 Sugar Bowl featured #1 Miami vs. #2 Alabama

Legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant had quite the history with the city of Miami long before that. Obviously, the man who at one time was the winningest coach of all time made several appearances in the Orange Bowl. He led Kentucky to one of its first bowl games there, and in back-to-back national championship seasons of 1964 and 1965, he ended both seasons at the Orange Bowl. In all, Alabama has played there eight times.

 

Following the 1969 season, Bryant was reportedly offered 1.7 million dollars for five years to leave Alabama to coach the NFL's Miami Dolphins, which he eventually turned down. However, the Dolphins in years to come would benefit greatly from Bryant's former players. At one point, their roster included Pro-Bowlers Bob Baumhower, Dwight Stephenson, Tony Nathan and Don McNeal—all Alabama alumni. Likewise, the foundation for the Miami Hurricanes' dynasty was laid by former Bryant assistant Howard Schnellenberger.

Years later, Miami returned the favor when Dolphins head coach Nick Saban was persuaded to return to the college ranks to take over the job at Alabama. It's safe to say he has never regretted the decision, competing for his third national championship in four years, and being one of the highest-paid coaches in the country. And incidentally (just as a bonus Miami connection), Saban replaced departed Tide coach Mike Shula—son of legendary Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula.

If you are a believer in fate, it should have come as no surprise that the two legendary programs from South Bend and the Southeastern Conference would meet in South Beach this year.

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