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Rick Telander
October 24, 1988
Spunky Notre Dame laid claim to the top spot in the national rankings by outlasting No. 1 Miami 31-30
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October 24, 1988

Pluck Of The Irish

Spunky Notre Dame laid claim to the top spot in the national rankings by outlasting No. 1 Miami 31-30

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Do you want to call this good triumphing over Evil? Did Notre Dame's 31-30 defeat on Saturday of previously unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Miami remind you of Milton's archangels whupping up on Beelzebub and the crew from Chaos?

Well, O.K., winning by one point while getting outgained 481 yards to 331 isn't exactly the way Michael handled the devil, but you catch the drift. Did you fall for those signs and T-shirts that sprouted in South Bend during game week comparing Notre Dame to the Sistine Chapel and the University of Miami to the River Styx house of detention? If you did, then you probably feel now that all is right with the world and that God is in his place.

But if you happen to be a Hurricane fan, you might argue that Miami was jobbed out of a fourth-quarter touchdown—or, at least, possession of the ball at the Notre Dame one-foot line—when the officials ruled that Miami fullback Cleveland Gary wasn't down before he fumbled the ball as he tried to extend it across the goal line. Or you could contend that Hurricane coach Jimmy Johnson didn't have to go for a two-point conversion after wide receiver Andre Brown made a brilliant catch of an 11-yard TD pass with 45 seconds left in the game to make the score 31-30. Miami could have just accepted a tie, the way Notre Dame did against Michigan State in their famous battle of undefeateds in 1966.

And, you could insist, the Irish upset would not have occurred if Notre Dame defensive tackle Jeff Aim wasn't 6'7" and hadn't batted down one of Hurricane quarterback Steve Walsh's passes and intercepted another just by extending his damn arms. And who knows how bad the Hurricanes might have thrashed Notre Dame if they hadn't made seven turnovers—three interceptions, one of which was returned 60 yards for a TD by free safety Pat Terrell, and four fumbles, two of which were recovered by Irish nosetackle Chris Zorich, the human groundhog.

Yeah, you could argue about a lot of things, particularly the Good versus Bad stuff, but you couldn't change the fact that this was Notre Dame's day. The setting was so gorgeously old-fashioned—sunshine, real grass, primitive end-zone chalkings, Irish players in name-free jerseys and black shoes—that even Touchdown Jesus, the mural on the university library overlooking Notre Dame Stadium, seemed to be raising his arms a little higher in blessing over coach Lou Holtz's boys.

"The afternoon was absolutely perfect," said Notre Dame defensive end Frank Stams (one tackle for a loss, two fumbles caused and one fumble recovery), celebrating in the locker room after the game. "This is what college football is all about."

The Irish scored first on junior quarterback Tony Rice's first-quarter seven-yard option keeper, on which he waltzed into the end zone unscathed. Rice, who's listed at 6'1" and 198 pounds but who looks much smaller, took a pounding on most of his other carries (21 rushes for a net of 20 yards), but he remained upbeat throughout the game. "The glass isn't half empty for Tony," said flanker Ricky Watters afterward. "It's always half full."

In between the beatings, the occasionally scatter-armed Rice even completed eight of 16 passes for a career-high 195 yards. Included in that number was a rainmaking 57-yard, second-quarter bomb to wide receiver Raghib ("Call me Rocket if you can't say Raghib") Ismail, which traveled almost 70 yards in the air. Said the smiling Rice in the locker room, "Never say bad things about a little guy, because the little guy will fool you." Meaning himself.

Miami scored seven minutes after Rice's touchdown on an eight-yard pass from Walsh to Brown. The Irish then went ahead 21-7 on a short scoring pass from Rice to fullback Braxston Banks and Terrell's return of that tipped Walsh pass. Not the swiftest or gainliest of athletes, Walsh nevertheless chased Terrell to the bitter end, diving and cutting his chin in a futile attempt at a tackle near the goal line.

A normal team might have folded at that point. The crowd was wacky, the enemy was fired up, and Miami's quarterback was bleeding; you could almost hear Rockne and the Gipper cackling from on high. But the Hurricanes, who had whipped Notre Dame in the schools' last four meetings by a combined score of 133-20 and who were unbeaten in 36 straight regular-season games, are not a normal team. They are a testy street gang that has transformed itself into the high-wire act of college football—the Miami Pound Machine, a club that can score from anywhere at any time, a traveling bomb squad that four weeks earlier had trailed 30-14 at Michigan with less than six minutes left in the game and won 31-30, using just one timeout. And Walsh, the gunner, is a man who is ultracool under pressure.

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