At any rate, the two teams seemed to respect each other. At the Wednesday night steak fry at Rawhide, a Wild West theme restaurant in the desert of Scottsdale, the players comported themselves with dignity. Harris and Rice met each other and exchanged pleasantries. "He seems like a real down-to-earth guy," said Harris later. Rice, of course, liked Harris. Rice likes everybody.
It was two years ago that Miami's Jerome Brown led a group of fatigue-clad Hurricanes out of their Fiesta Bowl dinner with Penn State. It was a crude gesture that has haunted Miami and, to a degree, the whole college sports scene ever since. "I'm an Irish Catholic born and bred on Notre Dame football," said West Virginia's Koken as he watched both teams mingle while rap music blared. "Miami said they wouldn't eat with the enemy. What kind of bull——is that?"
The specter of the Hurricanes hovered over this year's game in a more tangible way, though. It seems clear now that the Irish's 31-30 win over Miami in October was actually their national championship victory. "You know, I wanted to play Miami again," Holtz said three days before the Fiesta Bowl. "But I want to tell you something: We're better than the Hurricanes. If we played them 10 times, we'd beat them eight."
Well, all right. Maybe it's about time that Holtz the worrier got cocky, just like his team. Notre Dame, No. 1 now, could well be No. 1 a year from now. Holtz will have 17 players with starting experience returning next fall, including Rice, Zorich, most of the offensive line and sensational 18-year-old tight end Derek Brown, who on Monday caught two passes for 70 yards.
During the week the muscular, 6'7" Brown admitted that he still hadn't gained back all the weight he had lost earlier in the season when he was knocked out of action by a severe throat infection. "The same thing the Gipper died of," Brown noted with a straight face. He contracted the ailment in the week before the Irish's Nov. 19 game against Penn State, and sure enough, one day in practice Holtz said to his players, "Let's win this one for Brown."
"Even though I was standing there. Alive!" marvels Brown.
So? We're talking Notre Dame here, son. Forget facts. What this is all about is lore. And this Irish squad, by gum, will surely be one for the legends. And it even has got the record to back it up.
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