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A grand street fight in Disappointment Alley
John Underwood
December 04, 1967
There was nothing at stake but pride when two slightly tarnished giants, Miami and Notre Dame, squared off in Florida, but that proved incentive enough to produce a thunderous battle and a thrilling Irish win
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December 04, 1967

A Grand Street Fight In Disappointment Alley

There was nothing at stake but pride when two slightly tarnished giants, Miami and Notre Dame, squared off in Florida, but that proved incentive enough to produce a thunderous battle and a thrilling Irish win

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In the beginning they were going to be giants, and their game was going to decide the national championship. But providence shrugged, and before the season was much past the national anthem both Notre Dame and Miami had lost two games. Miami Coach Charlie Tate found there was no escaping it. On one occasion he went to a quiet little Chinese restaurant where he could avoid his critics at lunchtime, and four total strangers came up to him with suggestions. So one night, with nobody to talk to but himself, he sat at his desk at home, took up pad and pencil, and by dawn he had rewritten Miami's offense. He turned Miami into a running team.

In far-off South Bend, Ind., about the same time, Ara Parseghian was telling his Irish players much the same thing. He said he was going to quit having Terry Hanratty throw 4,000 passes a game, because the linemen were getting soft, blocking in mark time and saying to themselves, "What, us worry? Terry will throw one and pull it out." Ara told them straight: fellas, there ain't no easy way to win. After that, the Notre Dame team that was to have been 1967's biggest, strongest and most likely to succeed began to play. It came off losses to Purdue and Southern Cal with a 2-2 record and won five straight. And Miami's Hurricanes won six straight. So the two of them grew into giants, of a sort, after all. Last week, on a balmy night in Miami, they met on schedule.

It was not the collision heard round the world that had been predicted in September, but it at least reached the quivering ears of the most distant ticket-holder in the Orange Bowl, where 77,265 nervous cases, sitting on the grass and in the aisles, made up the largest crowd ever to see a football game in Florida.

The decision went to Notre Dame 24-22. No knockout. It might just as well have been a draw, or gone the other way. Neither team deserved to lose. At times, so violent were the bumps and grinds, so heavy the twists of fortune that neither team seemed destined to win. Miami got two touchdowns 18 seconds apart in the second quarter—nobody had scored on Notre Dame in the second quarter all year—and had to drive all of 26 yards to get them. The first was set up by a 49-yard punt return by a cricket named Jimmy Dye, who is 20 pounds smaller than anybody on the Notre Dame team. The second came when Notre Dame's Dan Harshman fumbled the following kickoff after a vicious tackle and Miami recovered the ball on the 17.

But fate giveth and fate taketh away. The Hurricanes missed the extra point after their second touchdown, which left them ahead 13-3. The miss probably cost them a tie. Notre Dame came back to lead 24-16 in the fourth quarter, and then Miami scratched out its last touchdown, to make it 24-22 with three minutes to play. Tate now ordered a two-point conversion that was to begin with his quarterback—Bill Miller, at the time—asking for the ball to be placed on the left hashmark so that he could roll to the right. Miller, in his excitement, did not do this. His roll-out came to the wrong side and into the jaws of Notre Dame defensemen he should have steered clear of—Kevin Hardy, Bob Olson, Tom O'Leary and manly people like them. Olson easily batted away Miller's pass, and Notre Dame had its win.

It was not the type of game that either team expected. They had played to a 0-0 tie in the same park two years ago and, though both had added firepower since then, a low scorer was the prospect. Parseghian's defense coach, John Ray, sat with two other assistants in the team's retreat on Key Biscayne—away from the garish distractions of Miami Beach—the night before the game and outlined how he expected to stop Miami's running: "They'll try to go outside, options and sweeps, and here's how we'll...."

Well, Miami lost its best runner, Vince Opalsky, with a painfully bruised hip early in the first quarter, which evened up the casualty list of running backs because Notre Dame Captain Rocky Bleier was out, too. But Miami never intended to challenge that monolithic Notre Dame line. Instead, the Hurricanes had decided to pass. The fancy game was back. Thirty-nine passes. Halfback passes even, and screen passes off fake draws. The attack was as well conceived as it was surprising. It came out of a wide-open double slot, which is a passing formation, pure and not-so-simple, and Notre Dame never did quite catch on. The Irish were too wary to penetrate, or unable to, because Miami's protection was excellent. Unfortunately, Miami's passing was not excellent. The slotbacks were open frequently, but neither Miller nor David Olivo got the ball to them. They did, however, make use of their best receivers, Jimmy Cox and Jerry Daanen, on deep curl patterns, and these were their principal gainers. No reflection on Olivo and Miller is intended. As John Ray said, "Only one Hanratty to a side."

In the last half of the season, in which Notre Dame eschewed the forward pass, life was not as glamorous for Terry Hanratty as it had been when he was appearing on magazine covers with Jim Seymour. He threw 143 passes in the first five games (63 against Purdue), only 63 in the last five. But he is a remarkably poised young man who catches on. In that agony of withdrawal from throw-throw-throw he found the ecstasy of not having his passes stolen-stolen-stolen. Trying to cut too fine a line, he had 15 passes intercepted in the first five games. He had none intercepted in the last five.

Hanratty found that Miami's defense was the best he had faced, and against it he threw only 12 times. But he knew when to throw, and he threw well. Nor was he dispirited when Miami's mad-dog defensive ends, Ted Hendricks and Phil Smith, kept sitting on his helmet.

"I read all about that Hendricks," said Hanratty afterward. "I knew what his number was, 89; how much he weighed, 220; how tall he was, 6'7". I did not believe he was as good as people said. I was right. He was better."

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