Turn Back the Clock: Three Decades Ago ……
1988 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Thirty years ago we watched an amazing college football season unfold. You had dominant programs in Miami, Florida St., Nebraska, Michigan, West Virginia, Penn St., USC, UCLA, and most of all……..Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish were led by third year Head Coach Lou Holtz. The recruiting was rolling since Holtz took over in 1986. He hired recruiting guru Vinny Cerrato (1986-’90) who was one of the best recruiters in the history of the sport. Everything was full steam ahead, including a revenge minded Fighting Irish taking on uber-rival Miami (FL) in a top 5 matchup in South Bend in mid-October.
Notre Dame had a great defense led by DT Chris Zorich, LB Michael Stonebreaker, CB Todd Lyght, and FS Pat Terrell. The offense was led by QB Tony Rice, RB’s Tony Brooks, Rodney Culver, and Mark Green, WR/RB Ricky Watters, WR Raghib Ismail, TE Derek Brown, and OT Andy Heck.
It’s hard to believe now but thirty years ago today, October 15, 1988, this Irish team was a home underdog to Miami. The Hurricanes were #1 while ND was #4. It became known as “Catholics vs Convicts” and turned out to be one of the most iconic games in the long history of the sport. You know what happened. You’ve seen ESPN’s “30 for 30” and read all the many books. The beautiful Autumn afternoon, the incredible build up, the pregame intro by Brent Musberger on CBS (Did anyone hype up games more than CBS in the 80’s? I could write an entire article about just the pregame intros with accompanying historic videos for their big college football games), the bitter hatred from all involved…..players, coaches, and most of all fans, the prior blowouts creating a powder keg, the pregame speech by Coach Holtz, “Take care of Miami’s players but leave Jimmy Johnson for me!”, then the pregame fight! The intense game with passionate fans applauding, or booing, every play. The controversial turnovers and officiating. The incredible ending on the two point conversion in the south end zone. Notre Dame 31 Miami 30. The luck of the Irish. The magical afternoon on CBS. Breathtaking…..really.
For me personally, it set a standard that may never be reached again. I cherish that 1988 team and season, but most of all I cherish Saturday afternoons like the ones that were given to us, only by the glory of God on October 15, 1988. It was truly magical. It was a special moment in time. An idyllic setting. A view into the way things were and the way they could be again.
Once in a while, at least here in the Midwest, you’ll still see somebody wearing the infamous “Catholics vs Convicts” T-shirt, or maybe one of those game T-shirts that reads something like: “I was there…..Miami at Notre Dame, South Bend, IN, October 15, 1988”. It’s rare-viewing, certainly welcoming, and when I spot one I always get nostalgic all over again.
After the epic Miami game, Notre Dame went on to a perfect 12-0 season and beat West Virginia led by QB Major Harris in the Fiesta Bowl. That was the last time ND finished undefeated through the entire season…….the Irish’s last National Championship. Can they do it again? Certainly. Will they do it again? Likely. But when?
Even if they do, it will never be quite the same again. 1988 was a special time, a special team, led by a special coach. It was truly a once in a lifetime show. Let’s hope we can witness something even remotely close to this again. You can’t stop smiling, can you?…… Me neither.