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SOUTH BEND – With most Notre Dame football traditions, the current Fighting Irish players can listen to the tales from the old codgers or read the media guide, but they can't tell you what it was like to see some of the great moments in program history on television. That's because they weren't alive when those moments occurred.
Such is the case with the brief but storied history of the rivalry with Miami (Fla.). The programs haven't met in the regular season in 22 years, but there is still something intriguing about this Saturday's matchup at Chicago's Soldier Field (7:30 p.m., NBC).
“I think they're very much aware of Miami,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “(And) The tradition and the rivalry dating back to 1985 where, obviously, Notre Dame was beaten handily in that game (58-7). Then of course coming back and having a great victory against them (31-30 in 1988). So they know a little bit about the history and tradition of the Miami game because everybody talks about the history and tradition.”
In the time of mullets and Zubaz pants, these two teams were heated (or is it hated?) rivals that had “The U” holding the upper hand. The teams met nine times during the 1980s, and the Hurricanes won six of those times by a combined 157 points.
“We understand the history of this ballgame,” Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said. “But we also understand the importance of being ourselves and not necessarily buying into the whole hype of a rivalry game, that's just being ourselves. And preparing the same way, not getting anxious, not getting overly excited, just being calm and just preparing the way we have always prepared.”
Kelly said his team has remained calm through this season's opening four-game win streak. The Irish have climbed to ninth in the latest national polls, and there is no shortage of media or fans touting the greatness of the program once again.
“We'd refer to that as the noise,” Kelly said. “That's the noise out there where they need to focus on the process, and the process for them is every day, the attention to detail, how they go to practice, how they prepare. I would tell you, that is the noise. However, it's also important that they understand the success that they're having, because this bye week was a whole lot better than the bye week after Tulsa (a 28-27 Notre Dame defeat in 2010). They remember that, and I remember that. It's important that there's a balance there. You don't just put blinders on. But what you ask them to do is focus on the task at hand, so there is a balance there as well.”
The “noise” would lead the Irish Nation to believe that special things are on the horizon for this program if Kelly can simply get the quarterback situation to settle down. It's fun for the alumni and fan to daydream about wins over Stanford or at Oklahoma or at USC to close the regular season. But Te'o isn't looking any farther ahead than Saturday, and this team follows his lead.
“I think with our team, coming in we didn't really think of having a fast start,” Te'o said. “We thought of it as the importance of being 1-0, the importance of beating Navy. And after Navy, it was the importance of beating Purdue. And after Purdue, it was the importance of beating Michigan State, and then Michigan and now we have Miami. So we take it day by day, week by week, game by game, and I think when we look back at the end of the season, we will see how we've done. But so far we have done pretty good at just taking it game by game.”