Dec 27, 2010
South Bend v. South Beach: Sun Bowl Preview
Notre Dame WR John Goodman recently tweeted: "Yall could be kings but ya'll chose acamademics!" -quote from a Miami player. And yes, that's how he pronounced "academics." Hahahaha.
Those are bold words coming from a player on a team that has recently found it increasingly difficult to fill the seats of Sun Life Stadium, borrowed from the Miami Dolphins and Florida Marlins for home games. The 2010 Miami Hurricanes finished with a 3-3 at home, including the first loss to USF in program history which swiftly prompted the firing of head coach Randy Shannnon. That particular Miami player might need to reconsider his statement since his teammates don’t even seem to be kings of their own castle. Needless to say, this currently coachless Miami squad is a far cry from the thug-filled teams of the late 80s and early 90s that gave rise to the thug-image associated with “The U” as featured on ESPN’s 30 for 30 series.
Not that Notre Dame coaches, players, or fans should be satisfied with the state of our program considering our own prolific past. With losses to both Navy and Tulsa, head coach Brian Kelly came under fire from some of the more zealous, irrational, and impatient members of the Fighting Irish fan base during his first year at the helm. Those same fans seem to be singing a different tune after November wins over Utah, Army, and U$C now that Kelly has his lads poised to ride a swelling wave of momentum to a bowl victory. A win over Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl will be essential to maintaining that momentum throughout the offseason, spring practices, and into next year.
In a press conference on December 18, Kelly commented on the state of Notre Dame Football at the conclusion of his first regular season. Despite all of the controversy and adversity, much of the same confidence he showed when he first appeared on campus remained. The most admirable characteristic of his tenure so far has been the unwavering vision he has provided through focus on player development, winning in November, and “getting the defense right.” In terms of player development, he pointed to the tremendously improved play of almost-forgotten seniors Robert Hughes, Brian Smith, and Duval Kamara. With only one year under Kelly’s system, these players elevated their games out of the ruts they had previously been stuck in and all three have contributed significantly to our November winning streak. Just imagine the type of players they could have developed into with four years under the Kelly system. There is no limit to the potential that can be unlocked by our current players with 2, 3, or 4 more years of eligibility, as long as they come to play every day for the right reasons.
Kelly’s most telling quote during the press conference came during his discussion of offensive tackle Taylor Dever and his passion for the game: “Let me put it this way, we have some guys that play because there’s 81,000 in that stadium. Most of our guys would play if not one fan showed up for the game. Those are the guys that I want… We had too many guys here that were interested in the walk from the Basilica, wearing the Notre Dame helmet, and running out before 81,000. That can’t be your prime reason for being at the University of Notre Dame. Now, we’ve changed a lot of that…”
If that quote, reminiscent of the “Irish Creed” that Kelly posted on the wall of the locker room when he arrived, serves as an indicator of where Notre Dame Football is headed, the Fighting Irish Faithful should start preparing now for one hell of a return to glory.
Even though the South Bend v. South Beach matchup on the last day of 2010 does not have the flare that it did during the height of the Catholics v. Convicts rivalry which peaked in 1988 with the “Brawl Miami” game in Notre Dame Stadium (brilliantly recalled by Rocket Ismail here) it represents a first-look at the rejuvenation of our program and a prelude to a reshaped rivalry.
The announcement that Notre Dame and Miami would begin a three-game series two years from now in Chicago’s Soldier Field brought much attention and excitement when it became official this past summer. Not only does the Sun Bowl provide a prequel, but it also presents tremendous opportunities for both programs. For one, both teams have been awarded with 15 bonus practices between the end of the regular season and the bowl. For the Hurricanes, it’s a chance to show off a defense that ranks second nationally in pass efficiency and first in tackles-for-loss. For the Fighting Irish, the prospect of building upon the confident play of our newfound defense and adding an impressive win to a schedule that was recently ranked by the NCAA as the toughest in the nation (with every opponent besides Purdue and U$C appearing in a bowl) has coaches, players, and fans more than excited. For those who will be travelling to El Paso, and the millions more across the nation watching on CBS, hopefully it will offer a great way to welcome in the new year with a victory celebration.