EL PASO, Texas (CBS4) — After a 20-year lapse, it’s time for another chapter in an ornery but historic rivalry that defined college football during the 1980s and became known as Catholics versus Convicts.
Don’t expect the time off to cause any lack of intensity when the teams meet Friday in the Sun Bowl, even if players for the Fighting Irish (7-5) and Hurricanes (7-5) were wearing diapers or weren’t even born the last time these teams faced off in October 1990.
“Whether they remember the Catholics versus Convicts is immaterial,” Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly said Thursday. “What our guys remember is the 2001 national championship for the University of Miami. What they remember are the great players that come from the University of Miami.”
Miami’s interim coach, Jeff Stoutland, said his players are “very much aware of the rivalry.”
“They know they haven’t played in 20 years,” he said. “Both teams are very much aware. You can tell when they get together at different events. This is going to be a great matchup. This is going to be a great game to be at, to watch on TV.”
El Paso is buzzing, with many fans in the heavily Roman Catholic city on the Mexican border excited to cheer for Notre Dame. The West Texas city has an estimated 80 percent Catholic population and the game sold out in 21 hours, the quickest in the bowl’s 77-year history.
Of course, both programs have a rich history.
Notre Dame has won eight national titles and Miami five, and the schools were often slugging it out with national championship implications every time they faced off during the 1980s, the decade of mullet haircuts and the birth of MTV.
Irish linebacker Darius Fleming said his teammates are trying to focus on finishing the season with a victory, but he admitted he’s been hearing from former Notre Dame players about how much the Miami game means to them.
“I know a little about the history, about the rivalry back in the ’70s and ’80s,” Fleming said. “I’m really looking forward to the game and beginning a new part of the rivalry.”
Notre Dame’s drive to the 1988 national title included a 31-30 win over the No. 1 Hurricanes, snapping Miami’s 36-game regular-season winning streak. A year later, the ‘Canes notched another national title after ending Notre Dame’s school-record 23-game winning streak.
In the five most recent meetings, at least one team was ranked in the top 10.
Before the Sun Bowl pairing came out earlier this month, Notre Dame and Miami had already announced plans to resume the series with a 2012 game at Soldier Field in Chicago, then play in South Bend in 2016 and in Miami in 2017.
“Miami has been nationally regarded as one of the top programs. That has been exciting for our players,” Kelly said.
It’s a send-off for a Hurricanes team that has endured a bumpy season, which included the firing of coach Randy Shannon. Miami has hired Al Golden away from Temple, and this will be the final game not only for the team’s seniors but also for several assistants.
Stoutland said when he was named interim coach, he challenged the team to stick it out together.
“We’ve had no incidents, no splintering from the team,” he said. “To me, that’s just a sign of guys caring about each other. It was definitely a challenge.”
Stoutland announced Thursday that Jacory Harris will be Miami’s starting quarterback while Stephen Morris nurses an ankle sprain from practice this week.
“I just feel he puts in the best position to win the football game. We’ve talked to both players this morning about that. Stephen Morris is available if needed,” Stoutland said.
Notre Dame will counter with freshman quarterback Tommy Rees, who stepped in when Dayne Crist went out with a season-ending injury against Tulsa. Rees started the last three games and directed victories over Utah, Army and USC.
Kelly said although Rees struggled against USC, he has gained valuable experience and the admiration of his teammates.
“Standing on the sideline, he’s an 18-year-old freshman,” Kelly said. “When he goes out there and he’s one of the 11, they have a lot of respect for him. That’s Tommy Rees. He’s one of the 11 that our players know can help us win.”
(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)