FORT LAUDERDALE (AP) — For a fan in the greater Miami area, this national championship game might be a nightmare come true.
On one side, there’s Notre Dame — maybe the Miami Hurricanes’ most hated rival.
On the other side, there’s Alabama — coached by former Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban, whose departure is still the source of great scorn in South Florida.
So what’s a Miamian to do?
Apparently, in many cases, root for no one is the answer.
“This stinks for me right now,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, a Miami native, Dolphins fan and Hurricanes fan, even though he’s a former Florida Gator. “This really stinks. I always go back to the ‘Catholics vs. Convicts’ days and then obviously Nick Saban kind of threw the Dolphins to the wolves. I’m not very happy about this national championship game.
“I can’t even pick one,” Haslem added. “I have a deep distaste for both teams. I can’t even pick one. I usually can slide with somebody. Not this one.”
The Miami-Notre Dame history is storied, and the teams met in a regular-season game in October, the first such meeting in nearly a quarter-century (they played in the 2010 Sun Bowl, as well). Notre Dame won in a blowout, one of the 12 victories that got the Fighting Irish to the national title game that will be played Monday night on the Hurricanes’ home field.
Simply put, the Irish and Hurricanes don’t like each other.
There were accusations suggesting Miami ran up the score on the way to a 58-7 win in Gerry Faust’s final game on the Notre Dame sideline, to some Irish fans getting former Miami coach Jimmy Johnson’s telephone number in the week before a game, and the infamous brouhaha where police had to break up a pushing and shoving match as the teams were exiting the field after pregame warmups in 1988.
And don’t forget those “Catholics vs. Convicts” T-shirts. They haven’t forgotten them in Miami.
“I think at the end of the day, you still want to see a great game,” said longtime Miami resident Desmond Howard, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner for Michigan and now a television analyst. “I think if you’re a football fan, this is what you want to see. I don’t think people are tied into, ‘OK, I don’t want to see Nick Saban win.’ But then again, that brings the drama. This is a drama-loving country, you know? And Miami loves drama.”
Saban has long been the source of debate in South Florida, simply because he decided to leave the Dolphins after saying he would not accept the chance to coach Alabama.
It’s been six years, yet all those wounds that came with Saban saying he wasn’t going to take the job have not healed. When the Crimson Tide arrived in Miami this week, Saban said he was thrilled to be back in South Florida.
Echoing those sentiments was Kirby Smart, his defensive coordinator who also worked with Saban during his Dolphins tenure.
“I want to say this: My stay down here was really great,” Smart said. “I have a son, I’ve got twins at home, one named Weston, who I named after where I lived in South Florida. He went yesterday to the city limits and got his picture taken right there, and he was really happy about that. He’s now 5 years old or fixing to be 5 years old.”
One of the Heat assistant coaches is former Alabama player Keith Askins, and he and Haslem have forged a particularly close bond over their 10 years together with the two-time NBA championship franchise.
Even that doesn’t matter to Haslem, who said he backs all Miami teams. And that’s why, in this title matchup, he roots for no one.
“Can’t change now,” Haslem said. “This is our town.”