Seminoles, Irish share hype, not hate, for showdown Nation's top teams pour on the respect COLLEGE FOOTBALL


This isn't like the 1988 Notre Dame-Miami game, when those collectors' item "Catholics vs. Convicts" T-shirts were the rage around South Bend, and the two teams rumbled in the tunnel before pre-game introductions.

Nor is it like most of the recent meetings between the Hurricanes and Florida State, when late-night trash-talking has filled telephone lines between Coral Gables and Tallahassee for weeks leading to what Floridians call "The Game."

There's plenty of hype, and hope, for Saturday's game between the No. 1 Seminoles (9-0) and the No. 2 Fighting Irish (9-0), but no apparent hate. No built-up animosities from past meetings. Only a few friendships, including one between the head coaches, being put on hold.

And lots of long-distance respect being espoused by both schools.

"Miami is a little more personal to my players," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said yesterday. "Playing at Notre Dame doesn't have half the importance to them [the Seminoles] as it does to me and people of my generation. I know about the tradition of Notre Dame, the magic of Notre Dame. My kids don't."

Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz said: "The only thing that makes this important [to the players] is the magnitude of the game. You put Miami or Michigan out there, and there's some feeling. We have a great amount of respect for Florida State, but I don't know if my players look at them any differently than any other great team we've played."

The winner of this week's showdown at Notre Dame Stadium, especially if it's the one-touchdown underdog Irish, will have the inside track on this year's national championship. Even if Florida State is left standing, the Seminoles have to play at No. 8 Florida two weeks later.

And, as Holtz said: "I don't think this is a game to solve Bosnia or Somalia. I don't know why it's that big a deal if they aren't going to award the national championship afterward. It's just like Northwestern or Navy -- if we lose."

But unlike some recent meetings between No. 1 and No. 2 teams, there is little in the way of history. This marks the 28th overall matchup of the nation's top two teams, but only the second time these schools have played. In the midst of a disappointing 6-5 season in 1981, Florida State beat a 5-6 Notre Dame team -- with first-year coach Gerry Faust -- in South Bend, 19-13.

"There's a lot of history [at Notre Dame], but most of us weren't around when that history was being made," said Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward, who has recovered sufficiently from the bruised ribs that kept him out of last week's 49-20 victory at Maryland. "They've had a lot of success in the past and in the present. We just have to respect that. We know it's going to be a very tough game for us."

Notre Dame linebacker Justin Goheen said: "What impresses me a lot about Florida State is that, as good as they are and as quick as they are, they are very sound. With a lot of teams that good in the skilled positions, the coaches just let them play. But Bobby Bowden does a good job at keeping them fundamentally right."

That could be the difference between this year's Florida State team and its recent predecessors, teams that had talent, but failed in big games and crucial situations.

The tone for those teams was set by Deion Sanders or Terrell Buckley or Marvin Jones, players who often, but not always, backed up their big words with big plays. The personality of this year's team -- minus a couple of exceptions such as defensive back Clifton Abraham -- is set by the Bible-toting, cliche-quoting Ward.

Ward makes inflammatory remarks even less frequently than he makes mistakes, and considering his ratio of 16 touchdowns to one interception this season, it's unlikely he'll say anything derogatory about the Fighting Irish.

"I've never known Charlie to say anything bad about anyone," Florida State basketball coach Pat Kennedy said yesterday about his point guard.

About the only hint of a rivalry is between Bowden and Holtz, and it seems to be a mostly friendly one at that. Their relationship dates to 1959, when Bowden was in his first year at Samford and Holtz was a graduate assistant at Iowa.

Bowden was among a group of young coaches to visit the campus for spring practice, a few months after the Hawkeyes had won the Rose Bowl. Holtz was their chaperon. The friendship grew when Holtz, then in the Army Reserve, was on his way to a honeymoon in Florida and Bowden was an assistant at Florida State.

"He and his wife stayed at the Bowden motel," Bowden said yesterday. "He was like me in those days -- broke."

Their friendship has not been without rough moments on the field. After Bowden's Samford teams beat up on Holtz's William & Mary teams a couple of times in the early 1960s, Holtz accused Bowden of running up the score.

When they met in the 1972 Peach Bowl between West Virginia and North Carolina State, Holtz returned the disfavor.

"He got me bad," Bowden said, jokingly, recalling a 49-13 victory for the Wolfpack.

Still, the two have managed to remain friendly. Bowden once employed a young graduate assistant named Skip Holtz, now Notre Dame's offensive coordinator.

The two head coaches still speak on occasion, though their impending showdown has kept either from picking up the phone to chat this season.

For now, though, there is only hype. And hope. And long-distance respect.


Florida State coach Bobby Bowden is having a difficult time getting his warm-blooded players ready for the elements opposing teams often meet up with in South Bend, Ind., in mid-November.

Bone-chilling winds. Snow. And a field that will be turned to mush by halftime, negating Florida State's speed.

Bowden does not plan to call for hourly weather updates, but he does plan to have two offensive game plans, depending on the weather at kickoff.

"If the weather's bad, it's going to come down to who has the best defense and who can handle the ball," Bowden said.

Actually, the forecast for Saturday isn't too bad, calling for temperatures in the high 40s or low 50s and rain. They're conditions the Seminoles have played in, and won in.

"We've won those games, but our scores have been cut down to a third," Bowden said. "And that's not going to get it done at Notre Dame. But there's not a thing I can do about it [the weather]."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad