FOOTBALL

Notebook: Return of Notre Dame-Miami to south Florida stirs up the rivalry

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — They came in bunches.

On a sunny, humid Saturday in November, they descended on Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.

They brought beer and tequila and turnover chain T-shirts, as well as fake turnover chain knock-offs made with a rope that was painted gold.

They walked down the middle of bustling side roads, holding up Miami-Notre Dame T-shirts sold for a nominal fee. They played music — every kind of music — Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” blurring together with a thumping bass.

They brought grills, and grillz. They brought tents and televisions stationed in the back of their trucks. They brought energy — more than this stadium has seen in years.

Before No. 3 Notre Dame played at No. 7 Miami for the first time since 1989, ‘Cane fans staged a fiesta on the pavement. They far outnumbered the palm trees, and that’s saying something in south Florida.

They came. They came to this big, square-shaped box of a stadium, with posters declaring, “It’s all about ‘The U’” draping from its metal beams. They came to a place with statues of Dan Marino and Don Shula stationed at its gates, to the home of the Miami Dolphins … but tonight.

From far and wide, and in various shades of green and orange and white, they came.

But the Irish came, too. And then were overwhelmed, 41-8, by the Hurricanes.

“I think it’ll have a lively atmosphere, similar to a Michigan State,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly had said on Thursday. “I don’t know that our kids will be star-struck in that respect. I think that they’ve been in big moments and big-game kind of atmospheres.

“There will be some nerves, and they’ll have to settle into the game. But once they get into the game, they’ve settled in nicely. But there will be moments early on where they’ll have to settle into it.”

Those moments never came.

The Rock says

The stakes were high … and not just for the players.

Long before Notre Dame and Miami kicked off on Saturday night, two of the programs’ most recognizable alums upped the ante on social media.

“RISE & SHINE IRISH!!! It’s @NDFootball Gameday! Wonder if @TheRock is up for a friendly wager for tonight’s battle?” tweeted Golden Tate, an Irish wide receiver from 2007 to 2009 and a current Detroit Lions standout.

“I’m down my Golden friend. Don’t take the (butt) whuppin’ personal,” responded Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a Miami defensive lineman from 1991 to 1994 that evolved more famously into a professional wrestler and actor.

“It’s just business. Gonna be a great game. Our boys will play hard. Here we go. ‪#TheU”

“Well Mr. @TheRock Johnson. How about loser has to wear and post on social a picture wearing the opposite team gear,” Tate responded. “I know UA got a lot of @NDFootball gear so should be easy for you to find! I’ll even rock the #TurnOverChain If y’all win! #GoIrish #BeatTheCanes”

“Deal,” Johnson tweeted. “@NDFootball wins, I’ll wear a #23 jersey in honor of the Golden One. @univmiami wins, you’ll rock #94 in honor of the People’s Champ. After the loss, look on the brightside brotha, you’ll finally wear colors of a champion. #TheU”.

In his three-year Irish career, Tate finished with 157 catches for 2,707 yards and 26 touchdowns. But none of that would matter on Saturday night.

By midnight, he’d either be “The People’s Champ,” or “The People’s Chump,” on social media.

Tranquill future

A position change this season and senior Drue Tranquill’s smooth transition to it have vaulted him onto the NFL Draft radar.

A late-round projection for the safety-turned rover, with plenty of questions to answer about durability, but a legitimate pro prospect, nonetheless.

“Rover is starting to become more of a position in the pros,” said draft analyst Scott Wright of draftcountdown.com. “I think the guy who kind of epitomized it, was Deone Bucannon, the way the Cardinals used him after taking him the in first round of the draft.

“There’s a number of other examples. By and large, those types of guys are undervalued on draft day and get pushed down, because of the concerns that they’re considered those ‘tweeners — not quite fast enough for safety, not quite big enough for linebacker.

“But I think we’ve seen there’s a role for them at the next level, and he’s finally kind of settled into a positon that’s perfectly suited for him. Now the question is, will he go back to Notre Dame for another year?”

Tranquill, a mechanical engineering major on track to graduate in December, was posed that very question earlier in the week.

“Those decisions will be made in December and January,” he said. “I’m kind of just focusing on finishing up here and finishing this season. So those decisions will be made at a later date.”

Tranquill had eight tackles in the Irish loss on Saturday night.

Hammer time?

Apparently Notre Dame has its own secret version of Miami’s much-hyped turnover chain.

It’s actually a hammer, a gold hammer senior rover Drue Tranquill revealed earlier in the week.

“We pass it around internally,” he said. “Originally it was during the summer training we would give it out to beast of the week. It was from (strength) coach (Matt) Balis and his staff. And I think it ended in (safety) Nick Coleman’s hands.

“So Nick Coleman had it. We’ve been kind of handing around internally. Doesn’t really symbolize anything we just think it’s cool to have as a defense.”

More on swag

If you’re really budget conscious, a replica Miami turnover chain can be had for $12.99 with free shipping from Walmart. Then again, the chain part of it is described as “non-metal,” and it really doesn’t look all that much like the original.

On eBay, more authentic and metallic versions are being sold anywhere from $29.99 to $124.99. Not to be outdone, Notre Dame #33Trucking hats, available locally for $26, are fetching anywhere from $29 to $84.99 on eBay.

Double duty

As a freshman, Miami QB Malik Rosier was a member of the 2015 Hurricanes baseball team that made it to the College World Series. Rosier saw action in 14 games in his only season of college baseball as a reserve outfielder, hitting .294 with a home run and three RBIs.

By the numbers

Saturday night’s game at Miami was the 15th since the inception of the Associated Press poll in 1936 that the Irish visited an undefeated opponent in November.

In the previous 14, ND was 3-8-3. The wins came against USC in 1988, Pitt in 1982 and Oklahoma in 1957. The ties were with Army in 1946, Michigan State in 1966, and USC in 1968.

Saturday was the first such game since 2004, when the Irish lost at top-ranked USC, 41-10, in the last game that Tyrone Willingham served as head coach of Notre Dame. Interim head coach Kent Baer presided over the 38-21 loss to Oregon State in the Insight Bowl.

• A Notre Dame pep rally, staged by the ND Club of Miami Friday night, drew nearly 1,000 fans at the Clevelander South Beach Hotel.

Staff Writer Eric Hansen contributed to this story.

A Miami fan holds up a turnover chain during the Hurricanes' 41-8 victory over Notre Dame, Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)