The 1992 Sugar Bowl: Where Notre Dame belonged against Florida even more than Cheerios

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame fans of a certain age had Cheerios on their mind Tuesday morning, even if that wasn't their breakfast of choice.

When Notre Dame announced a home-and-home series with Florida for 2031 and 2032, recollections of the 1992 Sugar Bowl matchup between the two teams quickly followed.

The only previous meeting between the two football programs became known as The Cheerios Bowl by the Irish fan base. That's because Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz shared a joke with his team that a waiter apparently made to him at Notre Dame's expense.

"What’s the difference between Cheerios and Notre Dame?" the joke went. "Cheerios belong in a bowl."

Critics argued that No. 18 Notre Dame (9-3) shouldn't have been granted a spot in the Sugar Bowl against No. 3 Florida (10-1). Then the Irish proved them wrong with a 39-28 upset win.

Notre Dame running back Jerome Bettis led Notre Dame with three touchdowns and Irish safety Rod Smith finished with 18 tackles.

Here are some of the highlights from the Tribune's coverage of the 1992 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, followed by PDFs of the three pages that featured the Irish victory in the Jan. 2, 1992 edition of the newspaper.

Proving they belong

From Al Lesar's game story "Irish leave Gators green":

Mission accomplished.

Winning a football game was among Notre Dame's priorities Wednesday night.

Restoring pride in a ransacked defense and proving its worthiness to be matched against No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl were also high on the list.

Then three touchdown runs in less than three minutes in the fourth quarter by Jerome Bettis sealed a stunning 39-28 Irish victory over the Gators.

The win proved Notre Dame was worthy and allowed the Irish to complete their season at 10-3, and it was an appropriate "in your face" for critics around the country and those thousands clad in orange and blue in the Louisiana Superdome.

The win also moved the Irish up from No. 18 to 13 in the final Associated Press poll.

The Irish changed their luck and their color scheme. Head coach Lou Holtz surprised the crowd of 76,447, millions more on television and even a few of his own players by unveiling new jerseys — white with green numerals — and green socks before the game.

Quieting the Gator chomp

From Bill Moor's column "N.D. line bites back at Gators" on the Irish victory:

Notre Dame offensive guard Mirko Jurkovic had seen the jaws of the Gator close one too many times.

The whole week leading up to the Sugar Bowl, Florida Gator fans were slamming their hands together like the jaws on an alligator with an appetite.

"I got so sick of seeing that from Florida fans," said Jurkovic. "Even little babies in carriages were doing it."

Smith corrals Gators

From David Haugh's story "Top tackler Rod Smith won't let this one get away":

Dazed, damaged and slightly delirious, Rod Smith managed an ear-to-ear grin.

"I'm ecstatic," the Irish strong safety beamed after Notre Dame's convincing 39-28 Sugar Bowl victory in the Louisiana Superdome.

"I was knocked around a bit, and actually I'm a little dizzy right now. But I feel real good about what happened out here."

What happened was Notre Dame's defense tightened the screws inside the 20-yard line and in the second half against a lethal Florida offense. What happened was Smith kept himself busy corralling Gator long enough to lead Notre Dame in tackles with a whopping 18.

Smith expressed surprise that he registered so many tackles. But that was modesty and emotion talking louder than his aching muscles.

"I'm 174 pounds trying to make those tackles," the senior said. "I think that's a bad thing for me physically."

The front page of the South Bend Tribune sports section on Jan. 2, 1992.