Different venue, very different uniforms -- but a familiar foe nonetheless.
Lacking in the drama from some of their classics but with more than enough at stake for two seemingly revived programs, No. 9 Notre Dame's 25th meeting Saturday with Miami will put a new twist on one of the sport's most intense rivalries, as it's the fourth installment of the Irish's "Shamrock Series" -- when the school takes one home game to a major city and presents a taste of 21st-century life to a historic program.
Chicago's Soldier Field is the venue of choice for the Irish this season, following the Alamodome, Yankee Stadium and FedEx Field. Athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at the team's preseason media day Aug. 16 that the annual off-site home game is in the cards through at least the 2016 season, with sites but not opponents nailed down. Next year's will feature Arizona State at Cowboys Stadium.
This year's event drew plenty of preseason attention when Notre Dame revealed its eccentric uniforms for the game — specifically, a helmet featuring a 60/40 gold and navy split with a leprechaun on one side, accompanying new navy jerseys with gold numbers.
The Irish wore different green jerseys in their past two Shamrock Series contests, against Maryland and Army, also wearing a sparkling gold helmet with a lime-green shamrock decal in last season's game just outside Washington, D.C.
"Because the game is now part of something that is going to last and has its own identification as the Shamrock Series, we've decided in a very conscious way to take this and use it as the one time each year that we modify our uniforms," Swarbrick said in the preseason news conference revealing the uniforms. "Again to make it a special and different event, to embrace the notion that we're going to bring an exciting and new opportunity to us when we come to a city, and part of that is the uniform."
The games also give the Irish the chance to test out other potential additions to their own home venue -- namely, a giant video screen, which has been the subject of much debate when discussing the future of Notre Dame Stadium.
Swarbrick reiterated his desire for the Shamrock Series to continue after Notre Dame joined the ACC in a scheduling agreement last month. Two weeks ago, he shot down reports that Notre Dame was negotiating with Connecticut to have their 2014 game played at Boston's Fenway Park, but he has stated that historical significance plays a big role in these matchups.
"These games work best, clearly, when they tell a story," Swarbrick said in August. "Army in Yankee Stadium was an example of that. Renewing the Miami rivalry is a great example of that. Or having a regional opponent [Maryland] as we did in Washington, D.C. That's when this will work best. If it's just another opponent in another venue, it's a tougher deal."
So Saturday brings the Hurricanes, leaders of the ACC's Coastal Division who are riding a surprising 4-1 start after two dramatic conference wins, all under the cloud of looming NCAA sanctions after the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
The Irish crushed Miami in the 2010 Sun Bowl to cap coach Brian Kelly's first year. Although this year's contest might not feature the hate from Gerry Faust's 1985 finale (a Hurricanes rout) or the "Catholics vs. Convicts" tag from their 1988 meeting (a one-point Irish win in their most recent national title season), the history is not lost on those taking the field this weekend.
"I think they're very much aware of Miami and the tradition and the rivalry, dating back to 1985, where, obviously, Notre Dame was beaten handily in that game, and then of course coming back in and having a great victory against them," Kelly said Tuesday. "So they know a little bit about the history and tradition of the Miami game because everybody talks about the history and tradition.
"These guys weren't born, so it's always important to impart a little bit of the tradition to our players. But they're focused on what this football team is at 4-1, the kind of schedule they've played, the teams they've beaten. I think that's our focus, and I know it is for our players. They're focused on this team more than the tradition and the history because if they're not, they're going to get beat."