The Irish are Coming. No, They’re Here.It was the late 1970s, and being a great father, it was only natural to take the kid to see Notre Dame play at Miami. Notre Dame won easily that day, which was no surprise. The Hurricanes had not had a good football team in years; in fact there was thought to giving up the program. We felt sympathy for Miami. A lot of their players came from down here. We had followed some of them in high school. And the kid wasn’t crazy about Notre Dame. He thought they were a bunch of rah-rah hot dogs.
Then a strange thing happened. Howard Schnellenberger took over as coach and suddenly Miami wasn’t so bad. And after a season or so, we saw another Notre Dame team arrive at the Orange Bowl. And this day, miracle of miracles, Miami beat the Irish. Not just beat them. The final was 37-15. It was 1981. The quarterback, a Pennsylvania import named Jim Kelly, was obviously pretty good. We were thrilled. And even more thrilled when Kelly took Miami up to play Penn State, where he had wanted to go but they would not let him play quarterback. Kelly and Miami won that day, and we knew something special was happening with this team. They were really getting good. In fact, now a national power, Miami beat Notre Dame two of the next three years. We were fans.
Then something interesting happened. The kid got a Navy ROTC scholarship and the best school he got in was Notre Dame. He wasn’t that crazy about going. You know, the rah-rah hot dog stuff. But he went and soon became one of those hot dogs himself. Love for the Hurricanes disappeared almost instantly, especially as an intense rivalry developed between two excellent programs. He was near despair in 1985 when Jimmy Johnson’s Miami team mauled the Irish, 58-7, in the Orange Bowl. And estactic three years later, his senior year, when the Irish, under Lou Holtz, won at Notre Dame, 31-30, en route to its last national championship.
And now, after some painful seasons, the Irish are back and the kid, now a member of the Orange Bowl Committee, will be there, hoping for the first national title since his senior year. He won’t be alone. We have discovered over the years that Notre Dame has a big presence in South Florida. It goes back a long time. You can start with the Gore family, who owned the Sun-Sentinel for years. Six of former Gov. R.H. Gore’s children went to Notre Dame. Then there are the Zloch brothers, who came out of what is now St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Three of them played for Notre Dame. U.S. District Judge William Zloch was quarterback under Ara Parseghian. Since then there have been many players at Notre Dame. Autry Denson set a ND rushing record. The current punter, Ben Turk, is from St. Thomas.
And it isn’t just sports. Notre Dame has a dozen alumni clubs in the state, and its grads are prominent in every market. In Fort Lauderdale, Mayor Jack Seiler is a Domer. Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is another. Alabama is a lot closer to Sun Life Stadium but it is doubtful Notre Dame will be outfanned next month. The Irish aren’t just coming. They’re here.