'The game of a lifetime' tests speed of Seminoles against power of Irish

November 13, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer SOUTH BEND, Ind.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When Penn State pulled out of its long-standing series with Notre Dame three years ago in preparation of joining the Big Ten, it opened the door for Florida State to jump in.

Little did anyone know what those back-room machinations at the highest level of college football would bring. Even when this season started, today's meeting at Notre Dame Stadium was considered only one of a handful of big games.

It has become much more.

In what has been called everything from "The Game of the Century II" -- No. 1 Florida State's 28-10 win over No. 3 Miami last month in Tallahassee was I -- to "The Game of the Millennium", the top-ranked Seminoles (9-0) will play No. 2 Notre Dame (9-0).

"This is the game of a lifetime for a lot of people," Notre Dame junior linebacker Justin Goheen said earlier this week. "This is by far the biggest game I've played in. Getting to play in a game like this is supposed to be a lot of fun, and it's a great opportunity for our team. But it would only mean something if we were to win."

Florida State junior linebacker Derrick Brooks said: "This is the type of game that will either make you or break you."

It's a game built around contrasting styles, stars and history. There's the speed of the Seminoles and the power of the Irish. There's highly publicized Heisman Trophy favorite Charlie Ward at quarterback for Florida State and unheralded, yet undefeated, Kevin McDougal at quarterback for the Irish. There's the storied lore of Notre Dame vs. the upstarts from Florida State.

It's a game built around the contrasting personalities of the coaches. There's the down-home charm of Florida State's Bobby Bowden, the best coach never to have won a national championship, a 64-year-old running out of time and chances. There's the fast-talking facade of Notre Dame's Lou Holtz, 56, forever poor-mouthing his team, still striving for his place among the school's coaching giants.

But it's a game that will come down to two factors: Notre Dame's ability to contain Ward and Florida State's success in stopping the Irish running game.

With rain in the forecast this morning, but the possibility of dry skies and a 60-degree temperature by the 1:30 p.m. kickoff, the conditions seem to enhance the chances of the Seminoles, a seven-point favorite.

"We are not going to be intimidated," Holtz said. "We are going to go out there and play fine football. We might not win, but I know it's going to be a good game. . . . Florida State is probably the best team in the country, but that doesn't mean

L they're going to be the best team on the field on Saturday."

Bowden said: "There's a lot of things that make this game interesting. But what makes it interesting to us is that we haven't faced a team like Notre Dame that just wads it up and runs right at you. And they probably haven't faced a team like us."

Notre Dame has a history of winning these kind of games, when the odds are stacked against it, when the opponent is considered almost unbeatable.

The Irish did it to top-ranked Miami here five years ago, winning 31-30 en route to Holtz's first national championship.

Under Holtz, the Irish have won two of three games against the No. 1 team, with their only loss coming against Colorado, 10-9, in the 1991 Orange Bowl. (There's also the 10-10 tie with Michigan State in 1966, when Ara Parseghian was accused of playing for the tie. Holtz said that he would go for a two-point conversion if it came down to that.)

There is also a feeling here that "Touchdown Jesus" gives the school's football team some mystical power.

There's a notion that "the luck of the Irish" has something to do with Notre Dame pulling off some of its more incredible upsets.

The Seminoles believe that it's all so much bunk and plan to carry through their tradition of celebrating significant road victories by taking a few handfuls of the hallowed grass at Notre Dame Stadium to their "Sod Cemetery" in Tallahassee.

"You can't rely on some mojo or mystique or anything else," said Florida State junior wide receiver Kez McCorvey, who irritated more than a few Notre Dame fans by referring to Knute Rockne as "Rock Knuteny" earlier this week. "You have to go out and win."

Brooks said; "Once we snap the ball, there is no history."

The Seminoles got a little taste of it yesterday, when they arrived for a look at the 63-year-old stadium. The echoes were sleeping, the air was damp, and the goal posts at one end of the stadium were tilting noticeably to the right.

"Look at those goal posts," said Bowden, whose 1991 team lost its only other No. 1-vs. No. 2 matchup, to Miami, when a field goal in the waning seconds sailed wide right. "I appreciate that."

Freshman kicker Scott Bentley, whose last-minute decision to sign with Florida State instead of Notre Dame (his father's alma mater) last spring left him as an unpopular player in these parts, said, "I wonder if they're trying to psych us out."

No matter.

The goal posts will be straightened by this morning.

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