The college football national championship game might as well be the “Pick Your Poison Bowl” for Miami Hurricanes fans.
It’s tough for many to decide who they dislike more playing for all the glory on their team’s home turf: The Alabama Crimson Tide or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish?
Notre Dame, a long-hated rival, whipped the struggling Hurricanes this year. Alabama, which dismantled the Hurricanes and denied them a repeat national championship in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, would repeat as the nation’s top team if it wins Monday at Sun Life Stadium.
“My TV won’t be able to turn to that particular channel. I won’t watch,” said Randall “Thrill” Hill, one of the greatest University of Miami receivers who played during the height of the rivalry against Notre Dame from 1987 to 1991.
“If I had to have one of those two teams win – oh my goodness, I can’t believe I’m saying this – it would have to be Notre Dame,” Hill said.
Hill said it’s less about loving the Irish and more about seriously disliking Alabama’s head coach, Nick Saban, who – despite his denials -- took the job in 2006 after a disappointing tenure leading the Miami Dolphins.
“I’m a fan of my community,” Hill said. “And I just do not like the way Saban, with his attitude and personality, came down here and left the South Florida area.”
Saban’s Dolphins legacy – or infamy – haunted him as soon as he landed Wednesday at Miami International Airport, where reporters hit him up with questions about his time in South Florida.
“I made my comments about all that,” he said. “We really love South Florida. We have a lot of great relationships here.”
The Crimson Tide’s football-operations director, Joe Pannunzio, coached at UM until 2011. And its offensive line coach, Jeff Stoutland, held the same post at the University of Miami, where he was named interim coach in 2010, when the Hurricanes lost in the Sun Bowl to Notre Dame.
“I know these guys,” said Don Bailey Jr. a UM center from 1979-1982. “It’s real simple for me: I’m not rooting for Notre Dame.”
Bailey remembers that, before playing against Notre Dame, he and his roommate, a linebacker, were dissed during a hotel elevator ride by a few hulking players from South Bend.
“They asked us if we were in the Miami band,” Bailey chuckles. “From that day forward, it made it real easy for me to root against Notre Dame.”
One of the Hurricanes most die-hard fans, Liberty City rapper-turned-football-coach Luther Campbell, said he isn’t conflicted.
“I root against Notre Dame. I hate them,” he said.
“Notre Dame is treated like someone special, like they’re bigger than anybody else, bigger than anything in college football,” he said. “’They have their own network contract. They’re not affiliated with any conference and they still get to go to the national championship game, all they have to do is go undefeated. They could play cookie-cutter teams and go undefeated. That’s the pope’s team. I like the pope. But I’m not ok with Notre Dame.”
Also, as a coach for Northwestern High School, Campbell has a special bond with Alabama’s star receiver, Amari Cooper, a Northwestern graduate who wanted to play for the Hurricanes at one point.
For filmmaker Billy Corben, who directed “The U” documentary about the Hurricanes, the national-title game can be summed up as two sappy movies about each of the storied programs: “It’s Rudy vs. Forrest Gump.”
“As a filmmaker, a story teller, it’s a lot easier to paint Alabama as the bad guys. Notre Dame is the underdog,” he said. “Ultimately, I’d enjoy an Alabama loss more.”
But there’s not much to enjoy, Corben said, likening the title game to an election. He wants a third party.
“If the national title game was a presidential race,” he said, “I’d vote for Gary Johnson to play.”