Almost a quarter century ago, back when Notre Dame was last this kind of relevant at football, the holy school looked down from on high with condescension at the University of Miami. Sanctimonious Notre Dame earned its championships; we microwaved ours. This created uncommon hostility for what were supposed to be fun and games. Notre Dame legend Tim Brown admits in adulthood that he was afraid those thugs who played for UM were going to beat him up in the parking lot after the game. Notre Dame fans called UM Coach Jimmy Johnson “pork-faced Satan” because merely “Satan” was somehow not quite strong enough. The rivalry was billed as Catholics vs. Convicts, but former Notre Dame Coach Lou Holtz says today that was totally unfair ... because not all his players were Catholic.
We don’t like Notre Dame much in these parts.
More recently, Alabama has been hogging the college football titles ... led by former Miami Dolphins Coach Nick Saban, who fled South Florida in deceitful disgrace to go there, becoming as unpopular a sports figure as South Florida has ever known. He and Alabama have been king of Pro Football Junior since then, and the Dolphins have stunk, Notre Dame and Alabama doing a good job of reminding us that it has been a long time since we were good at any kind of football, college or pro. Saban already has a statue outside the stadium in Alabama, even though he has been there only five years and is, you know, alive (or undead, given that he spends weeks at a time chewing off the faces of reporters). Symbolically, Alabama ran off Mike Shula, the son of Miami pillar Don Shula, to make room for Saban, meaning that pork-faced Saban somehow desecrated just about everything our beloved god Don Shula treasures.
We don’t like Alabama much in these parts.
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But, man, the party we have thrown for these people, as they finally play tonight for the championship in The Biggest Game Ever Played In The History Of History since the Last Biggest Game Ever Played In The History of History. It’s like organizing the wedding for the woman who cheated on you and the man with whom she cheated (after he beat your grandfather up and she got custody of your dog). Can’t imagine the party we would have thrown for these folks if we actually liked them.
Walk with me now, down our most famous stretch of sand, this party gathering life the way storms gather strength. Below the parasailers and blimps and message-trailing airplanes on South Beach, under the temporary zipline, Pro Football Junior spent the salsa-ing weekend in our fiesta town, swerving toward tonight’s noisy climax to this season-long fireworks show like a bloated man with spilling martinis in each hand. Our airports have teemed with private jets and pinballing people, and our sold-out hotels have overflowed with overindulging sports intoxication, all these rivers of cash seeming to converge right here at Ocean.
Closed for traffic. Open for business. That’s what Ocean Drive was all weekend, as it is for Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve and all the best parties, so that all that consumption could spill right past all those cooing restaurant hostesses in tight clothes and into the street. This is the strip where tourists come to strip, when they want to feel Miami’s On Steroids, and this might explain why so many of the fans in town actually spent the weekend consuming two beer bottles turned upside down in a giant red tub of margarita mush even though it was not yet noon. When the movie helicopters float over to capture an aerial view of neon paradise, whether it be for Scarface or Bad Boys, this is where they start, and today in the middle of that postcard is, incongruously, a giant and yellow inflatable field-goal post.
We don’t need no stinking rallies for pep. South Florida dresses up real nice, pretty as can be, for the best galas in sports; we’re just not so great at the more mundane cocktail gatherings that fill out so much of the rest of the sports calendar. But BIG, we always do the hell out of that. Can’t imagine how all those pale people from the sacred school of Notre Dame reacted when they stumbled upon the loud transvestite song-and-dance show outside the Palace Bar. This game, it is almost as large as those transvestites.
(Speaking of the pale, South Beach per square foot has to lead America in pink people this week, all those winter-white folks gorging without restraint on our sun and our booze. Not a lot of places in America that allow you to go shirtless the first week of January, you know? Not many things, either, that can make these tourists take off all that Crimson red or Irish green pride on their T-shirts this particular week, but our sun and booze and our sex appear to be some of them, although you’d be better off not imagining the latter given the effects of the former.)
The local exercisers and cuddlers lost a chunk of their famous beach to Pro Football Junior last week, hence the zipline and the tents and all those grills giving off the delicious scent of cash, this “Fan Experience” brought to you by A Corporate Sponsor. You can take a free picture with the coach’s trophy in that tent, brought to you by The Soda Corporate Sponsor. You can have advanced electrolytes brought to you by Another Liquid Sponsor. A man writes on a chalkboard that Brown, a Notre Dame Heisman winner, will be here at 3:30 p.m. for photos and Alabama Heisman winner Mark Ingram will be here at 4 p.m., human heroes as paid props brought to you Another Corporate Sponsor.
“Official” merchandise is everywhere, but an unofficial local entrepreneur takes coconuts and straws out of a battered cooler for those tourists who don’t need advanced electrolytes in paradise, and a tour guide whizzes by with his group on Segways. He allows for pictures of the former Versace Mansion and tells his tourists as fact that there are “350 million people” in town for the big game, which suggests some of the facts on his tour might be totally made up (that’s larger than the population of the United States).
A handful of the 349,918,000 pour souls who can’t be at the game wander Ocean Drive holding up “Need tickets” signs to their chest, less happy than their surroundings, looking more desperate than even those two excessively-pink Alabama fans ogling the bikini-wearing rollerblader. “Roll Tide!” replaces “Hello” whenever Alabama strangers see each other, and the “Welcome To The Jungle” of Guns N’ Roses immediately and incongruously morphs into salsa music as you walk past restaurants that have expanded their outdoor seating into the street.
Every loud and partying dance step takes you closer to tonight, the noisy exclamation point on Pro Football Junior’s season. Notre Dame has more national championships than any school ever — nine. Alabama is second with eight. Both schools are inordinately proud of their football tradition, so history’s championship gap either grows or is erased over three hours tonight. Notre Dame, a religious school, versus Alabama Football, a religious zeal. One group of very pink people is going to leave paradise totally crushed, and the other is going to have happy reasons to consume more of South Beach and somehow turn even pinker.