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Notre Dame determined to turn heads in Chicago, a second home

Max Charlot DaVaris Daniels

Max Charlot, DaVaris Daniels

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The facts: 6:30 at Soldier Field. Ch. 5, 890-AM.

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Updated: November 7, 2012 6:10AM

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame fans flocked to San Antonio in 2009, to New York in 2010 and to Washington in 2011 for the previous incarnations of the university’s annual Shamrock Series neutral-site ‘‘home’’ game. Heck, they even crossed the Atlantic by the tens of thousands to see the Irish play in Dublin this season — and that was technically a Navy home game.

So with more than 17,000 alumni living in the Chicago area, the Irish will feel right at home tonight against Miami at Soldier Field.

Especially the 10 players who hail from the area.

‘‘My whole high school is going to be there,’’ said redshirt freshman DaVaris Daniels, a receiver from Vernon Hills whose father, Phillip, played four of his 15 NFL seasons as a defensive end with the Bears, from 2000 to 2003. ‘‘It’s also going to be exciting playing on the field my dad used to play on. That’s a crazy feeling.’’

For the university, the weekend’s not about football, but rather calling attention to Notre Dame in a major media market. There were a handful of academic programs throughout the week, a pep rally at Millennium Park on Friday, and there’ll be a Mass on Saturday morning at Holy Name Cathedral and two pregame band concerts on the Stadium Green outside of Soldier Field.

‘‘We’re not taking a football game to these sites of the Shamrock Series,’’ athletic director Jack Swarbrick said. ‘‘We’re taking the university.’’

For the Irish players, however, the weekend is very much about football. It’s about maintaining an undefeated record that has them ranked ninth in the nation. It’s about getting a stagnant offense on track against a defense that has allowed 39 points per game against FBS teams. And it’s about testing a third-ranked scoring defense (nine points per game) against an explosive Miami offense that is averaging 35.6 points per game.

Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris threw for 566 yards and five touchdowns in a 44-37 win over North Carolina State last week. And Miami has three other dynamic weapons in speedy tailback Duke Johnson and receivers Phillip Dorsett and Rashawn Scott.

Of course, this is also the rekindling of the old ‘‘Catholics vs. Convicts’’ rivalry from the 1980s and early 1990s, back when both programs were perennial powers. None of the guys playing in this one was even alive in 1988, when Jimmy Johnson went for the game-winning two-point conversion and failed, ending the Hurricanes’ 36-game regular-season win streak and propelling the Irish to the national title.

But thanks to ESPN’s ‘‘30 for 30’’ documentary on ‘‘The U,’’ the Irish know all about the history.

‘‘Miami’s defense back in the day was really exciting to watch,’’ Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. ‘‘Everybody was out there, some headhunters, tracking the ball and busting people’s heads. That was exciting. I want our defense to be like that, too. That’s a goal.’’

With Stanford, BYU and Oklahoma looming large the next three weeks, the Irish can’t get caught looking past the unranked Hurricanes. Given the teams’ history, the gaudy one-time uniforms the Irish will be wearing, and the general hoopla of playing at Soldier Field, the Irish are confident that won’t be an issue.

‘‘It’s exciting, for sure,” Notre Dame safety Zeke Motta said. ‘‘We’re playing in Chicago, we’ve got these cool uniforms — we’re looking forward to it.’’

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