NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Charlie Weis rubbed his chin with his right hand, making sure that everyone could see his glittering, gaudy Super Bowl ring.

It’s a familiar pose for the Notre Dame coach when he’s out recruiting, a sure way to drive home the point that this former NFL assistant knows a thing or two about what it takes to eventually play on Sundays.

He’s also got the Fighting Irish mystique on his side, though that’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

“So many people stereotype you and judge you, even when they have no idea what you’re all about,” Weis said Friday, one day after his team arrived in the Big Easy to begin preparing for the Sugar Bowl against local favorite LSU.

“It’s a lot like being the Yankees. Growing up a Yankees fan, you know there’s people who are rooting for you, and then there’s people who say they’ll root for whoever is playing the Yankees. Same thing with Notre Dame.”

Look no further than the guy on the opposite sideline.

LSU coach Les Miles played at Michigan for Bo Schembechler, spent 10 years as a Wolverines assistant and went against the Fighting Irish on plenty of occasions. A big fan of the Irish? Hardly.

“I certainly respect the great history and tradition of Notre Dame football,” Miles said. “I’ve also rooted against them most of my adult life.”

In just two years, Weis restored Notre Dame’s luster after Bob Davie’s mediocre tenure and Tyrone Willingham’s aborted attempt at turning things around. The No. 11 Fighting Irish (10-2) have a chance for their winningest season since 1993, when a last-second loss to Boston College cost them a shot at playing for the national championship.

That also happens to be the last year that Notre Dame won a postseason game, beating Texas A&M 24-21 in the Cotton Bowl. Since them, it’s been eight losses in a row, a streak that is tied with South Carolina (1945-88) and West Virginia (1987-98) for the longest bowl losing skid in NCAA history.

Most of those defeats have been downright ugly, including a 27-9 loss to LSU in the 1997 Independence Bowl. Notre Dame’s last four bowl setbacks have been by an average margin of 21 points.

Weis knows that plenty of people are downright giddy about the prospect of the Irish having that dubious record all to themselves.

No. 4 LSU (10-2) is nearly a 9-point favorite in Wednesday’s Sugar Bowl, the oddsmakers believing that a stifling defense, blazing speed and virtual home-field advantage will be too much for Brady Quinn and the Irish to handle.

LSU ranked second in the nation in yards allowed (238.7 per game) and gave up the fourth-fewest points (12.5). The Tigers’ only losses were both on the road to Southeastern Conference foes: 7-3 at Auburn and 23-10 at Florida, the latter getting set to face Ohio State in the national championship game.

On the offensive side, LSU put up more touchdowns (54) than any school in the SEC, ranking 10th in the country with an average of 33.1 points a game. Junior quarterback JaMarcus Russell had a brilliant season, completing more than 68 percent of his passes for 2,797 yards, with 26 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.

No wonder Miles said with a sly smile, “We think we have some advantages. We’ll see if we can use them.”

But Weis knows a thing or two about winning big games. He’s trying to pass on some of those lessons to his team, which is why he still wears the Super Bowl ring he got from the last of championships he helped capture while serving as New England’s offensive coordinator.

“I wear this ring to show my guys they can be the best of the best,” Weis said.

It also helps when he’s trying to persuade some high school hotshot to sign with the Fighting Irish. Today’s prep stars want to play for a school that can help them get to the NFL. In that regard, Notre Dame fell behind with the two coaches who came before Weis, struggling to bring in the same quality and depth of athletes as schools such as Ohio State and Michigan.

But Weis is working hard to change that perception, and he’s not shy flaunting that big rock to help him do it.

“A kid will tell me that he wants to play for a school that can help him play on Sunday,” Weis said. “That’s when I go into my sick humor and say, ‘So, you want to play on Sunday, huh?”‘

With that, he began rubbing his chin with his right hand, making sure all the reporters could see his glittering prize from the 2005 Super Bowl.

“They usually get the point,” Weis quipped.

On a more serious note, LSU seems to be playing for a higher calling. Miles is firmly convinced that the Tigers were destined to play in this Sugar Bowl, which returns to New Orleans after a one-year exile in Atlanta.

The devastation of Hurricane Katrina made it impossible to play the game in Louisiana last season. But the Superdome has been repaired, and the Tigers are part of what is sure to be another emotional homecoming for a city that’s still locked in the throes of a difficult recovery.

“I can’t imagine it being any other way than LSU playing in the first Sugar Bowl back in New Orleans after the storm,” Miles said. “It just feels right.”


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