Saturday, May 19, 2018
Colleges

Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Alabama Crimson Tide bring tradition to BCS championship game

MIAMI GARDENS

It was Notre Dame who invented fourth and 1. It was Alabama that came up with the idea of going for it.

It was Alabama that came up with leather helmets. It was Notre Dame that first tried sticking them into an opponents' ribcage.

And on and on.

Welcome to the Lore Bowl, where the brand names of college football have been preparing for Monday night's championship game for more than 100 years each. Notre Dame and Alabama. These are the teams of your grandfathers, and of their grandfathers, and perhaps even of their grandfathers before them. These are college football's teams for the ages.

And, at last, here they are again.

Fighting over another chapter in the history books.

Let's see: There is the one about Bear Bryant and the one about Knute Rockne. The one where Joe Montana saved the day by eating chicken soup and the one where Joe Namath was kicked off the team for drinking hooch. There was the Four Horsemen, and there was Johnny Musso, the Italian Stallion. There was the Houndstooth hat and the Green Jerseys, and George Gipp and Pat Trammell, and Playing for the Tie vs. The Missing Ring.

Before you get to Nick Saban and Brian Kelly, or to A.J. McCarron and Manti Te'o, or to the other ingredients in Monday night's national title game, you first have to sift through the history of these programs. This is a game for now, but it is also a game for the fans of the history of the sport.

"I love the history," Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert said. "It's why I went to Notre Dame. Even for today's athlete, the history means a lot."

Barrett Jones, the Alabama center, will tell you the same thing.

"At Alabama, we not only play for ourselves, we play for the guys who came before us," Jones said. Jones says he knows his team's history well, and that he has begun to study Notre Dame's.

Yeah? Can you name a Horseman?

Jones looks at you quizzically. A Horseman?

"You know — Notre Dame's Four Horsemen."

"Uh, no. Sorry."

It's okay. Not many modern-day players can. Looking back, they weren't that imposing. They were all under 6 feet tall, and none of them gained more than 800 yards in a season. But after New York sportswriter Grantland Rice saw them throw up 13 points against Army, he immortalized them.

That's the thing about lore. Sometimes, there is a tall-tale aspect to all of it. You can say that about the win-one-for-the-Gipper speech, too. Rockne, the famed Notre Dame coach, once fired up his team by mentioning that Gipp — a former star (and carouser) who died at age 25 — had told Rockne as a dying wish to tell a future team to win a game for him. Rockne didn't mention that for eight years until dropping it on his team.

Good story, but was it any more touching than the death of Trammell, the former Alabama quarterback who died at age 28 in 1964? Probably not.

Then again, there is the championship grab. Alabama claims 14 titles, for instance, including one in 1941 where it happened to finish, oh, 20th in the AP balloting. Speaking of the AP, it has named each team a champion eight times since 1936.

In Alabama, there is a feeling that most of the hype always has pointed toward Notre Dame. For instance, Notre Dame once had a Heisman winner (Paul Hornung) who won only two games. Bryant never had a Heisman winner on any of his six national title teams.

"I think there is a perception that Alabama people hate Notre Dame," said Kirk McNair, an author of two books on Crimson Tide football. "I'm not saying that's not true, but it's not for the reasons that people think. It's not because of the six head-to-head games (five won by Notre Dame)."

Why then? Start with 1966, when Alabama was going for a third straight national title. Behind Ken Stabler, the Tide went 11-0. But Notre Dame played for a tie in a 10-10 game with Michigan State, and for whatever reason, 9-0-1 was good enough for the voters. In Alabama, that is still called the Year of the Missing Ring.

Then there was 1977, when Alabama was the highest-ranked team to win a bowl game. Yet, Notre Dame leapt over the Tide in the final rankings.

"There is a feeling that only Notre Dame could have done that," McNair said. "That was another time Alabama could have won three in a row (it would win the '78 and '79 titles)."

Then there was 1973, when Notre Dame beat Alabama in a 24-23 Sugar Bowl. That one still burns Alabama fan. So, too, does the final poll of 1977. So, too, does the Tide's 1-5 all-time record against the Irish.

This one? This one is for all of that. Most of all, it's for this year. It's for self-image and swagger and a championship.

Win this, and in a hundred years, other fans will still talk of it.

Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.

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