Alabama vs. Notre Dame: Best of the best

Coaches Paul “Bear” Bryant of Alabama and Ara Parseghian of Notre Dame met before the 1973 Sugar Bowl, the last time the Crimson Tide faced the Irish with a title on the line. 

When Alabama and Notre Dame square off for the BCS championship on January 7, they will be playing for college football supremacy — not only for the 2012 season but for all time. Since the Associated Press began ranking team in 1936,  Bama and ND have each finished number one eight times, more than any other school. Overall, the two schools have combined for 25 national titles, 14 by Alabama.

Going into this year’s BCS championship game, the Lou Saban led Crimson Tide have won two of the last three BCS titles. Meanwhile, the Irish last ranked first in the AP poll under Lou Holtz in 1988.

Notre Dame has won five of six meetings with Alabama. Their very first meeting, on New Year’s Eve 1973, was one of the most famous games in college football history. Both the Tide and the Irish entered the Sugar Bowl at Tulane University in New Orleans with undefeated records. Alabama was ranked number one by both the AP and UPI (Coaches poll), with Notre Dame in the top four in both polls. Legendary coaches Paul “Bear” Bryan and Ara Parseghian were meeting for the first time.

In a preview story, Sports Illustrated said: If ever there was a bowl game made in heaven…it is Alabama vs. Notre Dame. And before the game, ABC broadcaster Howard Cosell said: “At Notre Dame football is a religion; at Alabama it’s a way of life.”

A 93-yard kickoff return by Al Hunter in the second quarter sparked the Irish to a 14-10 halftime lead. Early in the fourth, Alabama scored on a trick play — a 25-yard touchdown pass to backup quarterback Richard Todd, to go in front 23-21. But kicker Bill Davis mixed the extra point and that would prove costly.

Notre Dame got a field goal to take the lead with a little more than four minutes remaining. Shortly after, the Irish were backed up on their own 3-yard line, but quarterback Tom Clemens connected on a 35-yard pass to reserve wide receiver Robin Weber on a third and long. That got ND out of trouble,and the Irish held on for the victory. Notre Dame was voted national champion by the AP but Alabama won the UPI Coaches poll.  .

The teams met the next year in the Orange Bowl, and ninth-ranked Notre Dame edged second-ranked Alabama 13-11 in Parseghian’s final game. Alabama’s only win in the series was a 28-0 victory in 1986. ND and Bama last met in 1987, and the Irish ran away with a 37-6 win in South Bend.

History lesson: If you consider 1936 as the beginning of the modern era in college football, as most experts do, Alabama and Notre Dame are kings with eight number one rankings apiece. Oklahoma has won seven and USC and Miami five apiece. Going back to the beginning of college football in 1869, Princeton claims 28 national championships and Yale 26. Princeton won the last of those championships in 1950.


Heisman Trophy no guarantee of NFL stardom

Jim Brown, perhaps the greatest running back in NFL history, did not win a Heisman.

Winning the  Heisman Trophy is a  tremendous honor. It may be the most important individual award in sports — certainly at the collegiate level. Yet it hardly guarantees a seat at the NFL head table.

Consider this — what do Jimmy Brown, Joe Montana, below right, Johnny Unitas, Walter Payton and Peyton Manning have in common? None of them won a Heisman Trophy. Neither did Jerry Rice or Lawrence Taylor or Reggie White.

All of them are listed in the top 10 of the NFL Network’s 100 greatest players in NFL history, a list compiled by a blue ribbon panel of current and former NFL coaches, players, executives, and media.

The first Heisman Trophy winner on the NFL top 100 list was 1988 winner Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State, ranked 17th. Only five others on that list were Heisman Trophy winners:

40. OJ Simpson (USC, 1968)
46. Roger Staubach (Navy, 1963)
55. Earl Campbell (Texas, 1977)
77. Tony Dorsett (Pitt, 1976)
85. Marcus Allen (USC, 1981)

Only eight of the 78 Heisman winners are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – the six above plus Doak Walker (SMU, 1948) and Paul Hornung (Notre Dame. 1956)

A total of 19 Heisman winners were the first pick in the NFL draft, including the first winner — halfback Jack Berwanger of the University of Chicago, the first player to be drafted by the NFL in its inaugural draft in 1936. Traded from the Eagles to the Bears, Berwanger opted not to sign in order to preserver his amateur status and compete for a spot on the US Olympic team in the decathlon.

And since 1986, only three Heisman Trophy winners were number one picks in the NFL draft — Carson Palmer of USC in 2002, Sam Bradford of Oklahoma in 2008 and Cam Newton of Aubun in 2010.

Only three Super Bowl MVPs were Heisman winners — Staubach, Allen and Jim Plunkett, the only quarterback to start and win two Super Bowls and not make the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Perhaps one day recent Heisman winners like Cam Newton (Auburn, 2010) and Robert Griffin III (Baylor 2011) will gain NFL immortality. And this year’s winner, Johnny Manziel (Johnny Football) from Texas A&M, is just a freshman. But it’s still way too early to make that call.


The 10 biggest routs in Giants history

Alex Webster bulls his way into the end zone as the Giants trounce the Bears 47-7 in the 1956 NFL Championship game at Yankee Stadium.

There are wins and there are routs. Blowouts. Total domination. The New York Giants have experienced their fair share of gridiron glory in the 87 years since Tim Mara brought pro football to New York in 1925 — including four Super Bowls and eight NFL championships overall

Here are the biggest of the big, the 10 most dominant wins in Giants history.

1. Giants 47, Bears 7, 1956 — The Giants cap off their first season in Yankee Stadium by crushing the Bears in the NFL Championship game. Alex Webster runs for a pair of touchdowns and Charlie Conerly throws TD passes to Frank Gifford and Kyle Rote as New York races to a 34-7 halftime lead and wins easily.

2. Giants 41, Vikings 0, 2001 — Quarterback Kerry Collins tosses a club playoff record five TD passes to lead the Giants past Minnesota in what remains the largest shutout margin ever recorded in an NFC Championship game.

3. Giants 49, 49ers 3, 1987 — Phil Simms, right, throws four TD passes, Joe Morris runs for two,  and Lawrence Taylor takes a Joe Montana pass to the house as the Giants rout San Francisco in the divisional round en route to the first Super Bowl in team history.

4. Giants 48, Browns 7, 1959 — Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote and Alex Webster all score touchdowns as the G-Men build a 48-0 lead and roll to the Eastern Conference championship.

5. Giants 53, Redskins 0. 1961 – Y.A. Tittle connects  with Del Shofner for three TDs, linemen Dick Modzelewski and Jim Katcavage record safeties, and the Giants outgain the Redskins 383-82.

6. Giants 36, Redskins 0, 2005 — In their first game since the death of beloved owner Wellington Mara, Brandon Jacobs, Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey all score touchdowns and Jay Feely kicks five field goals in a shutout at the Meadowlands.

7. Giants 62, Eagles 10, 1972 — Norm Snead throws three TD passes and Randy Johnson two and Ron Johnson runs for a pair of scores as the Giants post the most points in team history.

8. Giants 56, Eagles 0, 1933 — Led by Hall of Famers coach Steve Owen, left, and fullback Ken Strong, along with passing leader Harry Newman, the Giants rout Philadelphia at the Polo Grounds in the first meeting ever between the two teams.

9. Giants 33, Browns 6, 1963 — The Giants roll into Cleveland and rout the previously unbeaten Browns behind four Don Chandler field goals. Adding insult to injury, the Giants block the extra point after a late Cleveland touchdown.

10. Giants 49, Packers 3, 1948 — Charlie Conerly throws for three TDs and runs for a fourth score as the Giants overcome an early 3-0 Packer lead with seven straight touchdowns in Green Bay.