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.


2 Comments on “Alabama vs. Notre Dame: Best of the best”

  1. brad884 says:

    I’ve talked to the Tight End from Notre Dame that made the ‘catch’ in 1973. Super nice guy and that may have been the biggest play of that game.

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