Rob Oller commentary: Irish-Tide matchup comes with a bit of history
The two Alabama fans I know — one born there, the other a rascal who long ago rebelled against the Scarlet and Gray’s stranglehold on Ohio — seethe and shudder at the mention of Notre Dame.
Not being an aficionado of Bama football, their head-shaking reaction always confuses me. Is this a display of extreme disgust — beyond the typical national loathing of Notre Dame — normal for Crimson Tide fans against the Fighting Irish?
“Yes, double dang yes,” the rebel yelled.
Uh, OK. But what is the source of this antipathy toward the Golden Domers? It has to be more than Notre Dame having the audacity to breathe the same rarified air that Alabama fans think is reserved for them, with their nine national championships. Notre Dame has eight titles and would tie Alabama with nine should the Fighting Irish defeat the Crimson Tide in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7 in Miami.
Turns out the cause of the Tuscaloosa tantrums is Notre Dame having made a habit of rolling the Tide.
The Irish have won five of six games against Alabama, all between 1973 and 1987. The first two meetings were particularly painful for Bama fans. The Irish won the 1973 Sugar Bowl 24-23 to finish No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. Despite losing, the Crimson Tide finished No. 1 in the United Press International/coaches poll that was released at the end of the regular season (the coaches switched to a post-bowl game vote in 1974). But because of the head-to-head victory, Notre Dame can always claim to be the true champion.
A rematch occurred in the 1975 Orange Bowl, with Notre Dame again crushing previously undefeated Alabama’s national title hopes. The Fighting Irish (No. 9 in the UPI) defeated the top-ranked Crimson Tide 13-11.
Alabama’s only bright spot was a 28-10 win over Notre Dame in 1986 in Birmingham.
No wonder Bama fans fume at the sight of those gilded ND helmets. Alabama owns most teams, but has no claim on the Irish. Only Texas (7-1-1 vs. the Crimson Tide) is more of a Bama buster than Notre Dame.
Alabama gained a measure of revenge against Texas by defeating the Longhorns 37-21 in the 2010 national championship game. Now, Bama gets another shot at Notre Dame.
It should be delicious to watch. The often-criticized Bowl Championship Series disappears when the four-team playoff begins after the 2014 regular season, but this is a strong matchup. True, many fans are torn on which team to root for — maybe it’s more about rooting against? Alabama is the defending national champion and seeks its third title in four years. Such abundant success breeds jealousy and boredom among the masses. Plus, the Tide play in the Southeastern Conference, which has won six consecutive national titles. Enough already.
Then there is Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are an improbable championship game participant if only because their recent history is riddled with failure. It would make sense that they are the sentimental favorite, yet many find the Irish difficult to embrace. Like a window with layers of grime, Notre Dame suffers from too many years of snooty that cannot be cleaned with one wipe of a feel-good season.
But enough about the emotional trappings of this penultimate BCS title tilt. The game itself should be a good one. This is reminiscent of the 2003 championship game between supposedly overmatched Ohio State and supposedly unbeatable Miami. In this version, Notre Dame plays the part of the Buckeyes, their excellent defense assuring that no blowout will occur. Alabama is not quite as invincible as were those 2002 Hurricanes, but Las Vegas oddsmakers still tab them a 10-point favorite. (Miami was an 11½-point favorite over OSU).
Study the matchups. Normally, that instruction is saved for March Madness, but it also holds true in college football. Both teams prefer to run the ball. Both defenses are excellent at stopping the run. Alabama has the edge in championship-game experience, but sometimes that experience can lead to taking the situation for granted.
On paper, Alabama is favored to win. But this is Notre Dame. History suggests Bama fans should be nervous.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.