These are two of the chosen teams in the world of college football. Just as every sport has its dynasties, these are two teams that are just that in college football. They are the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. According to the College Football Data Warehouse, tonight’s national title win by the Crimson Tide was their fourteenth with the Irish having 13.
Both teams have won with legendary players and legendary coaches. They’ve won with men and moments that have become iconic in college football. From “win one for the Gipper” to The Bear to Rockne to the Crimson Tide’s goal-line stand in the ’79 Sugar Bowl to the Games of the Century involving the Fighting Irish to these teams’ own history against each other in the post-season it’s almost suffocating how much both of these two teams are woven into the fabric of this game. But it’s not without warrant.
Both of these teams are among the winningest in college football history with traditions and history that has spanned generations and go back to the early 20th century. And even though both have had bumpy roads over the last 20 years (mostly the Fighting Irish), just the fact that these two teams have met up in a national championship situation one more time is something for the history books. The fact that the Crimson Tide is starting a dynasty that is becoming mythical is extra content for those history books.
At what many would argue was the height of both teams’ aura of invincibility, they met in major bowl games in back-to-back years with the national championship on the line both times. They met in the 1973 Sugar Bowl (played on New Year’s Eve, not New Year’s Day) and then the 1975 Orange Bowl.
In the Sugar Bowl, the Crimson Tide came in as the top-ranked team in the country and already with a share of the national title as the UPI (now Coach’s) poll awarded its national champion at the end of the regular season; they stopped doing that after this game. It was back-and-forth throughout with seven lead changes and plenty of drama. Both teams missed extra points, but the Crimson Tide’s was costlier as it was in the fourth quarter and left a window open for the Fighting Irish to sneak out with the win. And this is what happened as they took the lead with a field-goal and then iced the game with a third and long completion from Tom Clements to Robin Weber with Clements throwing from inside his own end-zone. The Fighting Irish won the Associated Press’ share of the national title, sharing the title with the Crimson Tide.
The next year, the Crimson Tide entered the Orange Bowl the top-ranked team in the country. The Crimson Tide, champions of the SEC, accepted an invitation to the Orange Bowl instead of the Sugar Bowl (with the SEC tie-in) because they wanted a rematch with the Fighting Irish. The Crimson Tide never could figure out the Fighting Irish defense in this one and scored their only touchdown in the final quarter. They added a two-point conversion that made the game 13-11. To the Crimson Tide’s credit, they did shutout the Fighting Irish in the second half after trailing 13-0 in the second quarter. On their final drive, the Crimson Tide were nearing field-goal range when Reggie Barnett intercepted a pass for the Fighting Irish and preserved the win. This was Ara Parseghian‘s final game as coach of the Fighting Irish.
Even though tonight’s game wasn’t exciting in any way, it will still be a game talked about with reference to either of these teams. Because of the importance of the game and the teams involved, even a slaughter lives on through the years. The Crimson Tide are writing a new chapter to their storied football history and tonight was the continuation of that new chapter. For the Fighting Irish, tonight was the end of a long and cherished coincidence in South Bend: a coach’s third year with the Fighting Irish and winning a national championship. Frank Leahy won his first title in his third year and so did Parseghian, Dan Devine, and Lou Holtz. This was Brian Kelly‘s third year, but no title. See, there was history all around tonight, some of it obvious and some not so much.