In all of college football, there is nothing quite like the sight of those 24-karat helmets.
Notre Dame’s golden-domed team was back under the brightest lights Monday, and although it was not a good game, it was good for the game.
The Irish were fighting for a national championship again after nearly a quarter century.
Notre Dame’s return to glory ended with the first telling possession of the BCS National Championship Game, when Alabama’s tidal wave of a front line cleared a path for running back Eddie Lacy’s 20-yard touchdown run. Bama’s 42-14 victory was the worst whupping in BCS title game history since USC beat Oklahoma 55-19 in Miami in 2005.
But Notre Dame’s presence added heft that an Alabama-Oregon or Alabama-Kansas State matchup would have lacked. With Notre Dame in Sun Life Stadium, the game was as anticipated as any Super Bowl played here, and the seats were packed with a raucous record crowd of 80,120.
That’s the magic of the Notre Dame name. Love the program’s success, hate its sanctimonious image, Irish football inspires passion.
Its loyal fans, who came from far-flung places to witness the climax of a comeback season, saw their team crushed by a dynasty. Repeat champ Alabama’s 28-0 halftime lead was second-largest in title game history to Miami’s 34-0 lead over Nebraska in 2002. Alabama controlled the ball nearly twice as long as Notre Dame and generated 265 rushing yards to Notre Dame’s 32.
The Tide rolled. Notre Dame’s luck ran out.
Still, the game delivered to South Florida tradition so thick you could cut it with a machete. In terms of brand names, this was Ford vs. Chevrolet. The two storied programs, with 18 national championships between them, evoked echoes of Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant, Joe Montana, Joe Namath.
After a long dormancy struggling through humbling seasons under a series of coaches and hearing declarations that the game had passed it by, Notre Dame zig-zagged to a remarkable 12-0 record, winning three games by three points and two by seven, including two in overtime. Manti Te’o was the captivating leader, playing through the loss of his grandmother and girlfriend.
Te’o will go down in Notre Dame lore, but he was mostly neutralized Monday by Alabama’s mountain range of blockers. No sacks, no interceptions, no game-changing plays by the linebacker who finished second in Heisman Trophy voting.
Notre Dame’s vaunted rushing defense was overwhelmed by Alabama’s pulverizing offense. The longest drive Notre Dame allowed all season was 75 yards; Alabama completed four drives of 80 yards or longer. Notre Dame yielded on all five of Alabama’s red zone chances. As predicted, the outcome was determined at the line of scrimmage.
“This is about the big fellas up front,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said.
And that it was. Even the action oozed tradition. Retro football in 2013. Old-fashioned black and blue trench battles. No Oregon Ducks in sight.
Alabama center Barrett Jones and left guard Chance Warmack, all 622 pounds of them, paved the way against Te’o and defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III. Alabama’s other fellas — 311-pound left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, 303-pound right guard Anthony Steen, 335-pound right tackle D.J. Fluker — were not only too big but too powerful for Notre Dame.