Alabama’s Nick Saban and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly shook hands in front of the BCS national championship trophy Sunday morning at the Harbor Beach Marriott Resort in Fort Lauderdale.
The next time they shake hands after midnight Monday at Sun Life Stadium, one of them will end up lifting the crystal football over his head moments later.
On Sunday, the 61-year-old Saban and 51-year-old Kelly, who first met 23 years ago when Saban was at Toledo and Kelly was a young defensive coach at Division II Grand Valley State, sat down for the media one last time to preview the big game.
Kelly, whose team is a 9 1/2-point underdog, reiterated what has been said since last week — that this one will come down to who wins the battle in the trenches.
The marquee matchup will feature 2011 Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones and likely future first-round draft pick Chance Warmack of Alabama against a Notre Dame defensive front that includes Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o at inside linebacker and talented linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III.
“This is about the big fellas up front,” Kelly said. “It’s not about the crazy receiving numbers or passing yards or rushing yards. This is about the big fellas, and this game will be decided unquestionably up front.
“Can you get the ball off? Do you have all day? Can you run the ball when you want to run the ball when everybody knows you’ve got to run the football? People were talking about: How do you bring down [Alabama running back Eddie] Lacy, how do you bring down those backs? You don’t. If there’s big holes, I don’t know about you guys, but we ain’t tackling them. We’re not going to get them on the ground.”
If Alabama closes out the championship, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera might get credit for another save. Saban said he showed his players a film of the Yankees closer to get them to understand the importance of focus.
“We just watched a video of Mariano Rivera, and he talked about how he struggled at some time in his career because he was trying to be a perfectionist, and that when he’s in the bullpen, he sees the crowd, he hears the crowd, he knows sometimes that he’s been getting a lot of positive self-gratification for what he does and sometimes getting a lot of negative self-gratification for what he does,” Saban said.
“But when he runs out and they hand him the ball, he’s got one focus; he’s not worried about the crowd, he’s not worried about any of the external factors. One focus: three outs; how am I going to get three outs?
“I think a team’s ability to do that, to stay focused on the things that are going to affect the outcome of the game, are critical in games like this. And you know, you could say, well, that’s nothing; well, believe me, being around young people, being in games like this, that’s something, and it’s something big.”
Tide tradition calls for the team to watch a movie together the night before the a bowl game. Last year, Alabama watched Red Tails before beating LSU 21-0 in the title game. Saban said Sunday he wasn’t sure what which movie the team would watch this year.
Luck of the Irish?
Notre Dame won two regular-season games in overtime and three others by less than a touchdown. Does Kelly believe his team is destined to win it all?
“Honestly, I don’t,” Kelly said. “I think you get what you deserve. We had some close games this year, but to win those close games versus losing those close games, you have to have more than just luck. You have to have a will, a determination. You have to have a confidence.
“And I believe that all of those things have to be built. Every one of those words that I just used have to take place within the workings of your program.
“So if it’s destiny, that would be fine with me. I have not built any programs based upon we’re going to get good luck or we’re a team of destiny.”