Surely, the ghosts of Knute Rockne and Paul “Bear” Bryant were lurking around Sun Life Stadium on Monday night, smiling and shaking their heads at the electric scene, as top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Alabama — two college football programs dripping with lore — battled for the national championship in a highly anticipated matchup with an atmosphere that more than lived up to its buildup.
The game itself, however, was a lopsided dud.Alabama took a 35-0 lead and wound up winning 42-14, much to the dismay of the Fighting Irish faithful, who largely outnumbered Crimson Tide fans in the crowd of 80,120.
Entire sections of Notre Dame fans filed out early in the fourth quarter as Alabama fans rejoiced.
Bryant, the legendary Alabama coach, would have tipped his houndstooth fedora at the sight of Debbie Albano and Donna Long, who flew in from Decatur, Ala., decked in home-sewn houndstooth halter dresses with matching caps, flip-flops and purses. Pinned onto their dresses were buttons that read: “Beat Errbody,” an appropriate slogan for a Crimson Tide team that won its third national title in four years.
Not to be outdone, Albano’s husband, Robin, wore a red suit with white elephant prints — the elephant has been a Crimson Tide tradition since a 1930s sportswriter referred to their linemen as elephants. He also wore giant gold “Bama” bling, gawdy rings on all his fingers, a red fedora, red and white shoes, a gold “Bama” grill across his teeth and a button mocking the Notre Dame feel-good movie, Rudy.
“We started working on these outfits last March,” Albano said. “You can’t buy these in stores or on the Internet.”
Every few minutes, Alabama (and Notre Dame) fans stopped by to pose for photographs with the Crimson Tide mega-fans.
Meanwhile, in the West 32 lot, bagpiper “Captain Mike” Smith of South Bend, Ind., and his drummer, “Future X,” of Fort Wayne, Ind., entertained Notre Dame fans with Irish jigs. Smith’s family is from Aberdeen, Scotland, and introduced him to bagpiping. He and his sidekick have played for tailgate parties at every Notre Dame home game since 2000. They drove 22 hours to South Florida in Smith’s 1992 Mazda and did some piping on Ocean Drive.
“No way we were going to miss this game,” Smith said. “We are totally hooked on the Irish, and the fans really seem to enjoy our music. It’s great fun, and we’ve heard so many wonderful stories along the way.”
Monday’s game was expected to be one for the ages but was a surprising blowout for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama had won 14 national titles, and Notre Dame had won 11. The Irish were undefeated at 12-0 and the Crimson Tide were 12-1. Combined, the schools have produced 157 All-Americans, and brought us the likes of Joe Namath (Alabama ’64) and Joe Montana (Notre Dame ’79).
ESPN executives were salivating at the possibility of record-breaking TV ratings for one of the most-hyped national title games in recent memory. The stadium parking lots were scheduled to open at noon for the 8:30 p.m. game, but they opened nearly two hours early because cars were lined up waiting to get in by 9:30 a.m. By 4 p.m., the Sun Pass express lanes on northbound I-95 were up to $7 as a sellout crowd of 80,000-plus made its way to the game.
Unlike Super Bowls, which draw many dispassionate corporate fans, Monday’s BCS National Championship Game attracted a crowd proudly draped in team colors from head to toe. The Irish fans were especially fired up for the occasion and echoes of “Let’s Go Irish!” could be heard hours before the game in the parking lots and stadium concourses.
Notre Dame, which had lost some of its luster through two decades of mediocrity, was playing for its first national title in 24 years and the team’s national legion of followers was giddy.
The crowd Monday was dominated by Irish fans, including famous followers Vince Vaughn, Jon Bon Jovi and Regis Philbin. When the Notre Dame marching band stepped onto the field for pregame festivities, the roar was deafening.
But it was the Alabama fans doing most of the cheering once the game began. Crimson Tide running back Eddie Lacy scored on a 20-yard run three minutes into the game and again 31 seconds before halftime.
Rosaire Longe, a retiree from Burlington, Vt., did not attend either school. But he showed up for the game in a Notre Dame jersey and said he had never had more fun at a sporting event.
“This was on my bucket list of things to do,” he said. “I had been to Super Bowls, World Series games, Stanley Cups, but never a college football national title game. When I saw it was going to be Notre Dame against Alabama, I booked my tickets. This kind of game doesn’t happen every day. It was five degrees when I left Vermont, and 81 degrees when I got off the plane here. And this is quite the scene here, like nothing I have ever seen in all my years. So glad I made the trip.”