If Alabama were playing Oregon or Kansas State in the BCS national championship game, we wouldn’t be reading articles about how Joe from northeast Philly is a third-generation Ducks fan whose father walked through a blizzard to watch the green-and-gold play back in the ‘50s, and how he has scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings and ticket stubs from days of yore.
But since the Crimson Tide will square off with Notre Dame Monday night in south Florida, we have been treated to weeks of the Irish mystique, not to mention the infestation of Fighting Irish fans who have dusted off their hats, T-shirts, sweatshirts, bumper stickers to display their love for ND – now that the school is winning big again.
Notre Dame alumni are always wearing the colors, as they should be. But when the football team starts having success, out come the yahoos, who can’t be found during down seasons – and there have been a bunch of those in the past couple decades – as evidenced by the low TV ratings Irish games registered on NBC the past several years. They’ll pull on the shirts and don the hats and tell everybody how much they love the Irish, even though you couldn’t find a single person wearing a bit of ND merchandise when the team was losing to Navy.
Well, folks, it’s only going to get worse. Just imagine how insufferable those fans will be after Notre Dame defeats Alabama to finish number one. There will be so many leprechauns running around Philadelphia, you’ll think 1,000 rainbows ended at City Hall. Given the city’s dire financial straits, those sprites had better move fast, the better to keep City Council away from the pots-o-gold.
Unfortunately for those who don’t think Knute Rockne is only a few miracles short of sainthood (despite his Protestant faith), Monday will be a big night for the ND crowd. Everybody knows at least one of these folks. He’s the guy who thinks South Bend is a tough curve on I-95 near the Linc and has a lucky sweatshirt that was once touched by Ron Powlus. And just imagine the smug satisfaction that will emanate from Lou Holtz, a martinet who has convinced most of America that he’s really a kindly grandfather. (If you’re interested in the real Doctor Lou, check this out. )
Yep, it’s going to be tough for a while, especially if you are an Alabama fan. There has been a lot of dynasty talk surrounding the Crimson Tide, which will try to win its third national title in four seasons, quite an accomplishment in today’s mercurial college football world. Coach Nick Saban, for whom winning doesn’t seem to bring even a modicum of happiness, has built a program that has met his astronomically high standards and has some speaking of him with the same reverential tones generally reserved for Yellowhammer State legends Bear Bryant, Hank Williams and Earl Smooter.
Bama is a 9 ½ point favorite in this one, and some think the Tide will smother the Irish offense with a fast, angry defense and gash it with a ground attack that will get stronger as the game moves along. That might just happen.
But it probably won’t.
When Alabama suffered its only loss of the season, to Texas A&M and Johnny Football, the Aggies spread Bama out and hit them for 418 total yards. That’s pretty impressive, considering the Tide surrendered an average of 231.7 yards against its other 12 opponents. (Although Georgia piled up 394 in the SEC title game.) And what kind of attack does the Irish favor? That’s right, the spread. Now, ND quarterback Everett Golson is hardly as effective as Johnny Football, but he does have the ability to work vertically downfield and can run it a little. Notre Dame has a stout ground attack that averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2012.
And then there is Manti Te’o. The senior middle linebacker and Heisman finalist – loyal readers of this space (both of you!) will remember that I cast my vote for him – is the ultimate combination of production, leadership and charisma. He will have a significant impact on the game in many ways. Te’o is the rare college player who not only delivers when the ball is snapped but also lifts the team with his mere presence and personality. That’s big.
Not that Alabama is one of those overmatched outfits Holtz used to compare to the ’72 Dolphins when he coached at ND. The Tide has a pair of sledgehammer backs – T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy – who run behind a line stronger than a whole locker room full of dirty laundry. Bama’s defense surrendered only 16 touchdowns all year and has piled up 81 tackles for loss. Saban has had more than five weeks to prepare for the Irish attack. The last time that happened – in last year’s national title game – Alabama didn’t allow LSU to cross midfield until April.
It’s going to be a classic, all right. And in the end, the Irish will prevail. That’s great news for Fighting Irish Frankie from the neighborhood. For everybody else, not so much.
- Eagles fans may not realize it, but they received some great news late Sunday when Chip Kelly decided to stay in Oregon and collect Phil Knight’s money for at least another year. Forget about the fact that the guy has never spent a second on an NFL sideline. His offensive style would have been death to the other side of the ball. The Gang of Three can now focus on finding an NFL grown-up, preferably one who thinks defense first.
- The NHL has plenty of work to do if it wants to remind casual fans that it still exists. Perhaps it can give away teeth that get knocked out during games. Perhaps it can stage kids’ scavenger hunts in Scottie Hartnell’s playoff beard. It’s great that hockey is coming back, but the league’s mule-headed behavior during the lockout may have damaged its status as a “major sport” irreparably. There’s just too much to see and do these days to worry about internecine fighting on the ice. It can now be stated unequivocally that Gary Bettman is the worst commissioner in professional sports, but you probably already knew that.
- Conference play has begun in earnest, and city teams had better find some consistency, or they will be spending March in unattractive locations. Temple’s strong showing at Kansas on Sunday showed the Owls have enough talent to make a strong statement in the Atlantic 10, but everybody else in town has to find the consistency necessary to thrive or risk sinking in competitive leagues.