College football royalty

What makes tonight’sBCS National Championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama so attractive to me isn’t necessarily the here and now, but the there and then.

These are two of the biggest names in college football. I would probably say they are the biggest, with apologies to Michigan, Ohio State, USC, Penn State, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida State, Miami (Fla.) and perhaps a handful of others. It just doesn’t get bigger, on a historical scale, than Notre Dame-Alabama.

These two programs have accounted for 39 national championships (remember, there used to be a bunch of different organizations that crowned champions back in the day). They have produced some of the biggest names in college football history. And both schools have a Who’s Who of former head coaches.

It’s against that historical backdrop that Notre Dame and Alabama will play tonight, and I can’t wait. This is the first meeting between the teams since 1987 and all six of their battles came in a 14-year span, starting with the 1973 Sugar Bowl which was won by the Irish, 24-23. In the 1975 Orange Bowl, Notre Dame won another close one, 13-11.

This should be a great game tonight and I’m pulling for Notre Dame. I don’t ever recall pulling for the Irish before and I’m not 100 percent sure why I’m with ND tonight. I suppose it has to do with the SEC domination of the past several years. I’m tired of it, as I suspect most without a special interest in that conference are, too.

What I’ll appreciate most about tonight’s game, though, are the memories I have of these teams from years past.

Notre Dame’s coaching tree includes Knute Rockne (105-12-6 from 1918-30); Elmer Layden (47-13-3, 1934-40); Frank Leahy (87-11-9, 1941-43, 1946-53); Ara Parseghian (95-17-4, 1964-74); Dan Devine (53-16, 1975-80) and Lou Holtz (100-30-2, 1986-96).

The Alabama counterparts include: Wallace Wade (61-13-4, 1923-30); Frank Thomas (115-24-7, 1931-46); Paul “Bear” Bryant (232-46-9, 1958-82); Gene Stallings (62-25, 1990-96) and current coach Nick Saban (62-13, 2007-present).

Saban’s .827 winning percentage is a few ticks ahead that of Bryant’s .824, believe it or not. We’ll be watching one of the greatest coaches in college football history at work tonight on the Alabama sideline.

Notre Dame has produced six Heisman Trophy winners: Angelo Bertelli, 1943); Johnny Lujack, 1947; Leon Hart, 1949; Paul Hornung, 1956; John Huarte, 1964; and Tim Brown, 1987. Some of the other great Irish players from yesteryear include Joe Montana, Joe Thiesman, Raghib Ismail, Tim Brown, George Gipp, Ross Browner, Tony Rice, Frank Carideo, Jermone Bettis, Chris Zorich, Alan Page and Justin Tuck.

Alabama’s only Heisman winner is running back Mark Ingram, who won in 2009. But Alabama has a long list of greats, including Trent Richardson, David Palmer, Derrick Thomas, Cornelius Bennett, Ozzie Newsome, John Hannah, Don Hutson, Lee Roy Jordan, Harry Gilmer, Ken Stabler, Bart Starr and Joe Namath.

This game tonight is dripping in history. The more I write about it, the more I can’t wait to see it played. If only Brent Musburger wasn’t doing the play-by-play for ESPN. But I’ll be out with friends watching on a big screen. Chances are, I won’t hear much of the commentary.

Alabama, last I read, is a 9 1/2 point favorite. That seems crazy for several reasons. Notre Dame goes into this game ranked No. 1, undefeated. The Irish have played a difficult schedule and come through unscathed (thanks, Pittsburgh kicker).

I don’t know that Notre Dame wins tonight, but I can’t imagine that it won’t be a game that goes to the finish. I will be shocked if Alabama covers the spread.

Notre Dame has played 1,211 games in its history and won 864, with 300 losses and 47 ties.

Alabama has played 1,190 games with a record of 826-321-43.

That’s remarkably close, and I think tonight’s game follows suit. I think Notre Dame pulls the upset, in fact, and wins, 21-17.

Thanks for reading and have fun with this one. Games like this don’t come along often.