Nearly every week of every season of Notre Dame football, 18 to 23 year olds are quizzed about the history between the Fighting Irish and their upcoming opponent. When there’s 125 years worth of competition from which to conjure up ghosts and evoke special feelings from memorable accomplishments, it’s second nature for fans and the media to focus on a rich history.
Notre Dame is focused on the task at hand, not the history between Alabama and the Fighting Irish
History is important, and in the case of this year’s national championship between the No. 1-ranked Fighting Irish and No. 2 Alabama, it’s a sprinkling of red pepper flakes on top of an already spicy matchup. But to a group of young men concerned only with the past disappointments littering their own brief history in South Bend, anything that happened before 2008 is as relevant to them as a public phone booth.
Senior running back Theo Riddick’s historical perspective of the Crimson Tide dates back about 13 months.
“They’re the defending champs,” he said. “So to have them come back this year, we’re very ecstatic about this challenge. You want to beat the best, so we have that chance.”
The Southeastern Conference has an opportunity to produce a national champion for the seventh consecutive year. Even that kind of dominance, which is fresh in the minds of anyone that follows, plays or covers college football, means little Riddick.
“To be honest, it’s kind of insignificant,” he sad. “We don’t really try to focus on things and opinions like that. We can only control so much.”
For the next four weeks or so, television broadcasts and column inches will be devoted to the history between Notre Dame and Alabama. The Crimson Tide and head coach Nick Saban have an opportunity to become the first program since Nebraska (1994, ’95 and ’97) to win three national titles in four years. We’ll see nonstop images of Bear Bryant and his houndstooth fedora.
We’ll hear for approximately the 840th time that Irish head coach Brian Kelly might join the prestigious fraternity of ND head men to win a national championship in his third season on the job. Past players will come out of the woodwork to relive No. 3 Notre Dame’s 24-23 win over No. 1 Alabama in the 1973 Sugar Bowl — the first meeting between the two storied teams. They’ll talk about the three victories that followed.
“We’re not really into all that,” Riddick explained. “We just have to go to Miami and handle business.”
All of it is meaningful, just not to Riddick … not right now. One day, when he’s allowed to look back like everyone else, it will be. He’s still trying to wrap his head around the fact that, after toiling through years of mediocrity, he and his teammates have a shot at the ultimate prize.
“It hasn’t even hit me at all,” he said. “… It hasn’t really dawned on me yet. Maybe this week or next week or maybe the day of it might hit me.”
What’s relevant to Riddick is what both teams have done over the past few months to get to this point. Notre Dame has the top-ranked scoring defense (10.33 points per game) and Alabama is second (10.69). The Irish and Crimson Tide both run the ball for over 200 yards per game. Notre Dame (.750 turnover margin) and Alabama (1.00) each takes care of the football.
“We definitely have a similar style of play, so we’ll see how that pans out,” Riddick said. “… It won’t really mean as much if we don’t get this win, and we understand that.”