- Both Notre Dame and Alabama football are the stuff of legend, but only one will win Monday
- Jason Kurtz says gold helmets mean Fighting Irish football serves as the gold standard
- Kay Jones gets teary hearing legendary 'Bama coach Bear Bryant's voice during pregames
- Kurtz wants Manti Te'o to wrap his ND career "hoisting the Waterford Crystal football"
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Alabama Crimson Tide face off tonight for the college football national championship. It's one of the most anticipated match ups in years not only because of the teams' play this season but also the rich tradition both teams represent. Two CNN staffers offer their completely biased views on the game, the passion, and even the fashion:
Gold. The most precious of all metals. It signifies Olympic dominance, represents 50 years of marital bliss. As such, it's no surprise that such a color, such a symbol, has become synonymous with a football program so often regarded as the sport's gold standard.
As traditions go, the pregame painting of the Notre Dame helmet is as storied as any. Designed to mirror the university's legendary Administration Building (i.e. the Golden Dome), for decades student managers used actual 23.9 karat gold in the covering that coats the Fighting Irish protective headgear. And while recent updates to the technique have shifted the responsibility to that of professionals, yielding a helmet that shines brighter than ever, the essence of the look remains unchanged.
One solid color befitting the singular entity that sits atop the national rankings. You'll find no logos or letters, no stickers signifying big plays. The only references to wars fought on the battlefield appear in the form of dents and dings collected during bone-jarring tackles and spirit-crushing blocks. Still, those can be seen only after the game has been played.
But before kickoff, when Notre Dame sprints out of the tunnel, beneath the bright lights of Miami and the ever-intensified glare of the national spotlight, the team's signature helmets will shine proudly. A unified glow. A clean, crisp finish. Might such a description soon apply to the team's season and not simply its helmets?
While the gold helmet is definitely a good one, I will take the crimson helmet with the white stripe down the middle and the players' numbers on the side any day. Traditional always wins in my book, so I think we both win on this, but on to the more identifiable headgear at Alabama: the houndstooth fedora.
Legendary Alabama Head Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant was known for wearing plain fedoras when he came back to the school as coach in 1958. Multiple stories of how that plain fedora became a houndstooth circle around the former owner of the New York Jets, Sonny Werblin. The legend is that Werblin gave Bryant a houndstooth version of the fedora as he was wooing Alabama QB Joe Namath to the Jets before the 1965 AFL Draft.
Thanks to images of Bryant in various houndstooth fedora colors (black and white, blue and white and crimson and white) leaning against the goalpost in pregame warmups to the various Sports Illustrated covers that showed him in the hat, the man became an unofficial spokesperson for the headwear.
Fast forward to 2013 and you will find children and adults, boys and girls wearing some version of houndstooth as a way to show their Alabama pride. Many fedoras will be seen in Miami, along with other houndstooth clothing items.
Anywhere you go in the South, if you are wearing houndstooth, you will be marked as a 'Bama fan. There's no need for anything else but houndstooth to show your Alabama allegiance. The best part of the houndstooth fedora? You don't have to save it for a football game. It's a statement that can be worn anywhere and any time of year.
Better QB Named Joe
Joe Namath wins in my book for many reasons, but most importantly, he was a trailblazer. He guaranteed a win for the New York Jets in Super Bowl III and delivered. He is the first QB featured on "ABC's Monday Night Football" and the first to lead his team to an overtime win in the NFL regular season. He also is the first NFL player to really grasp the media spotlight, earning him the nickname "Broadway Joe."
While his lifetime stats aren't as great as Joe Montana's, the legacy he created is arguably the best. Any athlete with a great endorsement contract has Joe Willie Namath to thank! Plus, have you read his Twitter feed, @RealJoeNamath? Amazing! (With thanks to his daughter for typing up what he has to say!)
In reality, this debate could be over in one word: Four. It's the number of Super Bowls started, and won, by Joe Montana. Only Pittsburgh Steelers great Terry Bradshaw has equaled such a feat, and since Terry is a proud alum of Louisiana Tech -- and not Alabama -- this fact alone should give the edge to Montana, and Notre Dame.
However, my colleague included several valuable intangibles in her argument for Namath, so I feel it's my duty to do the same here. While "Broadway Joe" was nearly incomparable when it comes to individuality and style points -- Who could forget his long fur coats and short white cleats? -- Montana went about his work with an effortless grace, the type of poise that earned him the nickname "Joe Cool."
The Golden Domer was at his best when it counted the most: See his infamous throw to Dwight Clark in the 1982 NFC Championship game, a play now known simply as "The Catch," as well as his 92-yard drive vs. the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.
Of course, before the Super Bowl, there was the Cotton Bowl, where, in 1979 a flu-stricken Montana led the Irish to a 23-point fourth quarter comeback over Houston, a performance that essentially laid the foundation for a pro career full of such heroics.
A product of football-rich Pennsylvania, Montana brought his East Coast toughness to the West Coast offense, in the process earning eight invites to the Pro Bowl, and a 2000 induction into football's Hall of Fame.
In many ways traditions serve as the backbone of sports, the foundation on which loyalties are built. It is traditions that allow those outside the playing field to participate in the game, to feel a part of a given team. In no sport is this more true than college football, and in no game will this be more evident than Monday's national title tilt.
Two storied programs, with rich histories and long-lasting legacies. As detailed by my colleague, Alabama certainly has it's share of traditions, which is one part of what makes this affair so compelling. The other part? Have you heard anyone asked to "Win one for the Gipper?"
If traditions are college football's currency, Notre Dame is amongst the richest. From the legendary tale of a bedridden George Gipp providing the inspiration for Knute Rockne's famous speech, to the undersized but undaunted Rudy rising from the practice squad to the shoulders of his teammates, Fighting Irish stories have quite literally become the subject of Hollywood lore.
But Gold and Blue tradition goes a whole lot further than the silver screen. It goes from the forward pass to cross-country rivalries, both popularized by Rockne. It's woven into the rhythm of the "1812 Overture" played between the third and fourth quarter of every game, and it pulses through every beat of the alma mater, as it's sung by the players, who stand linked arm and arm, after every game regardless of result.
However, Fighting Irish tradition can perhaps best be felt through a single slap, as each Notre Dame player smacks the famous "Play Like a Champion Today" sign as he leaves the locker room and descends the steps en route to representing his school on the field of play.
While Monday night's game will see the Irish nestled in a neutral setting, with no familiar sign to slap before taking the Orange Bowl field, the spirit of the sentiment has most certainly made it's way to Miami.
While the notion of playing "like a champion today," much the same as many of the teams other traditions, may have been born in South Bend, it lives everywhere, as the foundation that fuels a program, and the lifeblood of it's fan base.
Before every home game in Tuscaloosa, a video showing some of the biggest Alabama plays from years past is shown. The title: Tradition.
Fans walk past the numerous RVs set up midweek just off campus toward the footprints and handprints (etched in concrete at the bottom of Denny Chimes in the Quad made by the football captains dating back to the 1940s) to take pictures by the names of their favorite players. The Chimes ring "Yea Alabama" in the hours leading up to kickoff while fans stream down University Boulevard, Campus Drive and Bryant Drive toward the stadium, which was opened in 1929.
Before entering, they walk past the newest feature on campus: Statues of the coaches who won national championships at the university: Wallace Wade, Frank Thomas, Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings and Nick Saban. The stadium is a sea of crimson and white with some black and white houndstooth thrown in for good measure.
The game begins not when the ball is kicked off the tee, but in pregame, when the voice of Bear Bryant echoes across the stadium, saying, "I ain't ever been nothing but a winner." You may see tears in the eyes of grown men (and maybe a grown producer from CNN).
You'll hear the cheers of "Roll Tide" growing louder by the second as the electricity running through the stadium reaches a crescendo while the music of AC/DC starts blaring through the stadium as live video of the current crop of 'Bama greats walking through the tunnel to take the field is broadcast on the four Jumbotrons. There's a saying that started a few years ago on one of the pregame videos: "At some places they play football, at Alabama, we live it."
Two words. That's all you need to know: Roll Tide. Those words are "hello," "goodbye," "nice to see ya" and "I don't know ya but we have Alabama in common so what's up" rolled into two words.
The rally cry dates back to the early 1900s when a sports editor for the Birmingham Age-Herald used the "Crimson Tide" nickname to describe the Tide during the 1907 Alabama-Auburn game. Roll Tide has been a part of Alabama and college football in general ever since.
The best part of Roll Tide? It's one of a kind. There is no doubt that when you say "Roll Tide," you are talking Alabama.
Jones had this one partially right. It's true: all you really need are two words. Unfortunately, she got hers wrong. The answer we were looking for was "Go Irish." It's simple, it's clear. One verb, and one proper noun, propelling not just a team, but an entire community, "onward to victory."
What began as an old school rallying cry has morphed into a trendy (and trending) hashtag. In an age of digital and social media, "Go Irish" is now also #GoIrish. But no matter how you write it, type it, or say it, the meaning never changes. It's universally understood to signify one thing: a Notre Dame victory.
Notre Dame cheerleaders prompt game-day crowds with simple signs, alternating between placards displaying "Go" on the front, and "Irish" on the back, while fans chant in unison.
Supporters who may have never met, and share little else in common, can find a bond by simply stating the phrase. It's often paired with a slight nod of the head, as if to say "Yep. We got this." The strength of the phrase is its all-encompassing simplicity, the way saying so little can convey so much.
"Go Irish" means seven Heisman Trophy winners (more than any other program). It means an NCAA record 96 consensus All-Americans. It's Rudy. It's "Touchdown Jesus." It's the Grotto. Perhaps most importantly, though, "Go Irish" is 13 National Titles as recognized by the NCAA. Should that number grow by one on Monday, expect utterings of "Go Irish" to increase exponentially.
Kurtz: If you were to crack open my chest and cut into my heart, the blood that poured out would be gold and blue.
A devout sports fan, I love no team more than Notre Dame football. As such, I cannot and will not pick against them. Alabama is the favorite, and rightfully so, as champs of the nation's toughest conference, and with two BCS titles already in their trophy case. But I'm picking my beloved Irish, for a trio of reasons:
1. History: Notre Dame is 5-1 all-time against Alabama, and 4--0--1 when ranked No. 1, while playing No. 2 (as will be the case Monday.)
2. The Manti Teʻo factor: It's simply hard to imagine Notre Dame's star linebacker wrapping up his historic career without hoisting the Waterford Crystal football.
For the All-American from Hawaii, who spurned the beaches of California in favor of the frozen fields of Indiana, winning a championship was the reason he came back to South Bend. Not to sweep the post-season defensive awards (which he did, capturing the Lombardi, Butkus, Nagurski, and Bednarik trophies). Not to become the first-ever exclusively defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy (which he very nearly did, finishing second).
Instead, Te'o was driven by the desire to restore Notre Dame to past seasons of glory, to help guide, and carry, the program back to the top of the sport's mountain, to a peak it had once regularly inhabited, but had failed to visit in recent memory.
A projected late first-round pick, he could have jumped to the NFL after his junior year, embarking early upon what figures to be a very productive professional career. But the 6-foot 2-inch, 255-pounder wanted one more go-round with the Gold and Blue. One more season with his teammates, one more crack at college football's ultimate prize.
His plan, though, hit a tragic snag on September 11, when Te'o lost both his grandmother and his girlfriend, the latter to a long battle with leukemia.
(Editor's note: Since this story was first published, Notre Dame officials and Manti Te'o have called the story of the death of his girlfriend a hoax.)
Four days later, he made the journey to East Lansing, Michigan, registering 12 tackles in a win over Michigan State that helped get the Irish off to their best start in 10 years. On that evening, in front of a prime time audience that learned of his heart-wrenching story, Te'o also hauled in an ill-advised Spartan lateral that helped ice the game. He would finish the regular season with a team-high 103 tackles and seven interceptions, the most on the squad, and tops in the nation among linebackers. With one more game left in his collegiate career, don't expect the 21-year-old to allow this final opportunity to slip through his hands.
3. Destiny: Already playing with house money, this evening's contest caps an improbable season, which for the Gold and Blue began amidst the green of Ireland, as an unranked team. Four-plus months, 12 wins, a pair of overtime scares and a decade's worth of magical moments later, the Fighting Irish find themselves right back where they started: undefeated.
Certainly it wasn't easy, and didn't happen without a handful of improbable occurrences and some help along the way (thanks Baylor and Stanford.) As talented as Alabama is, Notre Dame has been at least as fortunate. As they saying goes, "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good." And who has more luck the the Irish?
'Bama will win.
But I hate predicting games. I'm the most superstitious person when it comes to football and a prediction is against my "rules of the day".
Plus, so many mitigating factors play in that are completely unexpected. For instance, will wide receiver Kenny Bell be catching passes from AJ McCarron just weeks after breaking his leg in a game? Will Barrett Jones, who is part of one of the most successful recruiting classes in 'Bama history, be at 100% after spraining his foot during the SEC Championship Game while not missing a snap? And with the month to prepare, will Nick Saban have his team as prepared as they were during the 2012 and 2010 championship games? If the answer is yes to any, the Tide will roll.
I am nervous, anxious and just want to see a good football game with the Tide coming out on top. I think these two teams are matched up pretty well, but truly believe that the Tide's experience playing big games will be one of the factors that propels them to a third BCS Championship in four years.
The score on the field will be settled tonight but we've still got all day to fight this out in the comments. If our editor hadn't cut us at 2,000 words we'd still be going on about coaches, fight songs, stadiums, etc. So consider our thoughts the kick off , drop us a comment so we can talk our way to game time.
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