Crimson Tide Has A Long History Of Frustration At The Hands Of The Irish, But Can Thank Them For One Great Coach
The series history between Alabama and Notre Dame isn’t long. But it sure is historic.
The storied schools have played just seven times but four of them have had National Championship implications. The most famous of these is the 1973 Sugar Bowl, Bear vs. Ara, in what Sports Illustrated dubbed “the sweet Sugar.”
The game lived up to its billing. It went down to the wire with the Irish winning 24-23 on a missed extra point and a daring – at the time – pass out of the end zone on third down by Notre Dame to end the game.
The association of Alabama and Notre Dame football, however, begins way before Bear Bryant, Ara Parseghian and that famous Sugar Bowl.
It goes all the way back to the 1930s when Frank Thomas became head coach at Alabama. He came from Notre Dame, where he played quarterback for Knute Rockne. And it was a success for the Tide – Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame, has the school’s third best winning percentage behind Bryant and Nick Saban and and won two National Championships.
From there, tho, things haven’t been quite as chummy between the two schools, certainly from an Alabama standpoint. Before they met on the field, Bryant and Alabama were twice bested by Notre Dame by the poll voters.
The first was in 1966. Parseghian had (wisely as it turned out) played for a tie in a 1 vs. 2 matchup against Michigan State to end the regular season. Alabama had gone undefeated, including a trouncing of Nebraska in a bowl game (ND did not go to bowl games in those days). Yet the Irish were crowned champions by the pollsters. To this day, players on that team still refer to that year as the “missing ring” season.
Little more than a decade later, Notre Dame leaped from No. 5 to No. 1 – and over Alabama – for the 1977 National Championship. That really set the blood boiling of Tide fans, especially when factoring in the fact the Irish had lost that year to Ole Miss, a team Alabama had pounded 34-14.
Between those “robbed” seasons (which would have added two National Championships to Bryant’s record of six) there were consecutive on-field losses, both of which cost Bama titles and won one for Notre Dame.
The first was the instant classic Sugar Bowl. That was followed the following year by a two-point loss in the Orange Bowl. In the latter, Alabama was again undefeated going into the game. But a fired-up Notre Dame, inspired by the surprise and sudden retirement announcement of their coach, could not be beaten that night in Miami.
Bryant’s Bama played the Irish in a regular season game in 1980, with Notre Dame winning 7-0 in Legion Field. The Tide, coming off back-to-back (and what should have been three consecutive) National Championships, fumbled twice on its goal line to lose that one. Alabama finished 10-2 that year as the Tide began to slide, as did Bryant’s health.
Alabama finally beat Notre Dame in a regular season game, 28-10 in 1986 under Ray Perkins, but lost the next year 37-6 under Bill Curry to complete the two-season home-and-home series. Lou Holtz was the Irish coach both of those years.
The next meeting was the 42-14 beatdown for the National Championship, which was a measure of redemption for veteran Alabama fans.
But it was also provided relief, as many just lifted up a drink in a cheers to friends and said “finally!”