This was not an easy decision, for as many of you know, I was raised in an Auburn family. Like most Alabama fans, I never attended the school whose team I support. My loyalty comes from the fact that I was taught from the time I was teachable that “War Eagle” was preferable to “Roll Tide.”
Though the thought of hoards of Alabama fans strutting and preening and bragging was almost enough to convince me that the last thing I wanted was another Alabama victory, much less a national championship, I will be shouting “Roll Tide” with the most obsessed.
Because the Tide is playing Notre Dame.
And the only thing I dread more than having to put up with pompous Alabama fans is having to endure the national media love affair with the team from South Bend.
I have not always had a problem with Notre Dame. Once, I was a Fighting Irish fan, sorta. From an early age I was told that my grandfather almost played for the great Knute Rockne.
I never knew my grandfather, but those who did described him as a giant of a man — 6-foot-6 and more than 250 pounds when he played football in the early 1900s at a small, rural high school in Elmore County.
As I heard it, some Catholic football fans in Montgomery heard of this big-old boy who was almost a team by himself, so they wrote the great Rockne and told him about Granddaddy. The great Rockne wrote my grandaddy and asked him if he would like to come to Notre Dame — recruiting was a bit loosy-goosy back then.
Granddaddy got out a map and found out that South Bend was not in the South at all. So he wrote the great Rockne to say he’d stay down in Dixie, thank you very much.
Could that regional prejudice have passed down to me?
Probably — and I admit it — since today my feelings about Notre Dame are based on the way the Fighting Irish have gotten preferential treatment over the years simply because they are Notre Dame, treatment that other schools, especially Southern schools, have been denied.
For example, in 1956, Paul Hornung, the star of a pitiful Notre Dame team (2-8), beat out a more deserving Johnny Majors of Tennessee for the Heisman Trophy. “After a season that bad,” I heard it said, “‘they’ had to give ’em something.” (And I knew instinctively who “they” were, and “they” weren’t us.)
In 1966, an undefeated Notre Dame chickened out and, though within field goal range and more than a minute left, chose to run out the clock and tie Michigan State. Did “they” award the national championship to the undefeated Crimson Tide? Nope, “they” gave it to the Irish. Even Auburn fans were outraged.
I could cite other cases where Notre Dame got something other teams didn’t get because they were who they are, but the more you run over a possum, the flatter it gets.
And I could throw in all that divine intervention “Luck of the Irish/Touchdown Jesus” hype, but I think you see my point.
Though I can think of little worse than Alabama adding another national championship to the eight real ones and who-knows-how-many pretend ones, it would be worse for Notre Dame to win its ninth. Lou Holtz would never shut up.
Nevertheless, I might have bit my tongue and watched the game in silence; I might have cheered for no one and hoped that each would in some way embarrass the other.
I might have, but then I heard something that brought all of my resentment of Notre Dame to the surface.
The other day, the SportsCenter commentators on ESPN were assessing the relative strengths of the two teams — offense, defense, coaching and the overall programs. And in the middle of the “overall program” critique, one of the analysts added this to the mix.
“Alabama,” he said, “is the Notre Dame of the South.”
And the others agreed.
Agreed that Alabama, with humpteen national championships — real and imagined — is still nothing more than a regional reflection of the Fighting Irish, which everyone knows is America’s team. In the eyes of those self-appointed sports opinion-makers, the best the Southeastern Conference has to offer is still Southeastern, which makes it a pale shadow of the team from South Bend.
Well, this is what I say about that.
(And to set the record straight, turns out that Granddaddy was not recruited by Notre Dame. I did some checking and found that when the great Rockne arrived at South Bend, Granddaddy was a 32-year-old rural letter-carrier. So much for family lore.)
Harvey H. “Hardy” Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.