The only thing better than winning another national title, from an Alabama fan’s perspective, is winning another national title by beating Notre Dame.
It is well established that Alabama fans hate Auburn with a special kind of vitriol. But Tide fans’ hatred toward Auburn is like the hate you might have for your obnoxious, insecure, little brother. It’s an intense feeling that can lead to dangerous situations, but in the end there’s mutual recognition that you’re both part of the same family, and therefore both respect each other, albeit begrudgingly.
Notre Dame, in Alabama fans’ eyes, is the undeserving kid down the street. The Irish represent the kid who wins all the awards at honor’s day because his dad is the principal. Alabama fans hate Notre Dame with a fervor both distinct and more powerful than the venom usually saved for some of their other SEC brethren. Growing up an Alabama fan in Mobile, one of the great unresolved questions of my childhood was who I’d root for if Auburn and Notre Dame ever met. It was a difficult question — not because the level of hatred was similar — because the Auburn fans, while slightly less hated, were still perfectly vile and infinitely more proximate.
There is no geographic connection between Alabama and Notre Dame. The schools have only met a handful of times on the field. But this rivalry doesn’t come from a traditional source.
Instead, it comes down to this: Notre Dame has seemingly forever gotten the national attention that Alabama fans feel rightfully belong to them.
Alabama and Notre Dame are perhaps the two most storied programs in college football history. They’ve accomplished roughly the same on the field. But the college football media hype machine long ago adorned Notre Dame as “America’s team,” while Alabama, at least until the arrival of Nick Saban, treaded along in relative Southern obscurity.
Consider: no one has ever made a widely released film about the kid who gave up everything to walk on to Alabama’s football team, even though every boy who grew up cheering for the Tide held that dream just as firmly as Rudy did.
Alabama has won more national titles overall than the Irish, and it has won three since Notre Dame’s last championship, but it’s still only Notre Dame that has its own television network.
Alabama plays in the SEC, the most competitive conference in America, while Notre Dame believes itself too important to lower itself to affiliate with a football conference — and somehow the college football world allows them to get away with it.
Until Mark Ingram three years ago, Alabama had never had a Heisman Trophy winner, while for a long stretch Notre Dame’s best player seemed like a default finalist.
Most importantly of all, Alabama fans who are historians are still mad about Notre Dame getting the medias’ nod over the Tide for national titles in 1966 despite failing to win its final game of the season and having a worse overall record, and in 1977 when the media jumped #5 Notre Dame over #3 Alabama after the top two ranked teams lost their bowl games.
Tide fans exercised some of these demons in 1986, when Cornelius Bennett nearly decapitated Steve Beuerlein in route to a 28-10 victory. It was Alabama’s first victory of the Irish, but that moment only served as a brief catharsis. It didn’t actually fix all that was wrong with the college football media hordes inexplicable fascination with that team up North. Notre Dame exacted revenge on the Tide the following year, and what’s more, that one win did nothing to stem the unquestioned adoration of the national media to cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame.
Rocket Ismail still almost won a hype-driven Heisman a few years later. While Alabama spent most of the 90′s and 2000′s getting beat up in the hyper-competitive SEC, while the BCS powers allowed Notre Dame to keep its independence and still get special BCS-access. ESPN, the gatekeeper of all that is sacred in college football, anointed Notre Dame quarterback Ron Paulus a national treasure early in his freshman year, even though he wasn’t actually any good. And all Alabama fans could do was sit back and curse under their breath.
This year, things are different. If Alabama can beat Notre Dame Monday night, it won’t just win a national championship, it will cement itself as the best college football program of all-time. Beating Notre Dame head-to-head would provide retribution of a sort for all the ills of the past. It would, by proxy, provide a sort of redemption for 1966, 1977, for network executives declaring the Irish America’s team, and it just might finally end the perception that Notre Dame is entitled to the benefit of the doubt over the Tide merely by virtue of its jersey.
In short, it would right a lifetime of wrongs in the hearts of all who wear houndstooth.
And that might be just as important to Alabama fans as claiming another national title.
Andrew Smith writes for TheFanManifesto. He doesn’t like the Fighting Irish. If you do, feel free to yell at him below.