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Alabama fans harbor hatred for Irish

Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Paul Finebaum hosts a wildly popular radio show in the South, has his own radio network and has been called “The Voice of the SEC.” But Finebaum has something most SEC fans do not  – an affinity for Notre Dame.

“I’ll say this quietly but I’ve always been a big fan of Notre Dame,” Finebaum said. “Growing up, Notre Dame was always the school.”

As No. 1 Notre Dame prepares to face No. 2 Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami on Jan. 7, Southern fans are ratcheting up the disdain for Notre Dame, even though the two schools have not played since 1987.

“Alabama fans are still upset about 1966 when Notre Dame stole a national championship from them and they’re still talking about 1973,” Finebaum said. “There’s not a lot of love here among the fan base for Notre Dame.”

In 1966, former Irish coach Ara Parseghian went for the tie against No. 2 Michigan State in the second-to-last game of the season instead of the win. The tie gave Notre Dame the national title, and in doing so, took it away from Alabama.

The Irish hold a 5-1 all-time edge over the Crimson Tide, including wins in the 1973 Sugar Bowl and the 1974 Orange Bowl. The two schools combine to claim 25 national championships.

Marquavius Burnett, sports editor at The Crimson White, the student newspaper at Alabama, said the history of two of college football’s most storied programs adds to the game.

“You got Bear Bryant, you got Knute Rockne,” Burnett said. “All the history behind this matchup was Notre Dame leading the series 5-1. I think a lot of Alabama fans who do remember those times want this one really bad.”

Burnett said many of Alabama’s students are not taking Notre Dame very seriously.

“A lot of the students are looking at this like it’s going to be one of the easiest national championships Alabama has ever gotten and I just don’t think that’s true,” Burnett said.

“A lot of students see it as ‘Well, if we can get past LSU, if we can get past Georgia.’ And then you see the Vegas lines that had been saying every top-10 SEC team would be a favorite against Notre Dame and our students see that and kind of disrespect Notre Dame a little bit.”

Most of, if not all, students at both Notre Dame and Alabama have never witnessed Notre Dame as a perennial national power. The Irish have not won a national championship since 1988 and, prior to this season, had not been ranked No. 1 since 1993.

“It hasn’t been since Lou Holtz, before you and I were born, back in the 80s when Notre Dame was truly a national power,” Burnett said. “I’m not talking about winning some games and being in the [national championship] conversation. I’m talking about truly one of the dominant programs in college football. It’s been a really long time. At least not in my lifetime. Down South, I think people just feel like Notre Dame isn’t worthy of a national championship.”

Finebaum also said Notre Dame’s recent history has led to its current reputation as a school that sits on a pedestal and is annually overrated.

“People down here, I don’t think they know what to make out of Notre Dame. I think some of it is embedded in them from the past,” Finebaum said.

Recently, it has been the Crimson Tide and coach Nick Saban who have built a dynasty, winning two of the last three championships while vying for another one this year.

“In some respects, Alabama has replaced Notre Dame as that school in college football everyone’s trying to beat,” Finebaum said.

Alabama has not only become the standard nationally, but also in the cutthroat SEC, which has produced the last six national champions. Fans in the South have tried to relate Notre Dame to an SEC school.

“I still think Alabama fans look at Notre Dame and go ‘Well, how would they do in the SEC? Could they have survived the gauntlet of LSU and [Texas] A&M or Georgia?'” Finebaum said.

The fact that Notre Dame does not belong to a conference – and does not have to play a conference championship game – is also a sticking point for Alabama fans, Burnett said.

“I still believe the perception in the South is that Notre Dame gets to play 12 regular season games, yes, but they don’t have a conference so they don’t have that 13th game where an Alabama goes to play a hard-fought game against Georgia that takes a lot out of a team,” he said. “But Notre Dame gets to go 12-0 and they’re in the national championship regardless whether they win a conference or not.

“That’s not Notre Dame’s fault, they have a sweet deal, television-wise. Everybody wants them to be included but at the same time, down South, people think that Notre Dame hasn’t really been challenged to the level of an Alabama or some of these other teams that week-in and week-out have to go through the SEC conference.”

Although the Irish do not belong to the SEC, they have used an SEC plan to construct a team based on tough defense, a strong running game and a game manager quarterback.

“I think they’re built just like an SEC team,” Burnett said. “The only question I have is do they have that elite SEC speed that sets teams apart like Florida or LSU?”

Finebaum said, despite Alabama and Notre Dame’s similarities, hating the Irish is just engrained in the Crimson Tide faithful.

“Sometimes you have to understand that if you’ve never been outside the South, Notre Dame is just something you grew up hating. And quite frankly, a lot of Alabama fans, because of the past, grew up hating Notre Dame.”

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]