Thirty-nine years ago, there was a college football national championship game arranged not by computer rankings or a rubric of poll results like this season’s Alabama-Notre Dame matchup for the Bowl Championship Series title, but by the kind of primitive challenge heard in a sandlot.
In 1973, Bear Bryant, coach of undefeated Alabama, sent a wily message from the tradition-rich football fields of the Deep South to a single football-centric university in northern Indiana. Bryant was taking his No. 1-ranked squad to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, and his stated opponent of choice was a team that Alabama had never played: Notre Dame.
The undefeated, untied Fighting Irish, who entered the 1973 bowl season ranked third, had been tempted by a more lucrative offer from the Orange Bowl. But a dare was a dare, especially one with the national championship on the line. Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian committed his team to the Sugar Bowl matchup, a contest immediately billed as the game of the century.