The Game of the Last Century

Associated Press

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...

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