FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Alabama versus Notre Dame.
It’s the Rednecks versus the Catholics.
“Forrest Gump” trying to outrun “Rudy.”
The Bear trying to outfox The Gipper.
On one side is a school that has raised reverence for football to a religion and its coach, Nick Saban (himself a devout Catholic) to deity status. Rumor has it an image of Saban has been seen in a plate of ribs at Dreamland.
On the other side is a school that mixes religion with its football and makes no apologies for it. Before every game, Notre Dame players are given a medal devoted to a Catholic saint and offered a chance to kiss a reliquary (a receptacle for keeping for religious artifacts) believed to contain two splinters from the cross of Christ.
Both teams are followed by legions who believe it is their divine right, their manifest destiny, to win championships.
Anyone who doesn’t agree is labeled a heretic, or worse yet as is the case at Alabama, an Auburn fan.
For some, Monday night’s crusade, er, BCS National Championship Game may be the ultimate turnoff.
Many college football fans want to see high and mighty Notre Dame lose.
Many other college football fans want to see Alabama, and through guilt by association the Southeastern Conference, have its run of six straight national titles sink into the Atlantic.
Many, I suspect, want both. They will watch Monday night in hopes that the Miami Hurricanes will come storming out of a tunnel at Sun Life Stadium (their home turf) and spirit the BCS crystal football back to Coral Gables.
No one knows how the game will turn out, but with apologies to LSU, USC, Oklahoma, Texas, Florida, Ohio State and Michigan, this is a national championship matchup for the ages.
Alabama-Notre Dame is royalty against a royal flush. A Rolls-Royce against a Bentley. Rembrandt against DiVinci. In other words, you can’t do better than this.
Alabama claims 14 national championships, Notre Dame 11 consensus titles and parts of 10 others. Strictly counting in the wire service era (since 1936), Alabama has won nine titles, Notre Dame eight. Oklahoma is next with seven.
If Alabama wins, it will be three titles in four years, something done only by Nebraska and — you guessed it — Notre Dame. If the Fighting Irish win, it will end their longest drought without a championship — 24 years — since the first title it claimed in 1924.
If you don’t want to watch for the history, watch because it is such a compelling matchup. The strength of Bama’s Eddie Lacy-powered running game smashing into the teeth of Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o-led defense.
Heisman winner Johnny Manziel and his happy feet will be watching from the sidelines. This is old school football — blocking and tackling and running — the way the Bear and Knute Rockne liked it. The way the good Lord intended.
Ask Alabama and Notre Dame fans, and they’ll say “Amen.”