Notre Dame Battles Alabama For BCS Football Glory

Tom Goldman talks to Melissa Block about the college football championship game in Miami. Undefeated Notre Dame battles No. 2 Alabama for the Bowl Championship Series title.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

It's the Crimson Tide versus the Fighting Irish. Tonight's BCS college football championship in Miami promises to be a battle of top defenses as number one Notre Dame takes the field against number two Alabama. Naturally, fans are talking smack about who's best.

NPR's Tom Goldman has done his best to play diplomat. He's in Florida to cover the game and joins me now.

And, Tom, why don't you set up the game tonight? What do you expect to see?

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Well, Melissa, what we're expecting, of course, may be different from what we actually see. These are similar teams. As you mentioned, they rely on outstanding defenses in the running games. So the thought is it'll be a grind it out game, the kind of football that purists love, but not the kind that non-purists favor, you know, exciting, lots of long passes, big offensive plays and touchdowns.

But with the absurdly long wait until this game, teams have had over a month to plan. And you've got to really smart head coaches who may throw in some wrinkles; more passing than we're expecting, for instance. Brian Kelly has done a fantastic job getting Notre Dame to the title game in just his third year of coaching there.

Nick Saban, for Alabama, is legendary as a detail-oriented process kind of guy. You know, people criticize him for being robotic. We remember that sour look on his face when he won the title and got doused with Gatorade. But sour and robotic aside, the guy knows how to coach.

BLOCK: Well, Tom, we're talking with Alabama and Notre Dame, about two of the country's legendary football programs. Talk about the history of these teams and this rivalry.

GOLDMAN: You know, they've only played each other six times, all in the 1970s and '80s. And Notre Dame has won five of the games, so there's not a tremendous face-to-face history. But because legendary Alabama head coach Bear Bryant was never able to beat the Irish - because Notre Dame has this kind of favorite son aura while Alabama has a bit of an inferiority complex because of a lot of negative stereotypes about the South, because of these things, the rivalry is real and it involves cultures as much as football.

BLOCK: And you've been talking to fans on both sides about what a win would mean for each team. What have you heard?

GOLDMAN: Well, Notre Dame hasn't won a championship since 1988. The Fighting Irish are only the only bowl-eligible team this season to go undefeated. They're ranked number one in the nation. Yet still, they're up to a 10-point underdog. And they want to show they're for real.

Here is Notre Dame fan Mike Hennig. I spoke to him earlier today.

MIKE HENNIG: Notre Dame really wants to prove that we're back on top and, you know, we're not just relying on our history and things like that to be the favorite son. You know, we want to prove that we're back and we're an actual contender, and for many years.

GOLDMAN: Now, Melissa, you would think with two titles in the last three years, Alabama would be OK if they didn't win. But that's not the case, obviously. I also spoke to Eric Summers. He's a 45-year-old Alabama graduate. He mentions those five losses to Notre Dame, two of which he saw in person. And he says Alabama really can't afford another one.

ERIC SUMMERS: To lose to Notre Dame, especially being favored and with the talent that we have, if we lose to them again, then it becomes a stigma. Why can't we beat Notre Dame? Is Notre Dame more special than us? And so we need that. That is culturally very important, to beat Notre Dame, especially in a game of this magnitude. Think about the Sugar Bowl from '74 or the Orange Bowl back in the '70s. We lost those games, and we were favored. And so for us, I think, it's extremely important.

GOLDMAN: So a lot on the line for both, Melissa. It's going to be fun, this kind of new age version of the rivalry.

BLOCK: Tom, it goes without saying there is a huge amount of money involved in the championship game. The game, I think, could've been sold out many times over. How much are we talking about to get a seat?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, you know, the are the usual mentions of thousands of dollars. But actually, interestingly, hours before the game, several news sources are reporting that individual seat ticket prices on the so-called secondary market are dropping. The cheapest were a little over $900. That's down nearly 50 percent from the Southeastern Conference title game last month. The average ticket price of a little over $1,700 is cheaper than the past two BCS championship games.

So there's a lot of hype about this game, but the ticket prices are reasonable. And, Melissa, reasonable is a very relative term here.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Yeah, I guess so. That's NPR's Tom Goldman covering tonight's BCS Championship football game in Miami.

Tom, thanks so much. Enjoy the game.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Thanks.

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