In February 1969, Tommy James and The Shondells vaulted to No. 1 on the music charts with their hit “Crimson & Clover,”
Every time I hear that tune, I think of a Notre Dame-Alabama football matchup because the Fighting Irish represent the clover, while the Tide dons Crimson.
Over the past four years, Notre Dame returned to a consistent top-10 level as a program and even advanced to the College Football Playoff two of the last three seasons. Meanwhile, Alabama has achieved a supreme status while capturing five of the last 11 national titles, including vanquishing the then No. 1-ranked Irish in a 42-14 win on Jan. 7, 2013 in the BCS Championship.
Because of the recent dominance by the Crimson Tide, it has become somewhat overshadowed that the two traditional powers saw their football histories woven with remarkable symmetry and eerie parallels from the 1920s until around 2008:
1920s: Rise To Power
Notre Dame: Under Knute Rockne, the Irish win their first “consensus” national title, as defined by the school, in 1924.
Alabama: Under Wallace Wade, the Crimson Tide wins consecutive national titles in 1925-26.
1930: Grand Finale
Notre Dame: Rockne’s final season finishes 10-0 with a consensus national title.
Alabama: Wallace’s final season finishes 10-0 and gains a split of the title with the Irish in the Parke Davis rankings.
1931: The Protégés
Notre Dame: From 1934-53, former Rockne players Elmer Layden and Frank Leahy help lead the Irish to a 134-24-12 [.821] record and four national titles (the latter all under Leahy).
Alabama: From 1931-46, former Rockne player Frank Thomas guides the Crimson Tide to a 115-24-7 [.812] mark and two claimed national titles.
1950s: Crazy 8s
Notre Dame: In an eight-year period from 1956-63, the Irish are 34-45 [.430].
Alabama: In an eight-year period from 1951-58, the Crimson Tide is 34-44-8 [.442].
1964: Ara & Bear
Notre Dame: In 1964, Ara Parseghian leads the Irish to a 9-0 record and No. 1 ranking before losing in the closing minute of the finale at USC, 20-17.
Alabama: In 1964, Bear Bryant guides the Crimson Tide to 10-0 and No. 1 before losing in the closing minute of the Orange Bowl finale versus Texas by almost the identical score, 21-17.
Note: Because the AP and UPI did not vote after bowls back then, Alabama was declared the national title winner by those polls, while Notre Dame won the MacArthur Bowl from the National Football Foundation, also emblematic of a national title in the eyes of the NCAA.
1964-80: Glory Days
Notre Dame: 148-33-5 [.809] with three AP national titles.
Alabama: 165-30-3 [.841] with four AP national titles.
Note: The Irish were 4-0 against Alabama during this stretch.
Notre Dame: In 1988, third-year head coach Lou Holtz leads a 12-0 record with a ground-oriented attack, highlighted by a victory over No. 1/defending champ Miami that helps result in the national title.
Alabama: In 1992, third-year head coach Gene Stallings leads a 13-0 record with a ground-oriented attack, highlighted by a victory over No. 1/defending champ Miami that helps result in a national title.
1997: On The Defensive
Notre Dame: Irish defensive coordinator Bob Davie is hired as a first-time head coach to succeed Holtz, but is fired after five years.
Alabama: Tide defensive coordinator Mike DuBose is hired as a first-time head coach to succeed Stallings, but is fired after four years.
Hired … But Never Coached
Notre Dame: Veteran head coach George O’Leary is hired in December 2001, but is fired before he coaches a game.
Alabama: Veteran head coach Mike Price is hired in December 2002, but is fired before he coaches a game.
Weis & Shula: Amazing Parallels
Notre Dame: Irish alumnus Charlie Weis is hired after working as an NFL offensive assistant. He comes from an esteemed NFL pedigree [Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick], is given a 10-year contract extension in 2005, never beats his archrival [USC] and finishes 26-24 in his last four seasons.
Alabama: Crimson Tide alumnus Mike Shula is hired after working as an NFL offensive assistant. He comes from an esteemed NFL pedigree [Don Shula], is given a six-year contract extension in 2005, never beats his archrival [Auburn] and finishes 26-23 in his four seasons.
2008: Recruiting Renaissance
Notre Dame: The recruiting class is ranked No. 2, to Alabama, but moves to No. 1 in some services after the summer when several Tide players become ineligible.
Alabama: The recruiting class is the consensus No. 1, until the Irish slip ahead in some services later that year.
In 2009, Alabama did its part to turn around its sagging fortunes on the field from the previous decade by winning the national title under third-year head coach Nick Saban. Notre Dame came up one game short under third-year head coach Brian Kelly in 2012 when Alabama throttled those dreams.
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