Perhaps Howard Cosell, the legendary orator of some of sport’s largest moments, summed it up best. "At Notre Dame, football is a religion," Cosell remarked. "At Alabama it’s a way of life."
Some 40 years later here in the post New Year's balm of South Florida, Cosell's commentary still rings true as two again mighty programs have endured through their droughts of mediocrity and landed back at the doorstep of greatness.
For Notre Dame, a program rich in history, but thin on recent success, 2012 has been a renaissance. After suffering through three un-popular and ultimately unsuccessful coaches since Lou Holtz left in tears following the 1996 season, this season's 12-0 effort is nothing short of a miracle in the eyes of Irish fans.
“A lot of us are still in shock,” said 2011 Notre Dame graduate Kelly Paulius of Pittsburgh as she waited Wednesday at the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Jet center for the Irish to arrive in preparation of Monday’s BCS National Championship game. “We really got kind of used to losing for a while. Now it’s a whole different feeling. Now we know we’re going to do something to win.”
It is different again. A program that claims 11 consensus national championships won its last title in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl. Not a single player on the Irish roster was alive for that golden moment in Notre Dame history.
Third-year coach Brian Kelly said he could sense this resurgence back in August on the heels of back-to-back 8-5 seasons. Is he surprised that the Irish are suddenly on the verge of restored glory under the Golden Dome after hearing continued whispers the past decade of their irrelevance in the broader college football landscape?
"Well," Kelly said, "I didn't think we couldn't do it."