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McCollum's Column: What was captivating was what was in the stands

Posted: January 8, 2013 - 6:21pm

The competing show to the BCS Championship on one television network was contrastingly appropriate.

“The Biggest Loser.”

That would be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, which entered the national title game No. 1, a nine-point underdog, then faced a Saban-driven, well-oiled, powerful Alabama steamroller that wiped them away like sand castles on South Beach.

While Notre Dame fans, and many others, were ready for a clash of classic and iconic college football titans, Alabama rendered the production to a football version of “Les Mis,” with the Irish like rebels at the barricades.

The biggest winner?

Alabama, in a sense. Maybe not the total domination but a victory was expected by those familiar with Alabama and the dynamic created when Nick Saban has several weeks to prepare.

But not the real winners.

All you need to know about the national title game is that the national conversation, immediately afterward and carrying over into Tuesday, concerned not the game, not the players, not the coaches, but the girlfriend and mother of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. The girlfriend, Miss Alabama USA 2012 Katherine Webb, went from a couple of thousand Twitter followers to about 120,000 overnight, so many during the broadcast (in which she got almost as much facetime as Nick Saban) that the battery went dead on her cell phone. And McCarron’s mom also became a instant sensation when photos surfaced of her at a party in a low-cut gown.

And the ESPN producers, sensing the emerging battles for remote controls and the vacating sports bars by early in the second quarter, were astute enough to turn the cameras occasionally to the aesthetics in the stands.

NBC broadcaster Brent Musberger was alternatively like a frat guy, going ga-ga over the eye candy, and Karl Rove on election night — seemingly in denial that a beatdown of Notre Dame was possible.

“You take away that first half and we have a 14-14 game,” said Musberger in the fourth quarter, seemingly oblivious that Alabama was so obviously superior and so dominant in that 28-0 first half that even hard-core football fans headed to bed or searched for alternative programming. I switched to “Castle” at halftime because there was no mystery as to what would happen in the game.

Notre Dame was a revived team, a good team, a lucky team and an overrated team. The Irish were “Sabanized,” feeling the brunt of what happens when Saban and his staff get extra preparation time.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly openly wished in a halftime interview that maybe Alabama wouldn’t come out for the second half. “We can’t tackle them right now,” he said.

As many expected, things came down to the Irish unable to handle physically the fundamentals of college football, which Saban’s teams do so well. They run with very good backs behind one of the best offensive lines in recent college football history. They stop the run, forcing a team to win left-handed. Their defensive backs can make plays that few can make. They come at you with a physical fervor unmatched by many teams. They can turn a game into men against boys.

The Tide had touchdown drives of 82, 80, 97 and 86 yards. The longest drive the highly touted Notre Dame defense had allowed all season was 75 yards. Notre Dame, playing what was considered the toughest schedule in the country that featured 11 bowl teams, was yielding an average of 92 a game. Alabama rushed for 265 with two backs gaining 100 yards each.

The Alabama program is at another level right now.

And those awakening echoes by the Irish were shut up.

Before the game, there was a scene in the tunnel leading to the field that is shared by each team. The Notre Dame players had to wait and watch while the Alabama players ran first onto the field.

The order related to home team and visitors. Realistically, it was pecking order.

(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or david.mccollum@thecabin.net)

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