SPIRO: Alabama 42 – Notre Dame 14: Where was ‘the Gipper’?

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Alabama players celebrate after the BCS National Championship college football game. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

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I’ve been staying out of Auckland and was uncertain whether the television arrangement of our hosts would allow me to watch the Alabama – Notre Dame BSC national championship contest.

So on Wednesday afternoon (NZ time) I was fiddling around the television set and was delighted and surprised to find that EPSN were running a delayed telecast of the game.

I came in slightly late in the game, which was about four minutes old, and I was startled and somewhat discouraged to notice that Alabama, the raging favourites to win, had already scored a touch-down.

The next two times they had possession they scored again, with the second touch-down in this sequence being an 80 yard/8 play drive.

The Alabama dominance was obvious, even to someone like myself who loves gridiron but has no pretensions to being an expert.

The Alabama quarterback, A.J.McCarron, had all the time in the world to convert his passing plays as he sliced up the famed Notre Dame defence with the skill, efficiency and daring of a skilled surgeon.

When A.J. (whose girlfriend was, typically, a Miss Alabama) decided to hand the ball off to his running back, Eddie Lacy, the brilliant runner carved up the defensive patterns, exposing tackling weaknesses in even the best of the Notre Dame defenders.

I always watch gridiron with an eye on what can be transferred across to the rugby field. A persistent and successful move by Eddie Lacy is what the commentators called the ‘jump-cut.’

This move involves the running back to make a sort of jump sidewise of a foot or so and then, virtually immediately, slant off in the same direction of the jump, with subsequent jump-cuts where necessary to get on the outside of defenders.

It seems to me that this sort of move could and should be taught to tight forwards in rugby making their pick and drive charges. It could also be used, at a faster tempo undoubtedly, by outside centres and wingers trying to get around a bunched-up, tight defensive line.

At half-time the scoreline was Alabama 28 – Notre Dame 0, with Alabama scoring a touch-down only a minute or so before half-time, with yet another long drive out of a defensive situation.

One of the commentators suggested before the drive that Alabama might wind down the clock to half-time.

This suggestion was a total misread of the quality and intensity of the Alabama side. The highest compliment I can pay them is to say that they played like those greatest of All Blacks sides, utterly ruthless in piling on the points and just as determined to keep their opposition to as few points as possible.

At the half-time mark I wrote down on my pad, “Notre Dame needs the Gipper to inspire them to a legendary victory?” Well, he might have made a sort of visitation as Notre Dame actually drew the second half with Alabama 14 – 14.

But there was no possibility of Notre Dame ‘winning one for the Gipper.’ Alabama scored first in the second half, and it was game over totally, even though in hindsight the 21 – 0 margin in the first quarter was enough to ensure the final outcome.

Again, like those awesome All Blacks sides, Alabama actually won the game, rather than Notre Dame losing it.

Alabama were too big, too fast and too smart for Notre Dame. They seemed to have all the time in the world to run off their own plays.

When Notre Dame tried to run the ball, they found that their plays were anticipated and countered by an Alabama defence that had an answer to virtually everything Notre Dame threw at them.

A couple of gridiron mantras came to my mind was I watched the annihilation of my favourite College gridiron side:

1. ‘You can’t coach quickness.’

2. And this from a Notre Dame coach some decades ago: ‘Prayers work best when players are big.’

So out in New Zealand one member of the Zavos family was disappointed by the result.

But it’s a big world.

The father-in-law of Zolton Zavos, my son and the co-publisher of The Roar, is a fanatical Alabama supporter.

Tonight he is celebrating a third national championship in four years by the Crimson Tide, only the third team to achieve this. But the emphatic way Alabama played suggests that another title is certainly on the cards for the 2013/2014 season.

And coach Nick Saban, who has presided over these three title wins for Alabama, is clearly in line in the next few years to match the record the legendary Bear Bryant with his sixth national championship.

What we had in this championship match was a team (Notre Dame) with a fabled history against a dynasty that may be the best in modern College gridiron. Real time is always more.

Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.
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