— MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Ara Parseghian still remembers every little detail of that dreary night in New Orleans nearly four decades ago, when two titans of college football met for the first time.
It was a time of jarring social and political turmoil in America: the pain of the civil rights movement still fresh, U.S. troops finally home from an unpopular war in Vietnam, a scandal known as Watergate on the verge of toppling the most powerful man in the free world.
Against that backdrop, Notre Dame and Alabama did something that rarely happens in sports.
They didn't just live up the hype, they blew it away.
The game of the year became a game for the ages.
"It was Alabama vs. Notre Dame. It was the Baptists vs. the Catholics. It was Bear Bryant vs. yours truly," said Parseghian, who coached the Fighting Irish for 11 years and now, approaching his 90th birthday, enjoys retirement at his winter home in Marco Island, Fla., right across the Everglades from Miami. "There were just a multitude of things that built it up. A huge viewing audience was the result."
Indeed, while ESPN officials were hoping for record ratings in the BCS era when top-ranked Notre Dame met second-ranked Alabama on Monday night, there was little chance of approaching the massive audience that tuned in on New Year's Eve 1973 for those same two teams in the Sugar Bowl, the game that would decide the national championship, a contest so momentous that ABC sent in Howard Cosell to join the regular college broadcast team of Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson.
"At Notre Dame, football is a religion," Cosell would say that night. "At Alabama, it's way of life."
The game was worthy of even his extensive hyperbole — and then some.