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History, hype root for Irish vs. Tide

– Out there in L.A.., they’ve baptized Brian Kelly again with something cold and wet, and Manti Te’o is howling into the soft California night. Fans dressed in green are waving Irish flags with “No. 1” scrawled on them. And as for Lane Kiffin, the ill-starred coach of USC ….

Well. He’s off to clock-and-play-management school, where he’ll presumably learn that when the big hand points to the goal line, you don’t run three straight times into the teeth of the best run defense in America.

I guess this is as good a time as any to wonder where the heck Robin Weber is now.

Tom Clements, too. And Pete Demmerle. And Dave Casper, Wayne Bullock, Ross Browner, on and on.

Because when the Trojans were finished getting stuffed on the goal line Saturday night, it was Notre Dame 22, USC 13, and on to the BCS title game for the unbeaten Irish. And what does that have to do with Robin Weber?

It has to do with the strong possibility that No. 1 Notre Dame could play No. 2 Alabama in the BCS title game, and why you should root for that even if you’re not a TV exec who’s fairly drooling at the prospect. You root for that because college football is defined more than any other sport by its history, and history drapes a potential N.D.-’Bama matchup like Spanish moss on the bayou.

It’s Rockne and Leahy vs. Wallace Wade and the Bear. It’s the Four Horsemen vs. Don Hutson. It’s Hanratty and Bertelli vs. Namath and Stabler, and the marvelously named Vagas Ferguson vs. the even more marvelously named Major Ogilvie.

And, yeah, it’s Robin Weber, who was a blocking tight end the last time Notre Dame played Alabama for the national title, on the last night of 1973 in the Sugar Bowl.

And who went chugging down the field with two minutes to play and the Irish backed up against their own goal line.

And who caught Clements’ throw out of the end zone to preserve a 24-23 win and the national title, the biggest play the kid from Dallas would ever make.

Now it’s 40 years later, and all its echoes are back.

We have Notre Dame, which is in a place it hasn’t been since 1988. And, if Alabama can get past Georgia in the SEC title game – no gimme, that one, because the Bulldogs are wrecking people – we’ll have the Crimson Tide, too, who are only the defending national champs.

Take a second or two. Can you think of a BCS title game that’s ever had this kind of national branding to it?

The hype alone could put Don King in therapy. And the history of it could put Ken Burns there.

And so, yes, root like heck for it, and, while you’re at it, raise a glass to Robin Weber – who runs his own real estate company back in Dallas these days, and is no doubt waiting for his phone to start ringing again should ’Bama dispose of Georgia.

As for me, I might give John Goodman a call.

I talked to him back in August, on media day at Notre Dame Stadium. I asked him what brought him back for a fifth year, and he said it was because, in his heart of hearts, he believed Notre Dame had a legitimate shot at a national title that fall.

I remember smiling a little when he said that.

Now I’m remembering Robin Weber, and I’m thinking this: Nice call there, John. Nice call.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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