Throwback Thursday: The Alabama-Notre Dame Rematch in the Orange Bowl
What's better than an Alabama-Notre Dame showdown in college football?
How about a rematch?
That's what the Crimson Tide hoped for at the end of the 1974 season when it was paired for a second straight year against the Fighting Irish, this time in the Orange Bowl.
Undefeated Alabama (11-0) was ranked No. 1 in the Coaches poll and No. 2 in the Associated Press poll entering the game on January 1, 1975. The Crimson Tide was playing in its 16th consecutive bowl game.
A year before when the two had met with the Sugar Bowl as the setting, Notre Dame won 24-23 and vaulted to the national title.
This time, the Fighting Irish (9-2) ranked No. 8 and No. 9, were thinking spoiler as the Crimson Tide could still be crowned college football's champions.
It wasn't meant to be.
The Orange Bowl game was notable as Ara Parseghian had announced his resignation from Notre Dame two weeks prior and was coaching his final game.
Led by Richard Todd, Calvin Culliver, Willie Shelby, Ozzie Newsome, Leroy Cook, Woodrow Lowe, Sylvester Croom and others, Alabama came into the contest as a heavy favorite.
Notre Dame jumped out to a 13-0 lead which the Tide closed to 13-3 at halftime.
The scoring started midway through the first quarter when Alabama fumbled a Notre Dame punt and Al Samuel recovered for the Irish at the Crimson Tide’s 16-yard line. Three plays later Notre Dame faced a fourth-and-one play at the Alabama 7-yard line. Wayne Bullock powered his way over the left side for three yards and a first down. On the next play, he rumbled into the end zone on a four-yard run for the first Irish score. Dave Reeve added the extra point.
With 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Irish offense took control at its own 23-yard line as quarterback Tom Clements engineered a 77-yard scoring drive in 17 plays, taking 7:21 off the clock.
The Irish attempted only one pass in the march, rushing 16 times for 68 yards on the drive. An offsides call on Alabama on a field-goal attempt revived the drive. The Irish made the most of the opportunity, with Mark McLane breaking free from nine yards out for the score. Reeve missed the point-after, but Notre Dame led 13-0.
A Notre Dame fumble on its next possession gave the Crimson Tide the football on the Irish 40-yard line. Alabama went to the air with quarterback Todd hitting Newsome for 11 yards and Jerry Brown for 12 yards, as Alabama marched to the Notre Dame 8-yard line.
The Irish defense held, and Alabama scored on a 21-yard field goal by Danny Ridgeway with 1:45 left before halftime.
Alabama continued to rally in the second half, especially during the final minutes.
After a scoreless third quarter Alabama, which averaged only 11 passes a game during the season, again went to the air. Todd carried the Crimson Tide to the Irish 12-yard line but then had a pass intercepted by John Dubenetzky
On fourth down of the next Alabama drive, needing five yards for a first down, Todd threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Russ Schamun with 3:13 remaining. The Crimson Tide added two points on a conversion pass from Todd to George Pugh to close the deficit to 13-11.
With 1:39 left, Alabama got the ball back at its own 38-yard line needing only a field goal to win. Todd tossed to Schamun for a 16-yard gain and hit Randy Billinsley for an eight-yard reception to the Irish 38. But Notre Dame’s Reggie Barnett intercepted Todd’s next throw to stifle the last-gasp effort.
For Alabama, Cook was the defensive standout while fellow linebacker Ronnie Robertson led in tackles with 11. Alabama out-gained the Irish in total offense, 285 to 204, but had four turnovers. Todd completed 13 of 24 passes, six of them to the freshman Newsome for 68 yards and five to Schamun for 126.
With the loss, Alabama was 0-7-1 in eight consecutive bowl games. The Crimson Tide ended the season ranked second in the coaches poll, fifth in the AP poll.