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Countdown to kickoff: Notre Dame vs. Ohio State only 80 days away

Tyler Horka06/15/22
Article written by:On3 imageTyler Horka

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notre dame alabama
Notre Dame QB Blair Kiel (5) in action vs. Alabama at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., on Nov. 15, 1980. (Photo by John Iacono /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

To preview one of the most anticipated games for Notre Dame this century and the official start of the Marcus Freeman era, BlueandGold.com is counting down the days to the matchup against Ohio State on Sept. 3.

This daily series of 99 stories celebrates by the numbers some of the most notable names, dates, moments and memories related to the past and present of Notre Dame football.

With 80 days left, we take a look back at a particular game from the 1980 season that resonated for a number of reasons.

In 1980, there were two programs in college football that, from a historical standpoint, were a cut above the rest: Alabama and Notre Dame.

The Crimson Tide had the Bear. The Fighting Irish had Knute, Frank, Ara and Dan. In order, Bryant, Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian and Devine, but those household names should have been easy to recognize without full nomenclature. Their legacies will last forever. Their statues will too.

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The 1980 Notre Dame vs. Alabama game pitted Devine vs. Bryant. The Tide held the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press Poll for seven weeks. Notre Dame held it for one. At the time of the meeting, though, the Irish ranked No. 6 while the Tide ranked No. 5. It was still the only consensus top-10 game played in the regular season for either team.

Both programs went into the year with national title aspirations. Alabama won it the previous two years to claim its 10th and 11th all-time national championships. Notre Dame won its 10th three years prior. By the time the game was played in Birmingham on Nov. 15, both sides had all but lost dreams of a No. 1 ranking post-bowl season.

Notre Dame tied unranked Georgia Tech, 3-3, the week prior. The Irish slipped from No. 1 to No. 6 in the polls. Alabama lost 6-3 to Mississippi State two weeks prior. The Tide initially went from No. 1 to No. 6 as well. Like each team’s drop in the rankings, the way in which the games that led to the falls played out mirrored the way in which Nov. 15 transpired, too.

Notre Dame emerged victorious, 7-0, in another defensive slugfest. Sports Illustrated labeled it a “hard-knocking, tense struggle.” Bryant said he “wasted” his afternoon coaching in the game because of the result. Devine, meanwhile, said his team couldn’t have played any better in a game that didn’t reach a combined score in the double digits.

That should tell you enough about how different football was 42 years ago.

Bryant, winner of six national titles in over two decades at Alabama, fell to 0-4 against the Irish in his career. Two of those losses cost him an additional two national championships. The 1980 game did not, but it signaled the beginning of the end in a way. Bryant retired after the 1981 season.

Devine made it known before the 1980 season that it would be his last at the helm. The Alabama game ended up being his final ranked victory. His Irish lost to No. 17 USC, 20-3, in the regular season finale and No. 1 Georgia, 17-10, in the Sugar Bowl to close out his career.

He always had the moment his players picked him up and put him on his shoulders after beating Alabama, though. In those days, any victory over the Crimson Tide was monumental.