Most fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are not fans because their teams have modern uniforms or because some celebrity rocks their gear. Their uniforms are throwbacks, a simple golden helmet versus a crimson helmet with the player’s number on the sides.
The typical fan in South Bend and in Tuscaloosa is a fan because their father was a fan and his father was a fan before him. The names Knute Rockne and Bear Bryant are as important to their history as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
So unless you are a fan of one of the teams, tuning into the BCS National Championship game will be an interesting experience. These are the two winningest schools with a combined 17 National Championships and like the Yankees, Lakers or Barcelona FC, that level of winning can be polarizing. College football fans will watch without rooting for either team, their hope that it’s at least a fun game to watch.
But for fans in Miami, Monday night’s viewing will be more difficult digest. A situation especially difficult because whoever wins will do so in their backyard
On one sideline is the golden dome that came to represent the antithesis of all that was the University of Miami during their heyday of the 1980’s. On the other sideline is head coach Nick Saban, a man who coached the Miami Dolphins for two years of mediocrity and treated people within the organization like dirt, who then stated publicly that he would not be the head coach at Alabama, only to be introduced as the Crimson Tide head coach a few weeks later.
Notre Dame is the guy you knew in high school that could punch you in the face as you were walking down the hall but you would get suspended when you fought back, the guy who could do no wrong. On the other hand, Nick Saban is the guy that told you he wasn’t going to date your ex-girlfriend and is now expecting his third child with her. Now these two guys will be competing on national television for something you covet, live from your backyard.
So the question is, who would Miami fans prefer to see win?
Nick Saban is probably on the Mt. Rushmore of most hated sports figures in Miami sports history. By several accounts, he wasn’t only an unsuccessful NFL coach during his tenure with the Dolphins, he was also a jerk. Some people have suggested that it is time for Miami fans to move on from their hate of “Prick Satan” or “Little Nicky”, but considering the state of the Dolphins franchise and conversely, the success he is having at Alabama, it is understandable why fans would want to harbor resentment. It is also hard to root for someone with such a legacy of being a dictatorial asshole. (Read Dave Hyde’s column in the South Florida Sun Sentinel outlining exactly how crappy a human being Saban was in Miami.)
The disdain from Miami fans toward Notre Dame took root in the 80’s when both teams were among the most powerful programs in the country. It went beyond football. It was big city glitz versus good ol’ country livin’. It was upstanding young men, mostly white, versus thuggish young men, mostly black. To give you a historical context of what the “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry, check out this clip from ESPN’s 30 for 30 – “The U” documentary.
The director of the documentary, University of Miami alum Billy Corben, shared his thoughts on the dilemma Miami fan’s face.
“It’s Rudy v Forrest Gump. And I’m rooting for Gary Johnson. For Miamians, there are few figures in sports today as easy to vilify as Nick Saban (Jeff Loria would certainly rank up there). Sure, we traditionally despise Notre Dame as a program, as an entity, but that’s more abstract; whereas Alabama provides a specific and solid villain for this storyline.”
Saban truly is the perfect villain. As angry as Miami fans are at him, it’s undeniable that in hindsight, it was an absolutely brilliant decision. And that makes it even worse. When someone wrongs you, you want them to fail, and he has done nothing but succeed.
At some point in a conundrum like this, the belief shifts from “who would I prefer win this game” to “whose loss would be more enjoyable”, essentially picking between the lesser of two evils. So what should the decision be based on? Corben had some thoughts on that as well.
Also, Notre Dame are the underdogs and you’d like to see somebody — anybody — keep Alabama from getting two in a row. Plus, they’ve got God on their side, right? I’m a glass half empty kinda guy, but I’m trying to look on the positive side of this negative situation: no matter who loses, I’ll be happy.
No matter who loses, Miami fans will have somebody’s misery to cheer. While Corben believe fans want to see somebody finally humble Saban, what will be the argument “In your face Saban, you have only TWO National Championships since you left us.”
Saban already rubbed it in the fanbase face twice, is seeing him hoist that glass ball yet again really going to be that painful. Also, that success does not directly correlate to the Miami Dolphins continued lack of success. Alabama is not the rival, Saban is the rival.
Notre Dame on the other hand, has been and will always be an enemy to the University of Miami. Seeing them win in the Hurricanes home stadium would be the ultimate revenge thirty years later. With the Hurricanes wallowing in mediocrity and with the specter of massive NCAA allegations hovering over the program, do fans really want to see their rival achieve the pinnacle, especially since they are just a few seasons removed from similar mediocrity?
In the end, I think Miami fans would prefer the continued drought of the Fighting Irish as opposed to a blemish on the successful Crimson Tide resume of Nick Saban.
ESPN’s Dan Lebatard, also a University of Miami alum who covered the team for the Miami Herald and has endured the misery of both the college and professional teams through his highly rated sports radio show has a different perspective on what the Miami fans are hoping for.
“South Florida is rooting for the locusts and a meteor.”
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