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Notre Dame vs. Alabama as close as college football is going to get to the NFL Super Bowl

Notre Dame wouldn’t be playing for BCS national title if not for heroics during regular seaspride Lake Forest QB Tommy

Notre Dame wouldn’t be playing for the BCS national title if not for the heroics during the regular season of the pride of Lake Forest, QB Tommy Rees. | FILE PHOTO

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1998 season — Tennessee 23, Florida State 16

1999 – Florida State 46, Virginia Tech 29

2000 — Oklahoma 13, Florida State 2

2001 — Miami (Fla.) 37, Nebraska 14

2002 — Ohio State 31, Miami (Fla.) 24 (ot)

2003 — LSU 21, Oklahoma 14

2004 — USC 55, Oklahoma 19 (USC later forfeited title)

2005 — Texas 41, USC 38

2006 — Florida 41, Ohio State 14

2007 — LSU 38, Ohio State 24

2008 — Florida 24, Oklahoma 14

2009 — Alabama 37, Texas 21

2010 — Auburn 22, Oregon 19

2011 — Alabama 21, LSU 0

2012 — Notre Dame vs. Alabama, 7:30 kickoff on TV Channel ESPN

Updated: March 8, 2013 1:15AM

This is not your father’s Notre Dame national championship game.

We gathered in the Valley of the Sun on Jan. 2, 1989, to see if the Irish could beat West Virginia. It was one of seven bowl games played that day.

Even though the No.  3 Mountaineers were unbeaten, same as No.  1 Notre Dame, the Irish probably wouldn’t have chosen many of the other dozen bowl teams playing that day for their championship-game opponent.

Now, even though it’s top-ranked, ND finds itself a 10-point underdog to No. 2 Alabama.

Compared with the Super Bowl feel when the Irish and Crimson Tide met the media for the first time in Florida, the 1988 title showdown felt more like a spring game.

There were no dot-coms back then. And with seven bowl games for the media to gorge on, the Fiesta Bowl had to share the spotlight.

By contrast, to get his microphone where it was needed when ND landed at the Fort Lauderdale airport, one television reporter from Chicago crawled through a media mob on his hands and knees.

When Notre Dame last played for the national championship, there was plenty of elbow room for the media to jot down coach Lou Holtz’s pregame observations — about his respect for Mountaineers quarterback Major Harris and the lack of highways in Phoenix.

When Holtz accepted the national championship the day after ND beat West Virginia 34-21, he entertained the media by doing a magic trick in which he tore up a newspaper. (We didn’t take it personally.)

Don’t expect anything like that from Brian Kelly or Nick Saban.

What we can expect is a college version of the Super Bowl that has a chance to live up to its hype.

These two schools have traditions unlike many others.

This is a game that features two of the best and brightest players in college football. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o and Alabama center Barrett Jones are the only players in the nation to be first-team Academic All-Americans and first-team AP All-Americans.

The emotional tribulations of Te’o, who knew great loss last fall — his girlfriend and grandmother died four days apart — are well-documented.

Like Te’o, Jones handles his media obligations with insight and class.

And like Te’o, Jones has a remarkable backstory: During his Alabama career, he has played 25 games at right guard, 10 at left tackle and 13 at center, his current position. He also has played the violin since he was 3.

Jones didn’t miss any notes when asked if Alabama should be considered a dynasty if it wins its third national championship in four years.

‘‘You know what would happen if Coach Saban watched and heard me say the ‘D’ word,’’ Jones said. ‘‘You’re going to hate this answer, but we focus on one game at a time.’’

Asked how he could say that with a straight face, Jones didn’t hesitate: ‘‘Lots of practice.’’

Welcome to the Super Bowl of college football.

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